Jeffrey Tan, the owner of a dance studio in downtown Singapore , estimates he has lost five figures in earnings since he stopped holding classes at the end of March, as the city state stepped up social distancing before a partial lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak . Like many business owners, Tan had been eagerly awaiting news on when Singapore, which is approaching its eighth week of the so-called circuit breaker this weekend, would fully reopen its economy. But an announcement earlier this week of a three-phase reopening from June 2 – with dance studios and fitness facilities likely to begin operating only in the last phase – left him feeling despondent. “We have no idea when we can resume teaching. If we can’t teach, we can’t make money, we can’t pay rent,” he said, adding that his monthly rent stood at S$15,000 (US$10,500). “Our studio will face a financial crisis after six months. There is no way we [can make] enough money for rental, not forgetting our other expenses such as staffing.” Some Singapore schools, trades to reopen in June as circuit breaker eases Tan hopes the government will do more to help struggling businesses, even as officials have tapped into the country’s deep sovereign reserves for a S$63 billion stimulus package comprising measures including cash handouts and wage subsidies. Finance minister Heng Swee Keat is slated to deliver an unprecedented fourth budget on Tuesday to help some trades that will remain closed in June. But as the city state crossed 30,000 infections on Friday, Singapore residents are feeling the fatigue of being cooped up at home and the uncertainty for the future is beginning to bite. The country’s trade ministry is expecting a contraction of its bellwether economy this year, downgrading its full-year growth forecast twice, to a range of -4 per cent to -1 per cent. Economists have predicted that full-year lay-offs in the country of 5.6 million could reach 150,000 to 200,000. ‘EVERYONE IS TIRED’ In a weekly online survey by independent pollster Blackbox Research, slightly more than half of the 500 respondents between May 12 and 16 indicated they felt more uncertain about the current climate, up from 44 per cent in the previous week. About 45 per cent of them were frustrated, and 41 per cent of them felt anxious. Some 54 per cent also said they were earning less during the pandemic. But the poll also found that 84 per cent of them felt the government was moving in the “right track” –the highest rating in about two months. Wang, an advertising professional in his late-20s, said working from home had raised his stress levels. “There is an added pressure to attend to work requests and emails regardless of the time of the day,” he said. “This compared to having an office where despite long working hours, you know that you’ll be done for the day once you step out of it.” Experts have pointed to the lockdown negatively impacting mental health – anecdotally, there has been a rise in calls to helplines and an increase in family violence, skirmishes between members of the public over violations of safe-distancing measures and online shaming of those who flout lockdown rules. Singapore sees cheap tests, virus vaccine as key to economic recovery Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases doctor, said the fatigue that Singaporeans were feeling was expected, and that people wanted “immediate results with excellent outcomes”, but that would not happen. “Everyone is tired – but let up, and we will have the infection numbers rise again, and the economy will once again be at risk,” he said. In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the battle against the Covid-19 disease was “far from over”. This was why dining out at restaurants would only be permitted at a later phase of reopening, when authorities were confident that community transmission would stay low. Countries from China to South Korea had seen a resurgence in infections after easing restrictions, he said. Still, some like National University of Singapore student Chng Huiru are disappointed. The 22-year old bought a toy poodle and expected restrictions – that classified pet stores as non-essential businesses that had to close – to ease on May 5 so she could collect her pet. But the authorities extended the circuit breaker until June 1 and recently said the sale of pets would remain restricted even after that date. Chng said she was worried about the puppy’s welfare. “I am really frustrated at the government’s lack of clarification of certain decisions like why pet sales are still not allowed,” she said. “My puppy has been stuck at the breeder’s place, as no exceptions have been made for it to be transported to the pet shop. It’s worrying because the breeder is experiencing a manpower shortage and puppies need a high level of care.” LACK OF CLARITY? The mood was not always this gloomy in the city state. Earlier in the year, Singapore received global praise for its handling of the pandemic, including its daily updates made by cabinet ministers and available as WhatsApp broadcast chats, with infection statistics available online. Lee also gave four televised speeches. Lo Ying-ru, Head of Mission and World Health Organisation ( WHO ) representative to Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore, described it as a “one voice” approach. “[It] creates trust and confidence in the government and health authorities and helps reduce panic and help people recognise the benefit of their individual and collective actions,” she said. While the government’s “circuit breaker” term was criticised by some who said the phrase downplayed the situation and could not be grasped by older residents, others viewed it positively. Why aren’t Singaporeans using the TraceTogether app? Jeremy Lim, associate professor at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said the term “connotes that the system is sound and functioning well, and needs a brief respite to set things back in order”. The government also named the annual budget and two off-budget measures the Unity Budget, Resilience Budget, and Solidarity Budget, to assure residents they would be supported. But as the number of coronavirus infections in the city state exploded in April – driven by clusters at migrant worker dormitories , which now make up more than 90 per cent of cases – the authorities kept modifying rules and adding new ones, which could have sparked confusion, said Leong, the infectious diseases expert. Claire Hooker, senior lecturer of health humanities at the University of Sydney, said however, that constant rule changes were the case for many countries that had seen a sharp rise in infections, and it reflected that governments had been making decisions “on the fly”. This would not be a problem if officials communicated the situation effectively, she said. “The principles of communication which the Singapore government knows well … include acknowledging that the situation may change and trying to explain a rationale for what they are doing,” Hooker added. In Singapore’s case, a “clear communication package” could be seen from how the government had tried to set out phases in its recovery, said Hooker. She added that some confusion could have arisen from the false impressions Singaporeans had about when the pandemic would end. “The government needs to be sitting there saying that ‘we cannot do anything simple and defined and bounded to solve the situation, and instead, we need to be an adaptive, agile society’,” she said. Singapore’s NCID sees ‘recurring waves’ of coronavirus until vaccine found Hooker said as Singapore continued easing its restrictions, the government could take a leaf out of New Zealand ’s playbook. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has won international plaudits for her decisive leadership in effectively curtailing the virus and for her clear and consistent messaging. Hooker pointed to how Ardern was clear about the country’s phased reopening, and that she informed people what would trigger the next phase. Similarly, the Singapore government could establish frameworks to help citizens understand its decision-making, such as having a clear marker on when the country could move from the first to second phase of recovery. This could be in the form of a specific reproduction number that the island nation needed to hit, Hooker said. A reproduction number, which measures a disease’s ability to spread, is the number of people on average that one infected person will pass a virus on to. Any rating higher than 1.0 is a cause for concern as an epidemic could break out if control measures are not imposed. Hooker said it would be helpful if Lee could front another televised speech. The Singapore leader’s appearances at key junctures over the course of the outbreak – such as when announcing the partial lockdown and its extension – had presented himself as an empathetic and reassuring figure. “Ardern was able to jump on to Facebook in her track pants late at night to answer citizens’ questions,” she said. “That’s not going to work in Singapore, it’s not the right style. But having the prime minister similarly come out to explicitly address all of the issues worrying people … would be a really effective thing to do.” Additional reporting by Kok Xinghui Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.