Skip to content

It was nice knowing you, Virus Vanguard

Issue 103

On Wednesday, I spoke at Splice Low-Res 3 about being a freelancer during COVID-19, alongside Jeannette Goon, Norman Chella, and Erin Cook. I mostly presented on this newsletter, which is the first time I’ve actually talked about We, The Citizens at an event. You can watch the video of our presentations here — thank you Alan and Rishad of Splice for the invitation!

The struggle against COVID-19 continues

The “circuit breaker” has been extended to June 1, and bubble tea and hairdressers have been shut down until at least May 4. I don’t drink bubble tea that often even though I like it, but apparently news that we were going to be bubble tea-less turned some people into real, entitled arseholes.

You should have received a long read from me on Singapore’s scramble to contain the coronavirus outbreak in migrant worker dormitories yesterday — if you didn’t, you can find it here. I’ve also written a note in response to some familiar sentiments I’ve seen circulating on social media: mainly that migrant workers chose to come to Singapore, and that what we offer them is better than what they have back home, anyway. If you’re hearing such things from friends and family, perhaps you could point them towards that link.

In his address to the nation, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that “almost all” the migrant workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 so far have mild symptoms. But while they might not need to be hospitalised, there still needs to be a space to isolate and care for them, and with the numbers still going up more moves need to be made to ensure that hospitals are overwhelmed. A large facility is now being set up to house up to 15,000 people at Tanjong Pagar Terminal, and more arrangements are being made to move healthy migrant workers.

There was tragic news this week after an Indian migrant worker who had tested positive for COVID-19 was found motionless on a staircase landing in Khoo Teck Puat Hospital — he later died of his injuries. The police say there’s no suspected foul play, but are still investigating.

Also to highlight: two must-read commentary pieces from on the coronavirus, authoritarianism, and the “trade-offs” that we make in Singapore.

Press freedom and the intimidation of sources

Reporters Without Borders released their 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Singapore has slipped seven spots to 158 out of 180, with the situation now classified as “very bad”.

POFMA, our anti-“fake news” law, has done us no favours in this regard. It was used again this past week, against Singaporean outlets and voices that had repeated a claim from a Taiwanese TV show that Ho Ching, the CEO of Temasek Holdings, earns an annual salary of about S$100 million. It’s worth noting that the Taiwanese show from which this claim originated was not POFMA-ed, even though the law does have extraterritorial application and it wouldn’t even be the first time the Singapore government has tried to POFMA a non-Singaporean group (remember Lawyers for Liberty in Malaysia?) And we still don’t know how much Ho Ching earns, anyway.

Last week, The Sunday Times interviewed a man who talked about struggling to make ends meet for his family. Yesterday, the Ministry for Social Development and Family wrote a Facebook post responding to the article by listing all the public support that the family has received. Again, it’s been pointed out how problematic it is for a government agency to divulge such sensitive personal information about a vulnerable family seeking support — which has opened the family up to very hurtful comments online — just to protect the public image of the agency. What does this say about the government’s attitude towards its citizens’ privacy?

From a press freedom/freedom of expression point of view, this is also a form of intimidation of sources. Knowing that they could be singled out by the government in this way makes people less likely to be willing to talk; it also makes journalists more wary about promising to be able to protect sources by providing anonymity (especially when we consider how much information the government has on everyone). What this means for society is that we will have less diversity when it comes to discussion and understanding of issues. We will have less transparency and knowledge of what's happening on the ground. We will have less accountability, because those who are able to provide a different view from what the state is claiming — especially when this view shows up the government or the state as not performing as well as they claim to be doing — are being silenced.

The short-lived Virus Vanguard

Over the past week, the government introduced the Virus Vanguard, a group of superheroes fighting COVID-19 in a parallel world.

This caused quite a stir, only for the Virus Vanguard to be pulled less than 24 hours later, following feedback. You’d have thought that the main offence caused was having an Indian character name Darshita whose backstory was about being flushed down the toilet (later changed to washed down the kitchen sink) — but it turned out that people were more upset about MAWA Man and the Manchester United-Liverpool rivalry reference.

The government only named the artists after things blew up in their faces, which I thought was pretty unfair. The artist behind the work ended up leaving the artist group; he’s also responded to accusations of plagiarism, saying that he did indeed use existing pieces as references when creating his characters, and that these character design pieces were for the client (i.e. the government) to look at, and not part of the paid job. But then why did publish them?

Support Project X!

Project X is an NGO that “provides social, emotional, and legal support to sex workers”. Sex workers, too, have been affected by COVID-19; many are breadwinners and caregivers, and in need of help at this time. Please donate generously if you can.


If you’d like to watch Ivan Heng perform as Emily in the classic Singaporean play Emily of Emerald Hill, you’re in luck! A recording of Emily of Emerald Hill is available on demand until 3pm on 1 May.

Those Who Can’t, Teach

You can also watch The Necessary Stage’s plays on demand on Vimeo. I recommend Those Who Can’t, Teach — especially if you’ve been to school in Singapore. I saw watched it in the theatre in 2017 and it really hit home.

Here’s a Nice Thing: This week’s giveaway

Thanks to another reader of the newsletter, we have another Nice Thing to give away this week in support of a local business!

This week, I’m giving out 20 ticket vouchers for The Projector, an awesome independent cinema that’s been such a great space for civil society and the arts. They’ve been forced to close due to the coronavirus, and are selling vouchers and merchandise.

Vouchers will have to redeemed in person at The Projector once they’re open again, so this is how the giveaway will work this week: reply to this email or click the button below to contact me if you’d like a ticket, and I’ll take down your name. I’ll give the list to The Projector, and once they’re open you can just head over and give your name to redeem your ticket! 🥰

I'd like a voucher, please!

We’ll have another giveaway to support another local business next week. If you’d like to sponsor a giveaway, please get in touch! Alternatively, if you have a local business that does gift cards or vouchers, you can also contact me and we’ll try to find a sponsor who can help out (and give Nice Things to other readers).