The coronavirus pandemic, arguably the most significant crisis to have hit the country since independence, could have been expected to dent Singaporeans’ confidence in their future. After all, social and economic development was largely on an upswing, in spite of economic headwinds that buffeted it periodically. A crisis such as Covid-19 could have shaken public confidence in the collective future. However, a study conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) found that over the past year, residents here have learnt to better cope with the pandemic on various fronts, even though many remain cautious about their livelihoods. The study carried out online polls with groups of 500 Singapore residents each at regular intervals between April last year and last month. According to IPS researchers, societal trust, or the social glue that builds strong communal bonds and improves psychological well-being, has played a key role in helping Singapore adapt to the new normal.
Social glue ultimately is a function of effective governance. Covid-19 has tested that quality around the globe. But Singapore has emerged relatively unscathed. Hence, the country has even overtaken New Zealand to lead this month’s Bloomberg Covid Resilience Ranking, which measures the best and worst places to be during the pandemic. Singapore has brought locally transmitted cases down to almost zero because of strict border curbs and a stringent quarantine programme. It has also administered vaccines to cover about a fifth of the population, ahead of places such as New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan. On the economic front, active governance has manifested itself in the form of programmes such as the Jobs Support Scheme, which provides wage support to employers to help them retain their local employees by offsetting their salaries. Singapore’s epidemiological and economic response to the pandemic gave residents a reason to believe that there was a way out of the despair that Covid-19 inflicted on the country. That belief buttressed their self-confidence, although older workers fretted over their employment prospects, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
One worrying aspect of the IPS study, however, is its finding that while two in three Singaporeans are willing to take the Covid-19 vaccine if it is offered to them, another one in five is neutral about it. Indeed, half the population has concerns about the vaccine’s safety, possible side effects and efficacy. These survey findings go against the grain of official efforts and medical evidence that promote the protective effects of vaccination. Inoculation represents the best prospect for escape from the Covid-19 trap. Vaccination can also be the new social glue tying Singapore together in these times of trial and should not be ignored.