Saturday, 16 May 2020

The Day McDonald's Closed

You know things must be bad when even McDonald's closed.

I thought it was bad when the cinemas closed. And movies' opening got postponed. Or even cancelled.

I had realised a long time ago, that cinemas NEVER closed. No matter what holidays it may be, you could always go to the movies. They are open on Chinese New Year, Christmas, National Day, whatever. They don't close.


Until now.

If you don't know how bad it is, here's the website with the facts on the pandemic.

But that's just the facts.

There are now (15 May) over 4.5 million people infected, and over 300,000 deaths attributable to Covid19. A month ago (15 April), there were just over 2 million reported, with over 140,000 deaths. In just one month, the figures have more than doubled.

I say "reported", because, those are the officially confirmed, recorded and reported numbers.

I am almost certain that the actual figures are higher because the US is only now doing about 32,000 tests per million population. A month ago, it was just over 11,000 tests. Antibody tests being trialed suggests that undetected infection may be a lot higher.

Without aggressive testing, the actual numbers could be a lot more than what is known and reported.

Singapore has surpassed 26,000 cases with 21 deaths. Only a month ago it was less than 4000 cases and just 10 deaths reported. Our testing rate has also more than doubled to over 38,000 tests per mission population from about 16,000 per million about a month ago.

This is comparable to Australia and Germany, and actually better than S. Korea (14,000).

BUT... our blindspot was the foreign workers, and part of the reason our testing rate has gone up is that we have been aggressively testing our foreign workers because the infection is spreading through the dormitories.

So if there were separate figures for "community" testing and "dormitory" (or isolated communities) testing, our 38,000/million testing rate may be considerably lower for the community, and therefore not as comparable to Australia and Germany.

Our "community" testing rate is probably about 16,000 per million - which was our figure before we realised our blindspot (FW dormitories).

And our testing and contact tracing are rather exhaustive.

In contrast, Malaysia testing rate was just over 3000 per million about a month ago, although they have improved to over 8000 per million now. I therefore have little confidence in their figure, but I have no evidence that the figures are wrong. Maybe they're correct. Because they are less crowded, and have more rural areas with low density of population.

The purpose of all the above is, perspective.

We have never had a situation this bad - where we cannot even sit down at a coffee shop or hawker centre and just have a drink or a meal.

When cinemas, most shops, casinos, and the zoo have closed.

When airlines have cut most of their flights.

And Changi Airport has closed Terminal 2 for renovations, to take advantage of this "down time". And Terminal 4 will be closed to save costs from 16 May. No word yet on whether they would be proceeding with Terminal 5 construction.

(Just my opinion, T5 should be delayed indefinitely.)

Our businesses are suffering, and our people are having trouble to meet their basic needs especially those in the tourism or tourism-related industry because they can't make a living.

Governments around the world are doing what they can or what they think they should.

Singapore's government rolled out a series of budgets and supplementary budgets (Unity, Solidarity, and Resilience budgets) to help citizens.

There was a $600 pay out to ALL  citizens:
All adult Singaporeans (aged 21 and above in 2020) will receive $600 in cash. This comprises $300 of the Care and Support – Cash which is now being paid earlier in view of the heightened measures, and an additional $300. No application is needed.
And there is the Job Support Scheme (JSS), where the govt will subsidised the wages up to the first $4,600. (This is similar to the US's Paycheck Protection Program.)
Under the JSS, the Government will co-fund between 25% to 75% of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages paid to each local employee for 9 months. The level of support each employer will receive depends on the sector in which the employer operates.
And then for those who need immediate and temporary relief, they can apply for the Temporary Relief Fund in April. This gave a once-off $500 to successful applicants.

Then there is also the Covid19 Support Grant, and the Courage Fund.

The effect, or intended effect of schemes like the JSS is to subsidise or reduce the costs of holding onto employees for the employers. Thus when the crisis is over, people will still be employed and unemployment rates will remain.

I believe the JSS may be a factor in McDonald's decision to continue to pay their staff while the chain was closed for 3 weeks or more.

This meant that the McDonald's staff, would still have their wages, albeit just the basic with no peak period rates, and the staff would not be unemployed. They still have a job, and they have some pay (not as much as they want/need but better than many who completely lost their job and any wages).

Interestingly, the public's opinion and rating of the SG Govt as "highly" was just 41%. That is, just 41% (from a sample of 300) rated the govt's response as being 8 to 10 out of 10.

Respondents from Indonesia gave their govt the same rating. Which should tell you that either a) the SG govt and the Indonesian govt are equally competent.

Or b) you shouldn't trust subjective opinion surveys to make comparisons. As the commentary at the end puts it:
All the survey shows is that Indonesians and Singaporeans (if the respective samples of respondents are representative of the overall population) are equally enamoured by their respective government. There may be no objective basis for this level of confidence. The respondents may have different criteria for rating their respective govts. The responses may have been coloured by pre-existing biases, prejudices, past experiences, expectations, etc. None of which may be relevant, reasonable, or material to the question.
So what about objective measures? Like how the number of cases have more than shot up by 6, 7 fold in a month (from 4000 cases to 26,000 cases)?

Or how the number of deaths have more than doubled from 10 to 21?

Certainly, the 4 - 5 weeks have been embarrassing and downright BAD for Singapore's containment of the pandemic. 

No reasonable person can make the case the Singapore did WELL over the last few weeks. 

We went from around 60th place to top the table for Southeast Asia. We even beat Japan and S. Korea in total cases. Not that it is something to be proud of.

But a simplistic comparison of reported cases is... simplistic.

Cases detected are reported. But if the cases were not detected, there would be no report. High case numbers might just reflect extensive testing. SG is aggressively testing and contact tracing to detect all infection. 
Singapore was seen as a success story mid-April 2020, averaging only 28 new cases a day – until April 21 when it reported over 1,000 cases, mostly among foreign workers. Headlines screamed failure, as it now has the most cases in Asia. But Singapore is vigorously testing and tracing all contacts of cases. 
Again, not to say that SG did everything right. We had a blindspot regarding the Foreign Workers and their dormitory. And we are paying for that oversight.

But having discovered our mistake, we then did everything we could to rectify the mistake.

Of course, this did not stop the critics. It just fed their argument.

Just as the initial recommendation NOT to use masks was later changed to use masks when in public was criticised as the government flip-flopping.

Because these critics are confused by the superficial.

The instinct to wear masks was the instinct of the kiasi. The initial impulse to wear masks was to protect oneself - the kiasi instinct.

The later recommendation to use mask in public arose out of the findings that there were asymptomatic infected, and they were infectious without symptoms. This meant that perfectly healthy looking people could be infectious without knowing that they are infectious. BUT if everyone wore masks - infected and non-infected, symptomatic or asymptomatic - there would be lower chances of infection. So mask up.

The intent of people masking up initially was self-interest - kiasi.

The eventual recommendation for people to mask up was for public interest. 

In Japan, people wore masks when they were sick, and they wanted to protect OTHERS.

In Singapore, when people wear masks (of their own accord), it is usually to protect themselves.

When McDonald's closed all their outlets, it was to protect their staff. They could have tried to protect their profits, but they did the right thing.

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