Sun’s out, Netflix’s in: Lifestyle in the Coronavirus season
By Wong Shiying and Liang Lei
ILLUSTRATION: LORAINE LEE
For most youths, these are strange times. It’s fair weather and nobody’s out playing sports. Warm nights and no clinking of cold beer mugs at the pubs. What was once the ire of parents — being holed up at home, eyes glued to screens and meals delivered to doorsteps — has become the gold standard of an obedient child.
Singapore entered a partial lockdown on April 7, which the Government calls a “circuit breaker”, against a backdrop of a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases. Schools moved to remote learning, dining out was banned, many workplaces were shut and social gatherings became illegal.
Class Notes conducted a survey on 52 first-time voters, aged 21 to 27, about changes to their lifestyle between the week before the circuit breaker was switched on (March 31 to April 6), and the week after (April 7 to April 13).
At the time, the infection numbers were 926 a week before the circuit breaker started and 2,918 a week after. Views might well have changed since, given the explosion in new cases and the even tighter measures announced on Tuesday (April 21), when the circuit breaker was extended by four weeks until June 1. Yesterday, the health ministry reported 1,037 new cases, bringing the total to 11,178.
RELATED STORY: The pandemic is making us worried for our grandparents
After the circuit breaker started, engineering undergraduate Harith Hakim, 25, and his group of friends shifted their regular gatherings to video-conferencing platform Zoom. He had not met his friends online before the circuit breaker, but did so over four times the next week.
“It's more convenient, but it's not as personal because you can't replace that face to face interaction,” Mr Hakim said.
Many of our respondents similarly turned online to meet with their friends, such as through games or video calls, now that they can’t meet in person. The proportion of respondents who met their friends online more than three times a week nearly doubled, from 8.7 per cent to 21.7 per cent. The proportion who did so four or more times a week increased from 26.1 per cent to 39.1 per cent.
Mr Hakim said he would sometimes leave the video-conferencing application running in the background even though he and his friends were not chatting. “I feel like having everyone in the same venue plays a huge part in feeding our primal need for some authentic social interaction,” he added.
The proportion of respondents who exercised or played sports dropped from 48.1 to 32.7 per cent after gyms, swimming pools and later stadiums were shut as part of the circuit breaker measures. Singaporeans had to find other ways to keep fit.
Mr Hakim, who would usually hit the gym once a week with his friends, switched to static exercises at home using resistance bands and skipping ropes. He still did it with his friends, albeit on Zoom.
Likewise, consulting analyst Jamie Chiang had to cancel her weekend sports sessions with her friends, switching to online workout sessions and solo runs instead. “Badminton and basketball sessions (with my friends) were definitely more fun as we would chill together after each session and you don’t feel so confined in a small space,” the 23-year-old said.
VIDEO: Staying at home with the Wan family
Instead of exercising, it seemed that extra time went instead to watching videos, playing games and social media. The most popular pastime, among respondents, was watching videos on streaming services like Netflix or YouTube. The proportion of them who did so increased from 28.8 per cent to 40.4 percent.
Many also started gaming after the circuit breaker, with 30.8 per cent of respondents doing so compared to 19.2 per cent the week before. A popular game was Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the blockbuster Nintendo franchise that has smashed sales records worldwide since its release in March.
Ms Dana Yeo, 22, who works in the media industry, used to play Animal Crossing for two hours a day before the Circuit Breaker. Now that she spends her days at home and is working shorter hours, she finds herself playing the game about five hours a day to make sure her “island looks absolutely beautiful”.
RELATED STORY: An election in the time of the virus
The steepest increase was in social media use — only one respondent listed it as an activity to pass the time the week before the circuit breaker, but eleven (21.2 per cent) did the week after. Five of them mentioned TikTok, a video-sharing application that has been gaining popularity as more people are forced to stay home globally.
“Originally there was no draw and all and I couldn’t understand why people barely dancing for 30 seconds was popular,” said Ms Yeo, who only started using TikTok after the circuit breaker. “The first time I downloaded it, it was just to see the hype, and I finally got it.”
“Something about TikTok is like a black hole. I spent like three hours mindlessly scrolling the first time,” she added. She has not posted anything on the platform, but said she has “definitely thought about it” and might do so in the future.
Trainee developer Tan Yu Hui, 25, started getting hooked to cooking videos on TikTok a few days before the circuit breaker began.
“It's very interesting because there are some really legit chefs that post short videos of themselves cooking, and the good thing is, they make it seem so simple, it's very easy to learn,” Mr Tan said. “And some of the videos are so dumb its just entertaining to watch.”
Only two respondents (3.8 per cent) said they cooked a meal before the circuit breaker. That increased to 11 respondents (21.2 per cent) after the circuit breaker.
In particular, seven respondents (13.5 per cent) joined in the internet trend of making Dalgona coffee, a concoction of instant coffee and sugar whipped stiff and layered over cold milk.
RELATED STORY: In times of crisis, opposition and dissent take a backseat
Some picked up new skills online during the circuit breaker, like research assistant Fiona Lee, 23, who started learning programming. She has also been using her time to continue her Japanese language classes on her own with textbooks and online resources.
Ms Lee said she would rather take classes in person, because learning online was “distracting” and she couldn’t immediately ask questions if she didn’t understand the material. She also recognized the extra effort and determination needed for self-learning, as nobody would check on her progress online.
Only three respondents (5.8 per cent) participated in the Clap for #SGUnited campaign on March 30, which asked Singaporeans to applaud from their windows or balconies in a show of support for front-line workers in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
KEEPING UP WITH THE NEWS
News-reading habits among the youths did not seem affected by the circuit breaker. The proportion of respondents who kept up with the news dipped slightly, from 90.4 per cent before the circuit breaker to 86.5 per cent after. However, there was a small rise in the proportion of respondents who read the news daily, from 75 percent to 78.8 percent.
What stood out was how aware our respondents were of government spending on battling Covid-19.
While only 55.8 per cent said they read about Singapore’s 2020 budget, 76.9 per cent said they know about the $6.4 billion “Unity budget”, put together to address Covid-19. That’s despite the latter being a subset of the overall budget, both being announced on the same day in February.
The later two top-ups to the Covid-19 funds, the $48.4 billion “Resilience budget” and $5.1 billion “Solidarity budget”, received 86.5 per cent and 76.9 per cent of the respondents’ attention.
On April 3, the Government reversed its position on wearing face masks, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saying the Government would no longer discourage residents from wearing them in public.
Although the survey period was before the Government made it compulsory to wear a mask in public, three in four respondents always did so whenever they stepped out of the house in the first week of the circuit breaker.
This proportion was just 7.7 per cent the week before, with the majority (59.6 per cent) not wearing a mask at all, and the remaining 32.7 per cent only masked up in crowded places.
Physical science student Krishan Sanjay, 25, said he did not wear a mask before the circuit breaker but wore it every time he left the house when the circuit breaker started.
“I wasn’t sick so I didn’t wear (a mask). But when there was a sudden change to the government's advisory, I went to collect my reusable mask and have been wearing it ever since,” he said.
A vast majority of respondents — 92.3 per cent — collected their reusable face mask distributed by the government. It is a significant rise from the week before, where less than half (44.2 per cent) of the respondents had disposable masks.
For consulting analyst Ms Chiang, seeing more people masked at supermarkets gave her a clear sense that the virus outbreak was getting more serious.
“I thought it would be good to take greater precaution against the spread of the virus, which would help protect my family at home as well,” she said.
While anxious Singaporeans rushed to the supermarkets to stock up on essential supplies, most of the first-time voters said they did not join in the panic buying. Only 13.5 per cent of respondents said they had stockpiled items before the circuit breaker. This rose slightly to 19.2 per cent during the circuit breaker.
When interviewed, many of these respondents who indicated that they visited the supermarkets to stockpile supplies keenly avoided being labelled as hoarders or panic-buyers, saying instead they went to pick up some essential supplies that were running low at home.
Teaching assistant Johann Yamin, 26, stopped by the supermarket to purchase three packets of dried pasta and three cans of soup, once before the circuit breaker and once after.
“I’d hate to hoard anything,” said Mr Yamin. “I just thought my family would want to feel like we have enough at home when things are uncertain. And if others are in need of groceries, we would be able to share what we have as well.”
Mr Chan Jun Hong, a 24 year old philosophy undergraduate, visited his neighbourhood supermarket a total of eight times over the two weeks, but said he only bought items amounting to $20 each time.
“There is always a long snaking queue just to get into Sheng Shiong in the afternoon. So I usually go to NTUC late at night when there are fewer people. Other than to get ingredients for cooking, it also gives me a chance to take a walk outside and buy some snacks,” he said.
WORKING FROM HOME
Before the circuit breaker kicked in, 65.2 per cent of respondents were already working from home. Unsurprisingly, this rose to 95.4 per cent during the circuit breaker and after the Ministry of Manpower said on April 3 that companies must direct employees to work from home unless it is “not reasonably practical to do so”. Non-compliant companies could face jail time.
Research assistant Bertrand Seah, 25, did not find working from home too difficult. Much of his work can be done from his personal computer and he communicates with his colleagues via Whatsapp and Zoom.
“There are some added conveniences like not having to commute and being able to wake up a bit later”, he said. “If there are any downsides, it’s that I’m way less productive as I am sometimes too comfortable being at home.”
“But my boss has been understanding enough to know that working at home is different, so he hasn’t pushed us as hard. If there were a lot of things to get done it might have been more of a struggle, but I am currently managing quite well,” he added.
For Thum Pei Yi, a 24-year-old auditor, not being able to meet her clients in person has posed many challenges for her.
“Before the circuit breaker, we could physically go up to our clients and ask them questions and get a response immediately,” she said. “Now everything is delayed and there are so many documents pending, which prevents us from being able to finish our work.”
The extension of the circuit breaker to June 1 has been met with exasperation throughout the country. Many long to have their lives return to normal after having been cooped up at home for weeks.
But for Ms Thum, life will not be as usual when she returns to her office.
“It’s going to be so hectic at work once the circuit breaker is lifted in order to make up for lost time,” she said.
Video by Evangelista Wan.