A sharp surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in India over the past few weeks has prompted the creation of a petition on Change.org urging the Government to ban the entry of all travellers from India to safeguard Singapore.
The petition, named “Ban All Travellers from India to Safeguard Singapore”, was started by a user called “Concerned Singapore” on Wednesday (21 Apr). At the time, India recorded more than 2,000 COVID-19 deaths and almost 300,000 new cases.
The number of signatories to the petition has been rising as the number of cases in India continues to climb exponentially.
As concerns begin to mount about the new spate of cases, some sociopolitical commentators such as controversial former Nominated Member of Parliament, Calvin Cheng have called on Singaporeans to refrain from perpetuating racist rhetoric in relation to the issue.
Mr Cheng also opined that banning people from a specific country does not work in combatting the virus.
In a succession of posts, it seems that Mr Cheng is alluding to the view that calling on a ban of visitors from India is racist.
While his post on the superiority complex of certain Singaporeans against people from countries with less developed infrastructure may be accepted as valid commentary, I wonder if we are conflating the issues of race with that of stopping a raging pandemic.
Undoubtedly, there are pockets of society that remain deeply racist and ignorant to this day, and this is something that should not be encouraged or condoned in any way, shape or form.
Let us be crystal clear — the virus spreads through close contact; it has absolutely nothing to do with race.
Recognising the fact that the situation in India is dire is not in itself racist or wrong.
The only way we can stop the virus is to prevent its spread. As such, if it is proven to be out of control in India, it is not racist to urge the Government to continue shutting the borders to people travelling from India until the situation stabilises.
Does Mr Cheng understand this difference? Or is he simply muddying the waters by confusing two different things?
Mr Cheng’s counter-argument is that there is no point in banning visitors from India as Singapore has not banned “the rest of the world”. In his words:
“Ever since we banned anyone (except Singaporeans and PRs) who has been in UK and South Africa for the preceding 14 days, there have been 155 cases of the British variant, and 130 cases of the South African variant, found in Singapore.
Why?Because we did not ban the rest of the world.This is going to be the same with the Indian variant.
The virus is going to enter Singapore from other countries ( most of the world) we have not banned.”
In other words, it appears that Mr Cheng is arguing that because banning Indian visitors would not be a long term solution but only a “short-term one”, we should not do it.
Mr Cheng went on to say that the only solution is to vaccinate fast.
However, while that is well and good, the reality of the situation is that the vaccination programme is not moving fast enough for a myriad of reasons that are outside our Government’s control.
With that reality check, should we not do what we can in the short term to buy us time to vaccinate?
Besides, the smaller the number of infected people that enter Singapore, the easier it will be for authorities to carry out the processes of tracking, tracing and containing the virus.
If we have so many visitors from India, would we not be unnecessarily taxing the system more?
Even if the variant of the virus proliferating through India now does enter Singapore via other countries, it will still be to a lesser degree, numbers-wise, than allowing visitors directly from India for the time being.
What Mr Cheng is missing here is that Singapore cannot stop the virus. It can only do what it can within its control to contain and limit the spread while also balancing Singapore’s economic needs.
For now, it would make complete sense to stop visitors from India indefinitely, because this is within the Government’s control.
To ask for a temporary ban is not racist in itself and should not be conflated with issues of racism, which are indeed very real. By conflating the issues, we are doing neither the justice they warrant.
Mr Cheng’s comments only have merit in a perfect world – a world we do not live in.
The only way to keep the virus at bay — not even to end it — is for Singapore to do whatever it can within its control. This includes both mass vaccination and banning visitors from heavily infected countries, however short term this is. And at the moment, this heavily infected country happens to be India.
He has also criticised other commentators in the past for being armchair critics. However, is he not doing the same thing here?