Singapore— There are many things to get used to as Singapore enters the first phase of the easing of “circuit breaker” restrictions, with more situations becoming part of our “new normal,” which incidentally also seems to be the catchphrase of the season.

Phase 1 of our new lives will start on Tuesday, June 2, with part of the workforce returning to their jobs and some students going back to school. This phase may last as long as four weeks, and only when community transmissions stay low, authorities say, will all students be allowed to return to their regular classes. Similarly other activities of “normal” life such as eating in restaurants will also resume in due course.

In the meantime, the wearing of masks, physical distancing in public places, and working from home as much as we can is expected to continue, and be part of the new normal, until a viable vaccine is developed. When this will be is still unknown, as it takes months, or even years, for vaccines to be developed, tested, and manufactured for commercial use.

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Therefore, people can expect life to get back to some semblance of pre-Covid-19 days, although this may take a while yet.

However, there are some who believe that certain things should never go back to the way they were.

For example, if part of going back to normal means turning a blind eye to the living conditions of the country’s migrant workers, then there should be no going back to it, according to an editorial on the website Wake Up, Singapore. While the piece was published last month, the points the author made are perhaps even more relevant now, as the country prepares to emerge from circuit breaker restrictions.

Foreign workers have not always been treated with kindness or respect in Singapore, the article pointed out, what with photos of them napping in void decks appearing in crowdsourced sites such as STOMP, or their being disallowed to use the restrooms in shopping malls, or MPs thoughtlessly referring to them as “walking time bombs.”

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Ironically, many Singaporeans seem to forget that the country runs on inexpensive migrant labour, due to workers from South Asian countries willing to take jobs that Singaporeans don’t wish to do.

Many Singaporeans even question the framing of the migrants’ situation in the country in negative terms. They say that the workers’ conditions (and salaries) are better here than in their home countries. And if they don’t like their conditions here, then they can just go home, some add.

The op-ed in Wake Up, Singapore, reads, “For years, dormitories were overcrowded, lacked proper sanitation, and were ridden with disease-carrying pests. Whenever concerns were raised with the authorities, little was done because of opposition from employers. Wages were used as a blackmailing tool to silence would-be whistleblowers; fall in line or your contract is revoked and what happens to your family back home then?”

The coronavirus pandemic has had lessons for the world to learn, mainly in terms of healthcare and economics. But since the pandemic has forced Singapore to face the reality that what affects migrants’ lives may potentially affect everyone, there are lessons to be learned from this as well. It would be a shame if the country did not take heed. —/TISG

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