Merlion Park with my mask

Approaching Normalcy in Singapore

Merlion Park with my mask
Merlion Park with my mask

We are slowly starting to settle into life in Singapore. We have built most of our IKEA furniture, started meeting up with friends and are attempting to settle into a routine here. A few weeks ago, my children started school. I’ve gone to the hair salon and I got my eyes checked last week. It’s crazy to think that most of these things are still not possible in San Francisco due to the number of COVID-19 cases.

When we left San Francisco, we were sanitizing everything we touched. If we went out, we would come home, shower, change and wash our clothes. We washed and sanitized our hands so much that they were getting red and cracked. We only met friends for picnics in the park, 6 feet apart (2 meters) with masks. Groceries were wiped and disinfected. Packages were quarantined for 48 hours before they were opened.

We knew we were moving to Singapore and didn’t want to jeopardize our move. We were concerned with keeping ourselves healthy.

San Francisco was one of the first cities in the U.S. to put quarantine or “lockdown” measures in place so we have been in a state of quarantine or self-isolation since mid-March.

Upon arrival in Singapore, we began a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine before being allowed to mix with the general public. It was only after our quarantine ended and we began setting up life here that we started to feel more normal than we’d felt in months. Neighborhood shopping malls are crowded, people are riding public transit, restaurants are open and children are in school. What a contrast!

Contact Tracing

Scanning QR codes for contact tracing purposes

In addition to strict quarantine measures for overseas arrivals, Singapore has implemented a compulsory contact tracing system. Anytime you visit a shopping mall, doctor’s office, hair salon, park, etc., you scan a QR code keyed to the location you are visiting. You enter your national ID number (roughly equivalent to the US Social Security number) or, in my case, a passport number. This information is saved and pre-populated going forward. You go about your business in that location and when you leave, you check out. This allows the government to notify people who were in the same place at the same time as someone who may have had the coronavirus.

In many cases, large buildings, shopping malls and grocery stores will also have temperature scans.

Masks & Social Distancing

Please Keep a Safe Distance
Social Distance in Singapore

Masks are required everywhere, with the exceptions being eating, swimming or strenuous exercise. No one questions whether to wear a mask, you just do it. In fact, you would probably get fined for not having one. Interestingly, as Singapore began to open up after their lockdown and promote mask wearing, reusable masks were given to everyone, free of charge. There’s nothing like taking away excuses to promote desired behavior.

Social distancing is encouraged but looks different than in the U.S. The mandated distance between people is 1 meter (approximately 3 feet) which to Americans feels like a normal amount of personal space even without a pandemic. Given how densely populated Singapore is, if 2 meters were the required amount, we’d run out of space pretty quickly.


Most restaurants are open but like the rest of the world, tables are spaced out and you are not allowed to have more than 5 people in your group. Masks are worn until your food or drinks are served. Things have not returned to normal where fine dining is concerned but I don’t think things are as fundamentally changed as in the U.S.

People in Singapore tend to live in smaller spaces and it is too hot to gather outside in the middle of the day so restaurants and shopping centers serve as gathering places unlike the parks do in San Francisco.


At the Singapore American School, where my children attend, students have assigned seating with tables and desks spaced at least 1 meter apart. For group work and playground time, children are divided into smaller groups of 4-5 students. These small groups serve as their social bubble for two weeks after which new groups are assigned.

Regular hand washing and frequent cleaning of stations is a regular part of school life.

Like many countries, large gatherings are still not allowed in Singapore. The school cafeteria is closed in accordance with this so students eat lunch in their classrooms at their assigned seat.

Girls wearing masks in tropical garden

Life in Singapore is not normal just as it is not normal in San Francisco or anywhere else. There is no traveling off the island. Museums and other attractions remain closed. Wedding and funeral gatherings are significantly reduced. Tourist and hospitality industries have been hit hard in Singapore too.

What I have appreciated about spending these short weeks in Singapore is the clear set of guidelines and the overall understanding that these guidelines are to keep everyone healthy. The country is united in its effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

I’m happy to participate in contact tracing and to wear a mask everywhere especially after months of isolating. My children are also happy to make these accommodations. With less than 100 active cases compared with over 4000 cases in San Francisco, some days life even feels like normal.

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