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It’s all about vaccinations as Singapore moves forward with its Covid strategy

Over this past week I sent out another secondhand book to a new home! Milo Peng Funders, who get first dibs on secondhand books that I have to give away, keep this newsletter running, as well as supporting my other independent writing and civil society work. Please become one if you can! You can also tip me on my Ko-Fi page.

I had to go back to my Substack account to look something up and discovered that there have been people who signed up for the newsletter there! I've moved you over to Ghost, so you should be getting the new issues with no problems now. I no longer post at Substack, but have issues deleting/hiding that newsletter. 😖

Just curious: have you been vaccinated?

Click the link that applies to you.

💉💉 I've been jabbed twice
💉 I've got my first jab, waiting for the second
🗓 I've booked my appointment
🤔 I'm still trying to decide whether to get vaccinated...
✋🏼 I can't get vaccinated (either for health reasons, or access)
🙅🏻‍♀️ I don't want a Covid-19 vaccine

Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate

Ong Ye Kung, Lawrence Wong, and Gan Kim Yong all made statements in Parliament this past week about Covid-19 and the government's strategy moving forward. Although we're now back to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) measures, they insist that the government's plan to shift towards treating Covid-19 as endemic has not changed. The key, really, is vaccination. In fact, even after the government reviews its Covid-19 restrictions, measures will only be eased for people who are fully vaccinated. This includes international travel, which the government hopes to facilitate with other countries that have handled Covid-19 well. (Nobody say the jinxed words that rhyme with "level hubble".)

As of 27 July, 3,158,737 people in Singapore have been fully vaccinated. At the rate we're going, we'll hopefully see 80% of the population receiving two doses by early September. This isn't counting those who have had Sinovac, because the government says there isn't enough data about its efficacy against variants of concern. Private healthcare providers have got permission to import Sinopharm and offer it as part of the special access route for people who can't have, or don't want, mRNA vaccines. The expert committee has also announced that people who are severely immunocompromised can get vaccinated.

Unfortunately, Singapore has to deal with vaccine disinformation and misinformation too. I've poked my head into a few anti-vaccine Telegram groups this past week, and yeesh. 😵‍💫 This Rice Media piece gives you an idea. Recently, Brad Bowyer of the Progress Singapore Party has also come under fire for his stance against Covid-19 vaccines; he was even temporarily banned from Facebook.

While one can still get Covid despite being fully vaccinated, the main point is that vaccinations greatly decrease the likelihood of someone getting severely ill or dying. This is great on an individual level, but it also means that healthcare facilities and workers won't get overstretched, so there's a big benefit on the societal level, too. This is why there is such a push to encourage people to get vaccinated, and to encourage people to tell their friends and family to get vaccinated.

This interview that Ed Yong did with Rhea Boyd, a paediatrician and public health advocate, is looking at the American context, but it's worth reading and keeping in mind that not everyone who hasn't been vaccinated yet is a conspiracy theory-imbibing anti-vaxxer. Some choice quotes:

Anti-vaxxers are incredibly vocal, and because of that, they’ve been a disproportionate focus of our vaccine outreach. But I think that they represent a small part of people in this country [...] But the rampant disinformation that’s put out by this minority has shaped our public discourse, and has led to this collective vitriol toward the “unvaccinated” as if they are predominantly a group of anti-vaxxers. The people we’re really trying to move are not.
The language we use around unvaccinated people comes with a judgment—a condescension that “you’re unvaccinated and it’s your choice at this point.” That attitude is papering Twitter. It’s repeated by our top public-health officials. They’re railing on the unvaccinated as if they’re holding the rest of us back from normalcy. But unvaccinated people aren’t a random group of defectors who are trying to be deviant. They’re not all anti-vaxxers.
...I think we’re too limited in our thinking about who is a trusted messenger. People use informal communication chains: They have side conversations with the grocery-store clerk, or their niece and nephew. People will believe anecdotal health-care information that their family member suggests over the credible info that a health-care professional is giving.
We’ve talked to virtual faith-based groups on Sundays. We’ve talked to barbershops, after-school organizations, and boys’ and girls’ clubs. Some of these groups are small—hundreds of people, or sometimes just 20. People are then much more specific about their concerns without the things they usually have bluster around. I wonder how many people arrogantly respond about vaccinations during more formal conversations, but then come to our events and share something vulnerable in these protected settings where they’re surrounded by their pastor and people they know.

The heat of the Olympics

I usually don't have much to say about the Olympics because I'm so bad at anything that requires more than snail's-pace locomotion that I really don't have a leg to stand on when it comes to commenting on athletes. A part of me has also been keeping the Olympics at arm's length this year because it somehow makes me feel even more under-achieving/guilty/Imposter Syndrome than I've already been feeling in the middle of this never-ending pandemic.

But I got really frustrated this week seeing the smug, mean comments online about Joseph Schooling, who won't be defending his top spot in the 100m butterfly in Tokyo. Schooling himself appears to be taking the disappointment like a champ and has pledged to keep working hard, but some people are being real arses about it, criticising him for "slacking off", commenting on his body/weight, gloating about how he might not get out of National Service this time, talking about his "humiliation"... as if it isn't already impressive as hell to qualify for the Olympics, as if we all haven't had a difficult year-and-a-half of disruptions and stress with the pandemic, as if any of them could do better! 😡😡😡

We've seen some really heroic efforts from Team Singapore this Olympics, like Yu Mengyu, who went from being ranked #47 in the world to being the only semi-finalist in table tennis not ranked in the top four. Or Joan Poh, who finished 28th out of 32 in women's single sculls, which is damn impressive considering that she had to fit her training for the Olympics around her work as a nurse so that she could free up other healthcare workers to fight Covid-19. Others, like Clarence Chew (table tennis) and Kiria Tikanah (fencing), gave athletes ranked far higher than them a good fight.

I'm obviously not covering every single Singaporean athlete in Tokyo this year... but I just want to make the point that they're all amazing as they are.

Got some more…

👩🏻‍⚖️ The criminal defamation trial involving Terry Xu of The Online Citizen and contributor Daniel de Costa is ongoing. They're accused of defaming the Singapore Cabinet, but Daniel told the court that his letter, which mentioned "corruption at the highest echelons" was not referring to the Cabinet.

📱 Using the recent People's Association mess as a case study, I wrote for Rest of World about how uneven power dynamics in Singapore's political landscape continue to persist even in online spaces.

🌳 The government had initially wanted to develop the entire Dover Forest for residential use, but they've reviewed their plan. Public housing will be launched in the eastern half next year; the western half will be set aside to preserve biodiversity.

👮🏻‍♀️ David James Roach, who robbed a Standard Chartered branch in 2016, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment and six strokes of the cane. But because the condition of his extradition to Singapore by the British authorities was that there would be no corporal punishment, President Halimah Yacob, on the advice of the Cabinet, has set aside his caning sentence.

🇲🇲 If you've been following regional news at all, you might know that Myanmar is having a really tough time right now. The civil disobedience movement is continuing to resist the military coup, and now Covid-19 is everywhere. Here's a page that directs you to various needs, from Covid crisis relief to supporting the pro-democracy movement. Please donate if you can. If you can't, please share the link!

Be nice to the otters if you see them around Clarke Quay.

Thank you for reading! Feel free to forward this on to anyone you think might be interested. 🙏🏼 Once again, a reminder that becoming a Milo Peng Funder is an awesome thing to do! You can also make a one-off contribution via my Ko-Fi page.