It has been a few months since Singapore shifted to “living with Covid” and treating it as endemic. Most restrictions for gatherings and dining have been lifted and more workers have returned to their workplaces.
Food outlets and shopping malls are once again abuzz with customers. Traffic congestion and crowded MRT trains are becoming commonplace. What a stark contrast to the empty food outlets and quiet roads during the height of the pandemic not so long ago.
Most appear keen to return to the pre-pandemic days. There are, however, some reluctant ones. They can be divided into two groups.
The first group, which I am guessing is small in number, comprises those who are fearful that the virus is still lurking as a health threat. Indeed, their belief is not irrational—in late May, as I write this, reported infections in Singapore hovered around 2,500 daily.
The second group, another silent minority, are those who have caught a glimpse of the possible benefits of a “new normal”. Many who had to work from home saw that some tasks could be effectively managed from home, reducing the hassle of commuting to and from work. Others found time to attend to both work and home responsibilities. Yet others found opportunities to get more connected with their families.
Some of my counselling clients are not at all happy about things returning to pre-pandemic normal. They are concerned that the relative calm recently enjoyed in their marital relationships will be disrupted by their spouses returning to their previous work routines. Their anxieties come not so much from their spouses’ work per se but rather the after-office activities like entertaining customers and the freer intermingling between men and women in the workplace.
Sadly, all who shared their regret are women. One said that with flights resuming, she feared her husband might restart his philandering ways. Another was concerned that with the re-opening of KTVs, her husband might feel the urge to make up for lost time and resume coming home in the wee hours. Yet another was concerned that the lifting of curbs would restart her husband’s propensity to drink without limits.
Talking with some of the husbands, I heard some who felt they lost their independence during the circuit breakers. Some felt forced to spend more time with the family, to slow down from a mad rush of work or to engage in some form of exercise—changes which they admitted to actually experiencing as good. The sad reality, though, is that many of these changes seem to be only temporary. With the lifting of restrictions, many seem to have returned to their old habits with a vengeance.
Without a doubt, we all experienced curbs to personal liberty during the height of the pandemic. We had to make changes, adjust and adapt.
Rather than mindlessly returning to the old norms, however, let us not forget what we saw as qualitative improvements in our lives. For instance, when going out in big groups was restricted, families learnt to spend time meaningfully together doing things like playing board games or baking, or eating more meals at home instead of sitting across strangers in food courts. And when stores were shut, evening walks in parks replaced aimless wandering around shopping malls.
As we adapt to living with Covid, let us not be hasty and “throw the baby out with the bath water”. May we be more intentional in using our precious time and being available to important others. Let it not take another pandemic for us to remember to value what we have.
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.