To Address Vaccine Hesitancy, Singapore Tightens Rules and Drafts a Comedian

As coronavirus infections rise in Singapore, the government is tightening restrictions. It also combats vaccine hesitation on social media – by ordering corrections and posting bizarre content.

Singapore said Tuesday it had 64 cases of community transmission in the past week, up from 11 cases the previous week. According to the authorities, seven of the most recent cases were caused by variant B.1.617, which caused chaos in India.

To contain the recent outbreak and prevent the spread of variants, the Singapore government said Tuesday that travelers arriving from most countries must be quarantined in “special facilities” for 21 days from Saturday (14 days or more).

Mass sports events will also be suspended, and social gatherings will be limited to five people until May 30, among other things.

According to a New York Times database, by Wednesday about 2.2 million people in Singapore, or nearly a quarter of the population, had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

However, the Singapore vaccination campaign has been threatened by falsehoods on social media – for example a rumor that Covid-19 vaccines cause strokes and heart attacks.

The Ministry of Health has debunked rumors and ordered corrections to social media posts confirming false or unsubstantiated claims about vaccine side effects. (This is allowed under a controversial law that the government says is designed to fight fake news.)

The government has also commissioned a whimsical music video by a Singaporean pop culture heavyweight, comedian, and actor, Gurmit Singh, which addresses common vaccine-related concerns and misunderstandings.

“Singapore, don’t wait,” he sings in a choir and dances to a disco beat. “Better get your shot, Steady Pom Pi Pi.”

“Steady pom pi pi” is a Singlish, coarse and prepared patois spoken across the country that includes English, Chinese, and Malay. It refers to someone who stays cool in a tense situation and was a catchphrase used by Mr. Singh’s most famous character, Phua Chu Kang, a contractor in a long-running 1990s sitcom on Singaporean television.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the government’s tweet with the video had been viewed more than 750,000 times.

Since a two-month lockdown ended last June, life in Singapore has gradually returned to normal, although residents continue to have to wear masks in public and work from home when they can. Dale Fisher, a professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore, said some people in the city-state had become more careless about wearing masks and social distancing, and the new measures had been a reminder that the pandemic was far from over.

Dr. However, Fisher said Singapore’s extensive contact tracing and strict quarantine requirements made a stricter lockdown unnecessary. “With all of these improvements, I hope that we can show that long-range lockdowns are not necessary when you have good public health infrastructure in place,” he added.