This is the year that many of us would want to forget, but ironically, we can’t. We started the year with so much hope, made plans to visit places we never been to, sort out our next career move and some may have had that huge wedding planned.
It all came to a screeching halt when the pandemic swooped in and took the whole world by surprise. We can look on the year as a glass half full or half empty, that is your call. Here at Options, we would like to see the good that came out of it such as the quiet and important role healthcare workers played, how much we relied on foreign workers and delivery guys; the everyday heroes who made sure the poor did not go hungry as they volunteered to pack food; the guys who collected and reconfigured used computers for kids who needed it but could not afford for home-based learning.
The year has also given us much to discuss and reflect.
Options looks back on this incredible year and discovers some events that you may have forgotten; we include the funny, the good, the bad and some that made us go “hmm”.
We wish our readers a great New Year that will be filled with many possibilities and hope as the vaccine is the bright light at the end of this long and dark tunnel.
A for Arts and Culture
Legend has it that a ghost light must always be lit when a theatre is empty. This poignant symbol was seen everywhere from Broadway in the US to the West End in London. In Singapore, Ivan Heng — the artistic director of local theatre company Wild Rice — has also kept the light on at his newly-opened theatre at Funan Mall.
It was a dark time for performances, shows and exhibitions as everything was cancelled. With that, the arts and culture scene in Singapore came to a standstill.
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Undeterred by the “circuit breaker” measures — implemented as a preventive measure in response to the Covid-19 pandemic on April 7 — theatre companies like Wild Rice began screening their past performances on YouTube. The arts community had to think out of the box to reach out to their audiences. For example, leading theatre companies like Pangdemonium, Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) and Wild Rice collaborated and produced a short free-to-air film about the challenges faced by the arts companies in Singapore titled The Pitch.
The Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) launched full-length SCO concerts at home. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) even offered newly recorded and archival concerts online.
Elsewhere, art galleries and museums screened virtual tours for the home-bound as we got up close and personal with the many exhibits.
B for Baking
Baking surged in popularity this year, with hashtags like #quarantinebaking trending on Instagram with, over 307,000 posts tagged. Recipes were created and shared this year goodies such as bread, cinnamon rolls, cheesecakes, brownies and cookies being especially popular.
Perhaps it was all an effort to keep themselves occupied during quarantine or lockdown. To some, baking can be rather therapeutic and meditative, as they focus on bringing ingredients together. According to market research company Nielsen, sales in France of flour surged by 160% y-o-y in March, ranking it among other emergency essentials such as rice (160%), pasta (200%) and soap (220%). Also, data from Google confirmed that global searches for the keyword “yeast” saw a 300% increase in April, compared to March.
Singaporeans too jumped on the bandwagon as the “circuit breaker” period saw dessert and cake stores closed. Many locals grabbed the situation by the hands — literally — and started kneading their own dough. Supermarkets and baking supply stores quickly saw ingredients fly off the shelves. There were even moments when essentials like flour, vanilla essence, baking powder, cream cheese and whipped cream were scarce!
As the country emerged from the lockdown in Phase Two and the dessert stores reopened, some have put away their aprons and whisks. But this trend is not going away — especially since we now see more small home baking businesses popping up around the island.
C for Circuit Breaker
On April 3, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that a “circuit breaker” will be enforced to help contain the spread of Covid-19. Mask wearing in public became mandatory and many of us suddenly found ourselves alone and working in isolation. Others had to suddenly share living spaces with a family and learn to live with each other — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
SEE:The worst is over for transport operators
These were uncertain times as we watched the number of Covid-19 cases rise. On some days, the numbers even hit an alarming four figures. We stayed indoors and went out only for a walk around our neighbourhoods just for exercise. Hey, even a trip to the grocery store was a treat!
Friends and family got creative as we planned to meet on social networking app Houseparty in the evenings. This face-to-face social network allowed us to connect with each other. We toasted to better times as we ordered food for each other as we had virtual meals together. We even played cool online games together! A check on the Gov.sg app showed that as of Dec 9, the Ministry of Health has confirmed an additional six cases of Covid-19 infection in Singapore. All of the cases were imported. If nothing else, the low numbers is proof that the strict measures work.
D for Delivery
Singaporeans are known to travel from Bedok to Bukit Batok to find the best char kuay teow or nasi lemak. Can you imagine what the circuit breaker meant to the food lovers?
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It is no wonder takeaway food became the star performer during the circuit breaker as orders kept pouring in. From fine-dining restaurants to hawker stalls, food delivery services mushroomed.
An online survey conducted by the National University of Singapore showed that food delivery rose by almost a fifth per week when lockdown measures were in place and there was a 73% surge in delivered meals. One thing is clear: Post-Covid-19, the trend is here to stay.
E for Elections
Elections were announced amid the Covid-19 pandemic and we were not sure how this was going to happen with safe distancing measures. In July, we saw how the campaigns changed as rallies were televised. It made quite a difference to the older Singaporeans who looked forward to the rallies at the various suburbs — the most famous being the lunchtime rallies, held by the People’s Action Party (PAP) at Fullerton since 1959.
Candidates were scrutinised and some stars emerged, notably Jamus Lim of the Workers’ Party (WP) who won us over with his boyish good looks, articulate speeches and his “warm the cockles of my heart” speech, which spawned many memes. PAP had some star candidates as well — like Edward Chia, who is also the managing director of Timbre Group. His experience in this area will be much needed now as the F&B industry faces many changes.
SEE: STI's bullish moves after US election to continue
For the numerous other incidents that happened in the lead up to the elections, social media had it covered. One notable instance was Raeesah Khan’s race-related Facebook post, made in February 2018 and May this year. It generated controversy and two police reports were filed against her. The WP candidate — and now Member of Parliament for Sengkang group representation constituency (GRC) — was later given a stern warning by the police for promoting animosity between racial groups. She has since apologised.
In the end, the ruling PAP won 83 of the 93 seats in Parliament, with just over 61% of the popular vote. Meanwhile, WP retained Aljunied GRC and Hougang constituency and won Sengkang GRC after the results were tallied.
F for Fitness
Staying at home for long periods of time can affect your physical wellness, especially when you are constantly glued to the chair. With more time at home and gyms closed during the “circuit breaker” period, Singaporeans have gotten creative and found ways they could keep their fitness levels up without leaving home.
Healthcare professionals have long cautioned people about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. Hence, many also took this chance during the circuit breaker to keep fit.
SEE: No gym required
Several gyms and fitness studios took to the internet to post workout videos and blog posts on diets for their customers, while reaching out to newer ones. Some of the top home workouts this year included yoga and high intensity interval training (HIIT).
Some fitness studios, like spin cycle studio Revolution, have even rented out their bikes, while providing those who rent with access to online classes with their instructors. Fitness brands like Nike and Adidas have also made their mobile app available for free to allow people to learn how to keep fit at home.
Meanwhile, individuals were urged to exercise alone and only in their immediate neighbourhoods during the circuit breaker period. Park connector networks became popular exercise spots for people to jog, run and cycle.
G for Gin
Distilled predominantly from juniper berries and other botanical flavours, the spirit is easy on the palette and doesn’t overwhelm other mixes.
Which is why it is versatile enough to be drunk neat, on the rocks or mixed into a fancy cocktail and served frequently at pubs and bars.
As pubs, bars and clubs closed due to the social distancing and “circuit breaker” measures in Singapore, those needing a drink had to resort to all of two options — DIY cocktails or cocktail deliveries.
SEE: IN GOOD SPIRITS
If you are a dab hand at cocktail mixes, the classic gin and tonic is always a soothing respite after a long work day. Alternatively, a fancier mix such as an English garden cocktail or a Christmas gin cocktail should not be too difficult to recreate either.
Otherwise, look to cocktail deliveries and takeaways from establishments like Atlas Bar, Jigger & Pony and The Old Man Singapore.
Also, Singapore Distillery has launched six unique gins with local flavours such as juniper, cloves, mandarin orange, Ceylon cinnamon, Cassia cinnamon grains of paradise, angelica root, and more for the Singa Gin.
Stolen Roses Gin is a take on the Bandung drink and this is done by distilling a blend of roses with traditional gin botanicals and then rested with roses to pick up another layer of flavour as well as its lovely red colour.
H for Hygiene
Wear a mask, wash and sanitise your hands and practice social distancing. Why do we need to do this? According to the National Environment Agency, the virus can survive on surfaces of different materials for at least two to three days.
Rest assured that town councils all over Singapore have stepped up their frequency of cleaning and disinfection areas with high touchpoints such as lift buttons, notice boards, railings and letter boxes.
SEE: The smart bathroom
Apart from that, we faced new issues like “maskne”, or that condition where you breakout in acne because of the mask traps bacteria as we have it on for hours in a day. Many skincare companies have launched products to combat this — one example is Spa Esprit who introduced the Mask Avenger Facial, a non-invasive device that uses ultrasound that stimulates the facial muscles to promote lymphatic detoxification.
I for Isolation
When Singapore went into “circuit breaker” in April, a lot of people — especially those living alone and the elderly — found that isolation has taken its toll on their mental health. Socialising was limited to video chats, perhaps the hardest part was the human contact.
Ipsos, a market research company conducted a survey over the period of April 24 to May 4 this year to find out how Singaporeans are coping. Fortunately, three in four Singaporeans rate their mental health as good, very good or excellent. The remaining 25%, however, indicate fair or poor mental health. The study also showed that more men (57%) rate their mental health as very good or excellent than women (43%). Half of the respondents (51%) who report great mental health are those aged 45 years old and above. Those polled below the age of 34 were more likely than older individuals (older than 45 years old) to indicate “poor or fair” with regards to their mental health.
SEE: More than 18,000 beds have been created for Covid-19 as virus cases near 15,000
As we get on with our lives with the lifting of the circuit breaker measures, it is still important to follow these few tips:
- Keep socially active — meet a friend for walks in the park, a meal or even a movie.
- Take an online course, such as baking or craft work.
- Stick to a healthy meal plan and do not forget that your health comes first.
- Stay away from the news (especially fake news) and listen or watch light-hearted movies.
- Enjoy your own “me-time”: Create a spa at home, a long warm bath, give yourself a facial or even create your own spa routine (loads of suggestions online).
J for Jobs
This year has dealt a devastating blow to job security. According to economists, Singapore faces an employment crisis that is worse than the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis or the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.
This time, not one industry has escaped unscathed. Meanwhile, an accelerated economic restructuring brought about a permanent change, destroying jobs indefinitely. Recently, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said Singapore lost 147,500 jobs since the start of 2020 — its sharpest contraction on record.
Not only that, in the MOM’s latest labour market report, a total of 11,350 workers were laid off for the first half of 2020. This was higher than that during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, when there were 10,120 job cuts in the first half of 2003.
Among the worst hit industries include the aviation, travel, and hospitality sectors. As borders close and travel grounds to a halt, millions of workers in these industries — which forms the backbone of Singapore’s bustling tourism economy — lost their jobs. As restaurants shuttered, workers too, were let go. Entertainment outlets were ordered to close and many found themselves at a loss. Some restaurants closed down permanently, unable to cope with the losses incurred during the lockdown.
Even with government assistance — close to $100 billion has been dedicated in the past four Budgets to help Singaporeans through the Covid-19 pandemic — many struggled to make ends meet.
SEE: Close to 5,500 jobs available in healthcare sector with 80% offered by public healthcare clusters: MOM
When the borders were closed, many foreign workers had to also make the horrible decision between keeping their jobs, or possibly being separated from their families for weeks or even months.
Yet amidst the gloom, many who have lost their jobs emerged stronger from it, proving that the Singapore spirit never flags even during the darkest times.
Among them were the thousands of Singapore Airlines (SIA) cabin crew who switched roles to become caregivers and frontline workers during the pandemic. Some 800 of SIA’s crew were deployed as care ambassadors, or transport ambassadors. Not only that, a group of SIA crew banded together to open up a bistro called Kevin Khoo, a cheeky take on the way ‘cabin crew’ is pronounced.
Many Singaporeans too, turned to home-baking or home-based businesses after having lost their jobs. For example, ‘Eat My CB’ is the somewhat naughty name of the family-run, home-based curry bun (hence the CB) business started by the Lee family after they all lost their sources of income. Most of them were freelancers, including their 60-something-year-old parents. It was their mother, Annie’s, idea to start selling curry buns, and the family rallied together.
Then you have those like 39-year-old entrepreneur Yvonne Chang, who started Gnomecooked as a side gig after her retail business was put on hold during the circuit breaker. She began selling her homemade dry laksa, seafood pasta and roasted crispy-skin pork.
K for Knowledge
The pursuit of knowledge has always been invaluable. From learning a new skill, to picking up a musical instrument, from going to school to adult learning — our thirst for knowledge has rarely ever been satisfied.
When the circuit breaker was implemented, many found themselves with more time than usual on their hands. Aside from working from home, restaurants, bars, pubs, karaoke spots, movie theatres, attractions and entertainment centres were all shut, leaving Singaporeans with little to do except turn to the virtual world to fill their time.
The result was a search for knowledge more than ever before. In fact, in its ‘Year in Search’ recap, tech giant Google found that this year, people searched for ‘Why’ the most this entire year.
Many Singaporeans picked up new skills: Switching competencies mid-career, learning a new instrument, learning how to code and many more.
SEE: Trendlines Medical Singapore renews three year MOU with National Healthcare Group with view towards facilitating greater exchange of knowledge
Learning online was a huge thing this year too. Even though countries are at different points in their Covid-19 infection rates, worldwide there are currently more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries affected by school closures due to the pandemic, and they have turned to online learning to close the gaps.
There has been no denying the huge surge in use of online EduTech, with investments reaching US$18.66 billion ($24.92 billion) in 2019 and the overall market for online education projected to reach $350 billion by 2025, the investment is paying off.
From language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage since the Covid-19 outbreak. Platforms like edX also helped adults to learn new skills. It has a range of free online courses, from top universities such as Harvard, while learning platform Coursera has both free and subscription courses from the famed Wharton Business School.
Learning new skills and gaining knowledge also helps beat the blues — it improves mental health, keeps the mind sharp and keeps Alzheimer’s at bay. It also helps to improve self-esteem and keep productive, especially for those who have lost their jobs.
L for Loungewear
Although loungewear usually refers to clothes that are casual, comfortable and suitable for home wear, today’s ensembles are stylish enough to be worn outdoors too.
The term, which evolved into a fashion trend in 2020, has also come to mean as the kind of clothes you wear while working from home as staying indoors remains the new normal.
SEE: Buy Right
But staying at home means having less opportunities to dress up. So, the year saw a new trend: The rise of numerous loungewear collections that were stylish enough to be seen in public and comfortable enough to, well, lounge around at home.
Think matching satin sets, boyfriend shirts or modern kimono robes — comfortable to wear but also respectable enough to put on for Zoom meetings.
Besides, now that shopping for dresses and formalwear have become almost pointless considering the amount of time we actually spend outdoors, we foresee this becoming a regular staple in our wardrobes.
M for Masks
Never has a simple piece of cloth been so in demand during the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of us would remember the many “out of stock” signs every pharmacy had when the World Health Organization (WHO) released guidance that people should wear masks when outdoors. Few would have thought that we would be wearing masks every time we went out.
SEE: Get smart
Masks have also been so heavily politicised, especially in some countries. This is especially so in parts of the US, when some called using masks an attack on personal freedom and a sign of government overreach. There have even been protests held over measures involving these masks.
But in the middle of a pandemic, one must remember that masks not only protect yourself, but also the people around you. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo once said, “It’s not about me. It’s about we.”
N for Netflix
As millions around the world stayed home for much of the year, Netflix proved vital to surviving the lockdown. With theatres closed, the silver screen shrank to the size of mobile phones, tablets, televisions and — for invested cinephiles — short throw home projectors.
Stuck indoors, a record number of people turned to the streaming giant. Netflix reported the addition of a record 15.77 million paid subscribers globally in the first quarter — double the new subscribers it had expected.
SEE: Is it worth buying into Netflix now?
As we all stayed home, tuning in to the latest season of Money Heist or Peaky Blinders became more of a social event than ever before. Just like how friends and family gathered around a single black-and-white television set decades ago, web extensions like Netflix Party offer loved ones the chance to watch shows together, at least virtually.
For half an hour each time, we could pretend things were back to normal — or that the pandemic had never existed at all.
O for Online shopping
When stores were closed during the “circuit breaker”, people stuck at home turned to online shopping to keep themselves sane.
Regional online marketplace Lazada saw a surge in online shopping during this period, with a high influx of new registrations of both consumers and retailers. Lazada also owns online grocery platform RedMart, which saw a single order amounting to 400kg worth of items. This was a case of “panic buying”, or the rush to buy basic necessities after Singapore raised its Covid-19 alert level.
SEE: Customers can now order Zhongmin Baihui’s supermarket products online
Lazada says the period saw increased purchases of beauty products, electronics and home appliances. Many thought the buying sentiment would be lower due to the current conditions. Not so, as many seem to be is redirecting their travelling budget to shopping, especially as borders remain closed.
The recent 11.11 Singles’ Day sale on Nov 11 and Black Friday online events on Nov 27 were hugely popular. The 11.11 sale on Lazada saw several all-time highs — the online marketplace took just 10 seconds to reach $11 million in sales, for example. It also took Lazada just 17 hours to exceed last year’s sales. This year’s 11.11 also saw more than 150% increase in sales compared to last year, with the platform selling over 16,000 items per minute in the first 11 minutes of the sale event.
Brick-and-mortar retailers may complain about the disruption of online shopping platforms on their business. But clearly, a digital shift is crucial to survival — especially as consumers continue to stay home because of the pandemic.
P for Pyjamas
Similar to loungewear, pyjamas were yet another must-have in shopping carts this year as shoppers sought to console themselves with pretty nightwear amid the pandemic.
While the term is usually bandied about with loungewear, the way we see it, you can be more relaxed when selecting your pyjama of choice as it is technically meant for the bedroom and not to be seen in public.
SEE: Eat, sleep, Zoom, repeat?
With pyjamas, you can afford to reveal your personality in any way, shape, or form as no one — but your nearest and dearest — will see what you are wearing just before you go to bed.
There are a few types of pyjama styles and materials too – from the classic flannel pyjama, print sets, terry robes, luxurious satin pyjamas and the nightie.
If you ever feel the need to justify your purchases, remind yourself that you are bound to need variety if you have been flitting from pyjama to pyjama on a daily basis. Right?
Q for QR code
Have you checked-in yet?”. “Please check-in, ma’am, sir”. “Eh the QR cannot scan leh.” “Aiya I forgot to check-out sia.
If we were to play Safe Entry bingo, I am sure most of us would have already said or heard any of the phrases above. And no wonder: The nationwide Safe Entry digital contact tracing system, now prominently displayed at entrances of almost every single venue or location on the island, has been a huge part of our daily lexicon since April.
Developed by GovTech, the Safe Entry system logs individuals’ entry into a venue, simply by scanning the QR code or by scanning the barcode on the individual's NRIC.
The system captures details that enable contact tracers to find close contacts of infected cases quickly. Individuals scan a QR code on their mobile devices, and particulars such as their name along with their NRIC, FIN and mobile numbers are logged.
Should there be a confirmed case at that location, contact tracing can be sped up using information from SafeEntry, which in turn helps prevent new clusters from forming — these little square boxes are what keeps us safe as a nation.
SEE: Indonesia revises rule on entry ban for Singapore travel: Kompas
But did you know that the QR code was invented as early as 25 years ago, and was living in the tech wilderness for years (almost as a joke in the tech world) until the advent of WeChat, and the Snapcode?
In 1994, Denso Wave, then a division of Japanese automotive manufacturers Denso Corporation, announced the release of its QR Code. Developed by engineer Masahiro Hara, the QR stands for ‘quick response’ — the premise of the QR code was to be significantly faster and hold more information than your standard horizontal barcode. While the barcode holds information horizontally, the QR code does so both horizontally and vertically, which enables the QR code to hold over a hundred times more information.
However, the anonymity of QR codes — you would not know what the code will lead you to until you’ve scanned it — led to several rather high-profile mishaps. Take for instance the PR gaffe by Heinz in 2015. A customer had scanned what he thought was a QR Code that would lead to a promotion to design his own Heinz ketchup label.
However, the website on which the promotion was hosted, had long expired and the promotion only ran between 2012 and 2014. When the customer scanned the QR on the back of his ketchup bottle, it led him to far saucier destinations, to put it lightly.
What had happened was that a pornographic site had bought up the domain name (the website address) for itself, which meant that when the customer was redirected to the porn site instead of the Heinz promotional website.
While still widely used in packing, manufacturing or logistics and freight industries, the QR code never truly took off until the hugely popular chat app WeChat started using it. Users of WeChat can add each other, share information and more, just by scanning their QR codes with their cameras.
It has definitely gone through a resurgence since then, and as more phone makers finally started to enable cameras to natively scan QR codes, it has become far easier to scan the code compared to before, when you would need an app to read the code.
R for Rediscover Singapore
When was the last time you went to the Singapore Zoo? When you were in primary school? Well, we think it is about time you visited the zoo again. And while you are at it, why not pop over to the River Safari? After all, does it ever get old watching resident pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia eat bamboo shoots and not having a care in the world?
The answer is clearly no, because they are living their best lives — as should we, as we rediscover Singapore. While travelling is great, there is just as much to see and do within this tiny island we call home.
SEE: Singapore expert committee backs Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine
It was indeed rough times for these attractions when the eight-week “circuit breaker” forced a shutdown of all their operations. However, when the nation entered Phase Two in June, everyone heaved a sigh of relief as attractions were allowed to open again, albeit with crowd restrictions and strict hygiene and cleaning requirements.
Since reopening, crowds have begun to flock back to these attractions, which are usually packed to the brim with tourists. Now, with no more tourists coming in, local residents are taking advantage of it to rediscover what Singapore has to offer, and to enjoy these venues without the heaving crowds.
From Gardens by the Bay to the Jurong Bird Park, the government also moved quickly to drive crowds back by giving all Singaporeans above 18 years old SingapoRediscovers vouchers (worth $100) to be used at attractions and hotels (for staycations). The Singapore Tourism Board has, in fact, set aside $320 million in credits through these vouchers to encourage Singaporeans to rediscover their city, and support local businesses.
S for Self-care
No other phrase has been as important as ‘self-care’ in these Covid-19 times. As loved ones succumb to the disease and job losses loom, no one has escaped unscathed by this global pandemic.
In Singapore, reports show that more people are seeking mental health help than ever before. Reports have shown that Singaporeans are facing increased stress, anxiety and depression in the wake of the circuit breaker and restrictions from the pandemic.
A police statement in May showed a 22% increase in family violence-related offences from April 7 to May 6, as compared to before the circuit breaker period. In addition, an online survey of 1,000 people in Singapore conducted by market research company Ipsos over the period of April 24 to May 4 indicated that one in four respondents are not in good mental health.
Even anecdotally, mental health professionals and organisations report a spike in enquiries and calls to their helplines. According to news reports, a voluntary welfare organisation O’Joy looking after the mental health of seniors, saw a 26% increase in the number of clients in August and September, compared with the same period last year. In particular, the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) Insight Centre, which provides counselling services, saw an increase in its helpline calls by about 50% between February and March 2020, compared to the average calls attended from April 2019 till January 2020.
SEE: Survey shows Singaporeans are ill-prepared for end of life and incapacitating events: STEP
It does not take an expert to say that Covid-19 has devastated lives and livelihoods — the World Health Organisation states that fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, and at times when we are faced with uncertainty or the unknown. So it is normal and understandable that people are experiencing fear in the context of the pandemic.
Added to the fear of contracting the virus are the significant changes to our daily lives, our movements are also restricted in support of efforts to contain and slow down the spread of the virus. And, faced with new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, it is more important than ever that we look after our mental and physical health.
This has given rise to a concerted effort, most prominently over social media, on self-care and how to get through the anxiety. The hashtag #selfcare alone now has 38.8 million posts on Instagram, and ‘self-care’ was one of the most-searched words on Google this year. In fact, Google Trends showed that there was a massive uptick in the rise of searches related to anxiety, panic attacks, and treatments for panic attacks.
Even as we now have a glimmer of hope in the form of a vaccine, self-care is still paramount. It is crucial to carry on as much of our daily routine as possible, to get good sleep and exercise frequently while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
T for Tiktok
Launched in China as Douyin just four years ago, TikTok made its debut on the international market a year later. Lasting between three to 60 seconds, each short-form video ranges from dance challenges to comedy sketches, and its top content creators — most barely midway through their teens — have become full-fledged social media stars.
SEE: Trump gives blessing to TikTok deal, delays app store ban
In just three years, TikTok has amassed more than two billion downloads, inspiring a slew of knockoffs from incumbent social media giants. For example, Instagram premiered the short-form video platform Reels in August, while Snapchat launched Spotlight late last month.
But what is getting its competitors all worked up? In September, TikTok logged 53.5 million weekly average users in the US, making one in six US residents an active user on the app. According to mobile analytics firm App Annie, that meteoric rise is a staggering 75% growth year-to-date.
As a subsidiary of the China-based ByteDance, TikTok even had to fend off an attempt by the Trump administration to ban the app unless Microsoft could acquire it.
Even legacy news outlets are trying to get onboard the TikTok bandwagon to reach its largely Generation Z audience. To reach the readers of tomorrow — while disguising itself to fit the light-hearted tone of the app — Washington Post shed its glum ‘democracy dies in darkness’ tagline, swapping it out for a simple, yet painfully self-aware bio that reads ‘We are a newspaper’.
U for United
It has never been more true that in times of darkness, the light shines ever more brightly. Over the past year, stories of great courage, resilience and kindness have come to fore, proving that Singapore is united as a nation to fight this disease.
For example, a Singaporean mum of three decided that instead of just giving her daughter a present for her birthday, the best way to celebrate was to give back. Juwel (Nyla) Ang created Amelia’s Rainbow Fund, a charity initiative named after her daughter to raise money for the purchasing, packing and distribution of hygiene and care kits to low-income families with children. In just the course of nine days after they launched (on April 9), the initiative raised nearly $30,000.
Senior citizens, in particular, struggled with the “circuit breaker” as many face isolation and loneliness. This was why 72-year-old Serangoon Wellness Programme Ukulele Interest Group founder Dick Yip began to livestream ukulele sessions twice a week over Facebook to combat this.
SEE: United Global’s winning strategic relationships
More acts of kindness came pouring in, even from university students. From running a bee hoon stall, to raising $100,000 to feed underprivileged communities. Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students Ye Anran, Sheila Lim, Zechary Hoe and Lee Ray Sheng did their part to get food to those who need it most. Working with charitable organisation Food Bank SG, industrial kitchens and other charities, the four friends cooked and prepared meals to be distributed to low-income and needy communities.
Then you have Project Stable Staples (PSS), led by David Hoe and Francesca Wah, who support over 1,000 individuals from 215 families in rental communities impacted by Covid-19 and are suffering from income losses during the circuit breaker. The families are given $5 worth of grocery vouchers (per household member) fortnightly, to help them purchase basic staple foods.
Food insecurity was certainly something Singaporeans fought to combat, including the founders of the Majulah Movement Andre Cherbonnier and Paul Foster. Together, the duo set up a platform that helps people donate meals and food packs to the needy. To date, over 3,000 meals have been donated, and over 1500 packs of food.
V for Vaccines
This is it, the purported saviour of the pandemic. Vaccines were hailed as the best way for humanity as a whole to get back to the life we once had. A normal vaccine takes 10 years to develop from conception to the general public, but with the massive amount of money and resources poured into this effort, promising candidates have been developed, including those by Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna.
SEE:Pfizer to send US 100 million more vaccine doses
A cure is on the way, however. It was reported that trailers loaded with containers of Covid-19 vaccine left Pfizer’s manufacturing facility in the US state of Michigan on Dec 13. According to Reuters, US regulators have authorised the vaccine from Pfizer and partner BioNTech for use, with US marshals accompanying the tightly secured shipments from factory to its final destination. Covid-19 vaccinations are also under way in some countries.
There is also good news for Singapore: On Dec 14, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in the Republic. The first shipment should arrive by the end of December.
W for Work-from-home
Until this year, working from home was but a lofty dream — a wish that crossed the minds of every worker stuck in rush hour on a morning commute. In a somewhat cruel twist, the pandemic brought this fantasy to reality, while companies scrambled to equip employees with the tech to bring work home.
But not every domestic environment can be as conducive as a quiet workstation. To that end, some hotels and restaurants are opening up their lobbies and dining rooms, once spilling with eager tourists, to these digital nomads. For a small fee, guests get to enjoy charging stations for their devices, a selection of drinks and even discounts from affiliated F&B establishments.
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Fraser Hospitality took it one step further with its ‘Reno-Vacation’ package, targeted at those looking for a respite from construction-related noises at home while working remotely. With a minimum booking of seven nights’ stay, guests get to pick from residences at Fraser Suites Singapore, Fraser Residence Orchard and Fraser Place Robertson Walk.
While the rapid digitalisation remains a silver lining in this difficult year, some employees are complaining of burnout. Without a proper line drawn between the home and workplace, some may find themselves working longer hours than before.
If flexible work arrangements are to be the norm, achieving a healthy work-life balance — and a clear demarcation between the two — will be crucial to the future of work.
X for X-traordinary
Truly, the spirit of humankind cannot be dimmed. Even in times like these, there are those who have shown courage and resilience above and beyond what we can even imagine.
The courage of healthcare workers cannot be understated in these times. They are at the frontline of the disease, putting their lives at risk everyday even as they keep us safe. In fact, healthcare workers are the most important resource in the country’s fight against Covid-19, said Singapore’s Health Minister Gan Kim Yong recently.
Yet even as they protect us, healthcare workers face incredible hardship. In the US — where the death toll has surpassed 250,000 people — hospitals have been overwhelmed and short-staffed, straining resources and stretching the workforce thin.
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A survey from Mental Health America of 1,119 healthcare workers showed that they are stressed out and stretched too thin — 93% were experiencing stress, 86% reported experiencing anxiety, 77% reported frustration, 76% reported exhaustion and burnout, while 75% said they were overwhelmed.
Across the world, healthcare workers are fatigued and increasingly isolated from their family members, many whom they’ve not seen for months. Many are leaving the healthcare industry due to exhaustion and burnout, leaving hospitals even more short-staffed. In Sweden, their intensive care units are facing severe staff shortage, with as many as 500 healthcare workers a month.
In Singapore, a study published in the US National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) showed that among 3,075 responses, 79.7% and 75.3% of respondents met the ‘burnout’ thresholds for disengagement and exhaustion respectively.
Yet, they have kept soldiering on and inspire us every day with their dedication and courage.
Y for Yoga
While many a new fitness craze have gripped the nation over the “circuit breaker” period — think High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT, or those home exercise videos promising to tone your glutes in just 30 days — there has been none quite as perennial as yoga.
This ancient Hindu practise, which can trace its origins back to pre-Vedic (Bronze Age) times, has been highly regarded as a philosophical and physical practice with a multitude of benefits for the mind, body and spirit.
Since lockdown, many have turned to yoga and meditation to cope with stress and anxiety, leading to a staggering 154% increase in sales of yoga equipment worldwide, according to market research platform ResearchandMarkets. In fact, lifestyle apparel brand Lululemon saw online sales rise 157% during the third quarter of this year, even though 97% of their physical stores worldwide remain open. The yoga-focused brand saw an uptick in sales, even as other fitness apparel brands suffered.
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Online yoga classes sprung up seemingly overnight as physical yoga studios shuttered, while many turned towards teaching virtual private classes. And no wonder, because yoga has been shown to be hugely beneficial to physical and mental health. A new study has found that movement-based yoga is likely to improve mental health during the Covid-19 crisis.
Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the study was done by researchers from the University of South Australia in partnership with the Federal University of Santa Maria, UNSW Sydney, King’s College London and Western Sydney University.
The study proposed that movement-based yoga — the practise of asanas or poses —improved mental health of people living with a range of mental disorders, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and major depression, with benefits being incremental with the amount of yoga they practised.
So roll out your yoga mats, and perhaps try a quick 30-minute beginner yoga class online — you will be surprised at how much and how quickly it will improve your mood.
Z for Zoom
How many times have you heard “You’re on mute”, “I can’t hear you”, “I can’t see you” this year? If you told people a year ago that we would all be conducting business and meeting our loved ones via videoconferencing platform Zoom, no one would have believed you.
Most of us would have used Zoom at one point or another to connect with teammates, clients and even family as the pandemic forced us to work from home. We probably have seen more of ourselves on our computer screens than we have in the last three years. But no one will deny that this tool, along with its other comparable applications, is one of the saviours of this pandemic. The ability to talk to family, friends and your business has never been more important, especially when you are stuck indoors.
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Given its ubiquity, it is perhaps not surprising that Zoom experienced exceptional growth this year. For those who were fortunate enough to put some money in the stock, its share price had jumped from US$68 ($91) on Jan 2 to a high of US$568 on Oct 19.