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Very risky to open up for CNY in Singapore – as Covid-19 and new variants rage elsewhere

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah




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Here we are at a very interesting week – with a couple of events both local and abroad which have repercussions for what lies ahead. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

There’s Donald Trump. He’s out. Maybe not down yet. He says “We’ll be back.” Who knows. And there’s Joseph Biden Jr, the newly-inaugurated 46th President of the United States of America, promising to bring under control the Covid-19 now savaging his country. He’s also appealing for unity, which is going to be a tough task, depending on what the Republican Party wants to do with Trump or Trumpism. Indeed, the US Senate will on February 8 begin its own hearing on the impeachment charges presented by the US Congress and decide whether to punish Trump for his part in inciting the mob which rampaged through the Capitol on January 6. Decisions.

I have this to say: Every time outsiders predict the demise or decline of the now apparently not that exceptional country called USA, something always takes place which says: maybe not. Anyone who has watched Amanda Gorman, US youth poet laureate, recite her poem, The Hill We Climb, cannot but be inspired, cannot but not write off the US:

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“And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.

“We are striving to forge our union with purpose. To compose a country committed to all cultures, colours, characters and conditions of man. And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.

“We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.”

Brilliantly put.

At 22, Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet ever. She also shares a special connection with President Biden: both grew up with speech impediments (Biden had a stutter while Gorman struggled to pronounce certain letters and words). Both overcame. Remember that Lee Kuan Yew had also to overcome his dyslexia.

Americans have cast their votes – and the people they have chosen, from both sides of the country’s divide, will have to make some important decisions in the weeks and months ahead – as they grapple seriously with Covid-19, restore faith in the nation’s institutions, fight the insidious disease of falsehoods, overcome racism and forge a workable unity between the 81,283,098 Americans (51.3 per cent) who supported Biden and the 74,222,958 (46.8 per cent) who went for Trump.

In Singapore, a budding “bromance” between Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and Education Minister Lawrence Wong fascinates me. The two have been in the public limelight for months as co-chair for the Multi-Ministry Task Force battling Covid-19. The respect each has for the other as they hold their press conferences to update the country on the virus situation has been palpable. Both seem on top of most of their problems and issues and have been able to communicate effectively to Singaporeans the challenges facing them. I have already said earlier that Wong is a person to watch in the search for a future prime minister. He has an understated self-confidence which I like. He readily acknowledges Gan as a mentor.

What I also like is that neither has any kind of baggage as they go about their duties. They just quietly do their best, to be judged by the public on their anti-Covid-19 effort which has been pretty impressive, given, as they themselves point out, that there have been and will continue to be so many unknowns.

They have made what I think is a momentous decision in the struggle against Covid-19. Because Chinese New Year is around the corner, they have allowed gatherings of up to eight people. This means visits are allowed, with the visiting limit of a maximum of two other households a day “as much as possible”. Lo heis are permitted but must be silently done.

Is the government trying to have its cake and eat it? There are multiple waves of infections surging everywhere, including in Malaysia, Indonesia, the US, Europe and Hong Kong. New, maybe more deadly, variants already are on the horizon.

The Task Force should not let what they have achieved so far be undone at this stage.

I truly cannot see how many enforcers have to be rounded up to make sure the Covid-19 rules are followed as they “monitor” the hundreds of thousands of households holding their celebrations.

Dare the current Cabinet make the unpopular but perhaps correct live-saving decision – at least for this Chinese New Year – until the picture is clearer or until it is safer to open up in 2022?

The People’s Action Party’s first-generation made two highly unpopular moves which could be said to be clearly anti-tradition.

Lee Kuan Yew and company banned the tradition of cracker-firing during Chinese New Year. The country has been the better for that decision. Unnecessary fires and loss of lives were prevented.

The 1G leaders also went all out to stamp out corruption which was a way of life in most Chinese -societies. When the Hong Kong authorities set up their own anti-corruption agency in 1974, there was resistance. Its Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was lambasted as Interference with Chinese Ancient Custom.

Dare the current Singapore government do the right thing? CNY can be postponed or very modestly observed by Chinese Singaporeans for one year – for everyone’s safety and greater good. Forget about visits and gatherings for just this Year of the Ox.


Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.




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