Good News: Singaporeans Have Been Going Out 89% Less During the Circuit Breaker

If there is one positive thing that has come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s that the world is better connected than ever. Data and statistics are being shared on a massive scale, helping public health officials make informed choices. Improvements in technology – particularly the proliferation of smartphones and smart devices – have given us access to analytics that we wouldn’t have been able to get merely a decade ago. Singapore’s TraceTogether (which has since been adopted by a few other countries) and the upcoming Apple and Google contact tracing app, both use smart devices as a tool for potentially life saving public health insights. While critics of these apps point out that slow adoption rates (in Singapore’s case, only about one in five people have downloaded TraceTogether) hinder effectiveness, smart devices are already providing valuable data in other areas. 

Google and Citymapper, two companies which have transport apps published, have access to a trove of information about commuting patterns in cities around the world. Google Maps, for example, anonymously tracks users who have turned on the ‘Location History’ setting, which is off by default. This allows the tech giant to know how visits to different locations like grocery stores and parks have changed over time. Citymapper can compare public transport, walking and cycling trips planned in the Citymapper app to a recent typical usage period. Both these companies have made this aggregated and anonymous information public, in order to help researchers and policy-makers understand the effectiveness of social distancing measures. 

Inspired by NUS’s Urban Analytics Lab’s research, we decided to look at these published datasets and see what they tell us about Singapore’s Circuit Breaker measures. 

1. Overall only 11% of Singapore is moving compared to usual

It’s clear that the circuit breaker has had a profound impact on the way that the city moves. CityMapper’s index shows that people are using public transport, walking and cycling way less than usual in this period.

2. Retail and recreation spots have seen a 60% drop in activity

From the start of the pandemic, there has been warnings about the virus’s impact on retail and recreation. As early as February, alarm bells started ringing when the Singapore Tourism Board announced that it expected to see a 25% to 30% decline in tourism this year due to the novel outbreak. These numbers have since become obsolete and too conservative considering the stunning trajectory of the virus’s spread. In Singapore, most shops, theme parks, museums, libraries, and movie theaters have since closed. 

Seeing a 60% drop in mobility, retail and recreational outlets in Singapore have a long road to recovery after the end of social distancing measures. 

3. Approximately 35% of Singapore’s workforce is still working 

Across the world, entire economies are shutting down with only essential services up and running. But what exactly does an essential service constitute? In conventional terms, it refers to services that are crucial to the upkeep of society and might play direct or auxiliary roles in coronavirus responses. But in America, some states are taking lockdowns lightly by slapping the essential service term on bicycle shops, marijuana dispensaries and candy factories. In Florida for example, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has somehow found itself among the services considered essential.

Google’s mobility data shows that there has been 65% reduction in movement in Singaporean workplaces. This means that about 35% of the economy has been classified as an essential service. This is considerably lower than America’s 62% and Australia’s 61%. It compares more favourably to France and the United Kingdom, which have both seen a 68% reduction in workplace mobility.

4. People are staying home for substantially longer periods of times

The only places that have seen a sustained increase in acidity are residential areas. People are spending approximately 50% more time in these areas because of the circuit breaker.

5. Grocery stores and pharmacies have seen the least change in activity

Considering the truly essential nature of both these spots, it is safe to say that these results were expected. People still have to go grocery shopping for basic sustenance and pharmacies to medicate regardless of external circumstances. 

It is interesting to note however, that PM Lee’s speech on April 3, and Malaysia implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 17 set off substantial spikes in activity in these spots. This confirms that panic buying was indeed a substantial phenoma and was not isolated to a few markets.  

6. Singapore experienced the sharpest change in activity among all cities measured

The extent of social distancing measures imposed depends on the severity of the situation and whether the government thinks it’s under control. From the mobility data, we can see that Singapore has the steepest drop in activity among all cities measured. This implies that there was a rapid deterioration in the severity of the situation in Singapore and the government’s confidence in handling it merely through safe distancing measures. 

7. Life is slowly returning to normal in Seoul and Hong Kong, showing Singapore a potential exit route

Hong Kong and Seoul, two cities that also saw reduced mobility and activity in late March, are slowly opening up. The increase in activity seems to be gradual and slow. When Singapore comes out of the circuit breaker, a similar strategy has to be employed. PM Lee Hsien Loong echoed these sentiments in his May Day speech, saying that restarting the economy “will not be straightforward,” and that the country “must proceed cautiously, with safeguards, so infections do not flare up again.”

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In a world that is bubbling with clickbait, sensationalism and oversimplifications, Kopi aims to bring long-form journalism back to South-East Asia.

Through deeply analysed articles, we uncover and explain the complex and multifaceted issues facing our societies. Through engaging narratives, we tell stories that are bold and unique.

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