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People in Changi Airport in Singapore. Photo: EPA-EFE

‘Too early’: Chinese nationals in Singapore criticise decision to ease indoor mask mandate

  • Some Chinese immigrants in Singapore say the government is sacrificing ‘people’s health for money’, and fear they could catch Covid-19 again
  • Misgivings could be due to constant use of Chinese social media platforms and belief that China’s zero-Covid policy ‘is always right’, academic says
As Singapore eases an indoor mask mandate this week, some residents like Tao, 50, will continue keeping their masks on.

While Tao, a naturalised Singapore resident originally from China’s Wuhan city, believes the city state’s decision to relax its pandemic restrictions is based on scientific evidence, he still fears his family will catch Covid-19 again.

“Singapore’s epidemic control has achieved remarkable success, but I still hope there are stricter regulations,” says Tao, who asked for his surname to be used. “I will insist on wearing masks as long as the government does not stop people from wearing them.”


Singapore lifts indoor mask rule in most public spaces, eases quarantine for unvaccinated travellers

Singapore lifts indoor mask rule in most public spaces, eases quarantine for unvaccinated travellers
Singapore on Monday eased its few remaining Covid-19 curbs, no longer requiring residents to wear masks in most public spaces except in healthcare settings such as hospitals and on public transport. It now also allows unvaccinated travellers to enter without quarantine.

Authorities cited an improved situation in Singapore, where many people are fully vaccinated and have also caught the virus. Residents are urged to continue wearing masks at crowded places or if they feel ill.

But part of Tao’s anxiety stems from the stark differences in the pandemic strategies adopted by Singapore and his native China, where some of his relatives and friends still live.

Unlike Singapore, whose policies revolve around living with the virus, China is one of few jurisdictions clinging to a zero-Covid strategy, which means it has continued to keep its borders largely shut and conduct strict lockdowns and quarantines.

A medical worker collects a swab from a resident at a nucleic acid testing site in Shenzhen on Monday, as the city tries to contain a fresh outbreak. Photo: Reuters

Chinese authorities on Monday shut down Shenzhen’s Huaqiangbei district, home to the world’s largest electronics wholesale market, to contain a fresh outbreak.

“If something unfortunate happens to my family, I think I might not be so supportive of the Singapore government’s open-door policy,” Tao said. “I fear the decision to ease restrictions has come too early.”

Like Tao, some Chinese immigrants in Singapore remain apprehensive of the new rules. Many have taken to social media, including Chinese microblogging site Weibo, to criticise the move, suggesting the Singapore government has opted for a rapid reopening just to keep its economy afloat.

“This is a government that sacrifices its people’s health for money,” one said. Another comment read: “Singapore has shot itself in the foot again.”

But others lauded the development, saying it was hard to imagine when their friends and loved ones in China could roam the streets without a mask.

One user said: “Come on China! Even though you still have to wear N95 masks, you’ll be as successful as Singapore one day.”

Hong Kong vs Singapore: a look at the Covid-19 numbers that truly matter

Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, said it was not new that Chinese nationals living abroad had been angered by domestic policies, particularly if they were new immigrants.

He noted that some quarters had attempted to push the Singapore government to impose harsher measures such as mass testing of residents in the early stages of the pandemic, an approach that some countries, including China, had adopted.

This, he suggested, could be due to the immigrants’ constant use of Chinese social media platforms containing information disseminated by Beijing.

“They are very much under China’s influence especially when it comes to Covid-19 measures,” Wu said. “They think China’s policy is always right.”

While it would be hard to wire them into thinking from Singapore’s perspective, Wu said their mindsets would gradually change once the policies proved effective.

Diners at Jewel Changi Airport mall in April 2022. Singapore made wearing masks outdoors optional in March this year. Photo: Bloomberg

Singapore made wearing masks outdoors optional in March this year, nearly two years after a blanket mask mandate was imposed in April 2020.

A survey of 1,046 people, conducted on August 25-26 by UK pollster YouGov’s Omnibus online research service, found that nearly 48 per cent of Singapore residents would remain masked in shopping centres after Monday’s rule change.

And 39 per cent said they would remain masked during indoor events or festivals, while 37 per cent said they would do so in places of worship.