First-time voters rate the Government’s response to Covid-19 outbreak

By Wong Shiying

ILLUSTRATION: LORAINE LEE


Okay, we did this one week ago. But we thought there might still be value in broadcasting what young people think about the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 outbreak. First-time voters formed almost 10 per cent of the electorate in the 2015 general election after all.


We asked them about it the week before the circuit breaker was switched on (March 31 to April 6) and the week after (April 7 to April 13). So the online survey was over by the time the number of daily infected cases hit the four-figure mark.


Nevertheless, it seemed that first-time voters were already less happy with the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to our results.


The 52 first-time voters were asked to rate how well they thought the Government responded to the virus outbreak on a scale of “excellent”, “very good”, “good”, “fair” and “poor”.


The proportion of young people who thought the Government’s response was “excellent” increased slightly from 21.2 per cent before the circuit breaker to 23.1 per cent after. However, those who chose “very good” fell from 36.5 per cent to 30.8 per cent.


This was accompanied by a near 10 per cent rise in the “fair” rating from 5.8 to 15.4 per cent and an increase in the “poor” rating from 1.9 to 3.8 per cent.



BEFORE CIRCUIT BREAKER


In the week before the circuit breaker was activated, there was an average of 66 cases per day, a rise from 55 in the previous week. Imported cases had started to fall but locally transmitted cases were on the rise with several new clusters emerging.


Singaporeans were urged to stay home as much as possible and safe-distancing measures were ramped up. Religious gatherings were cancelled and food and beverage outlets had to ensure sufficient separation in their dining areas.


Those who gave “excellent” ratings before circuit breaker measures were imposed gave reasons such as the success of contact tracing in keeping cases low, the Government’s transparency in updating the public regularly and financial help to those adversely affected.


Financial consultant Debbie Lim, 25, said that compared to other countries in Europe, Singapore was doing a much better job.


“That goes to show that safe-distancing measures such as limiting gathering sizes to 10 are effective,” she added.


Undergraduate Benjamin Chua, 24, was heartened that relief packages were introduced by the Government to support the needy who were particularly vulnerable to the economic impacts of the virus.


The generous stimulus packages, he said, showed that “the Government had been prudent in previous years and were prepared for rainy days”.


RELATED STORY: How Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan are responding to Covid-19


Others were less complimentary. Engineering undergraduate Amanda Lee, 22, who gave a “poor” rating, had qualms about the inadequacy of measures to prevent Singaporeans returning from overseas from possibly transmitting the coronavirus to their family members.


“We already know that carriers of the virus can be asymptomatic, so why are returning Singaporeans under Stay Home Notice (SHN) placed in the same house as their family members?” Ms Lee said. Travellers returning to Singapore were then advised to serve their SHN at home, barring those who came back from a gradually expanding list of countries with higher transmission rates, such as the United States and Britain, who served their notice in dedicated facilities like hotels.


It was only on April 9, three days into the circuit breaker, that the Health Ministry mandated all returning travellers to be transported from the airport directly to hotels, where they would service their 14-day notice.


“Their family members are at risk of catching the virus and spreading it to others if they go out. The least they can do is issue a Leave of Absence (LOA) to family members,” Ms Lee said.


Other respondents who gave “good” or “fair” ratings said travel bans could have been instituted earlier to curb the number of imported cases, and that the Government could have been more firm about warning Singaporeans not to leave their homes.


“While they did tell us to stay home as much as possible, it felt more like a recommendation than a requirement,” said Arts student Jana Lam, 23. “This might have given many Singaporeans the wrong impression, that the situation was very mild.”


AFTER CIRCUIT BREAKER


The situation was indeed not mild. The Health Ministry reported a high of 287 cases on Thursday (April 9). By the end of the first week of the circuit breaker, the total number of cases had more than doubled from 1,375 to 2,918. Even as local cases continued to rise, the vast majority were linked to the packed dormitories where foreign workers live.


The escalating outbreak prompted some respondents to say that, in hindsight, the circuit breaker should have been implemented earlier, with stricter enforcement.


“It might have been better to keep people at home a week earlier, but I am aware that it would place an even greater strain on the economy,” said literature student Jeslyn Chan, 23.


Tuition teacher Esther Lim, 25, thought the “circuit breaker” term did not represent the urgency of the partial lockdown measures.


“It sends out the wrong message to the general public,” she said. “People (are) not taking it as seriously as they should, when the measures are no different from a lockdown. The elderly may also get confused with these unfamiliar terms.”


RELATED STORY: Voting in the time of the virus: How other countries did it


Many respondents who gave a lower rating in the second survey were disappointed with the explosion of cases in the foreign worker dormitories.


Mr Edmund Tan, a 26-year-old administrator, said the Government’s response to the emerging clusters in the migrant worker community has been “entirely reactive and inadequate”.


Echoing his sentiments, entrepreneur Josephine Lam, 25, said the Government had “turned a blind eye to migrant workers and issues already raised by civil society and various organisations”.


Ms Lam referred to a March 22 letter to The Straits Times by non-governmental organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) president Deborah D. Fordyce, who urged the Government to rehouse foreign workers. With 12 to 20 men squeezed in a room in double-decker beds, she wrote, “the risk of a new cluster among this group remains undeniable”.


Ms Fordyce was proven right just a week later, when the first cluster at the S11 dormitory in Punggol was reported.


Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said at a press conference on Tuesday that not moving workers out of their dormitories earlier was “not just a question of cost”. It was only when the circuit breaker was in place that the authorities could implement other measures to contain the virus spread within the dormitories such as work stoppages, closing of shopping areas, and preventing people from socialising, she added.


The increased scrutiny on the state of foreign worker dorms did not change how some respondents felt about the Government’s response. About 72 per cent of those who gave the Government an “excellent” rating and 57.9 per cent of those who gave a “very good” rating stuck with the same rating in both the pre- and post-circuit breaker surveys.


Many among them maintained their positive view of the Government’s response because they felt the death rate among those infected were still low (11 deaths out of 9125 cases as of Tuesday) and that the circuit breaker enforcement was effective.


Audio engineer Jack Lim, 26, said he no longer sees people on social media posting themselves going out, which indicates that the Government has since taken a stricter position.


Others said they don’t fault the Government for not preempting the high risk of transmission among workers in congested dormitories, focusing instead on what has been done to mitigate the situation.


“They have identified the problem and taken active steps to change it, such as through active testing in the dorms,” said environmental studies undergraduate Tricia Tan, 22.


Fitness instructor Lim Xuan Hao, 26, said it is easy to berate the government with the benefit of hindsight.


“The virus outbreak was evolving very quickly and I think they did the best they could at each point,” he said. “So let’s not point fingers.”

By NUS Communications and New Media

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