Keep Calm and Carry On: Confronting COVID-19

By Huang Beihua (20A03A) and Sarah Lok (20A03A) 

It began as a forwarded message, then a few Instagram stories, panicking inquiries from juniors, and finally a visit to Stamford in some false hope for falseness.

For all the late-night Council meetings, scrupulous safety measures, and painful reductions to its programme, Orientation could not, in the end, escape cancellation.

“We already anticipated it, but when it was official it just felt worse,” lamented Mah Zi Feng (20S03C), an Orientation Group Leader (OGL). “It felt even worse when all the ‘thank you’ messages came in.” 

While Orientation was perhaps the most visible among the spate of cancellations, numerous other disruptions have been felt all over our school life. Floorballer Brian Choon (20S06D) shared that the team was “all a bit sad that there weren’t any more friendlies”. “We don’t know whether our concert can still go on,” added Megan Hon (20S06D) of Piano Ensemble, “but preparation-wise we’re still taking it as it is”. Others were less optimistic: “I think the coronavirus situation is such a bummer that seriously distracts us from competitions,” shared Jensen Koh (20A03A) of Table Tennis. 

Councillors staying back for discussions were also affected. As Ma Fanghe (20S06L) mentioned, “we dragged on later than usual […] it was around 9pm and it happened to coincide with the news of school cancelling on Friday.” Indeed, the school’s worst fears came true on the night of 27th February: a fellow Rafflesian was, unfortunately, infected with the virus. 

“[When] the news broke out that a junior had gotten the virus, that made me realise how close the problem actually is […] instead of being frustrated that plans for [future events have been] disrupted, I feel more worried about the virus and whether our schoolmates are safe.”

Ma Fanghe (20S06L)

The spate of disruptions inevitably means skyrocketing fears. Trapped amidst it all, we see fright for the dreaded infection in every corner of the (mundane, perhaps, but at least once reassuringly constant) routine of our daily lives. All mass gatherings have been cancelled, a ban on going over to the Y1–4 canteen was unfortunately enacted, and—for better or for worse—using the replay speed button on Panopto has become an essential life skill. Masks have flown off the shelves, hand sanitisers have become a new staple on the dining table, and the nightly updates on new infections from our dutiful Straits Times phone applications (and gov.sg Whatsapp channel) have started to dominate conversations. 

It is hard not to be caught in the panic, when everywhere we look reminds us that business is nothing of the usual. The measures taken were necessary, certainly, but who could say they did not wish all these—the lost opportunities, the fragmented memories, and the potential disappointments—did not have to happen? The air seems heavy with regret all around.

Yet, the fact is that life still goes on—as it always does. In spite of everything, many persist to find channels to keep their communities strong no matter what those might be—CCA, schoolwork, or friendships. 

A member of Raffles Interact mentioned that their service sessions were “suspended” and thus “none of [them] could go down to the service centres” given the present situation. Yet, they’ve taken the situation in their stride—their weekly sessions have now been transformed into dialect courses and sharings led by their own members. 

Proposed adaptations can be seen over in Raffles Runway too: “While there has been a pushback on our schedule, plans have been thrown around, such as shifting our model auditions to a digital medium where potential models can submit their walks to us online for vetting,” stated George Bai (20S06S). 

“Honestly, I’m worried but also optimistic […] with the huge community support and backing from not just within our school but around the world towards those who are going through this tough time, I sincerely believe we can get through this as a community.”

George Bai (20S06S)

Orientation Group (OG) MR12 was on a Discord call—a contact-free substitute for the OG dinners Y6s so fondly remember—when news broke of the cancellation of Orientation. “Honestly, it broke my heart to tell [my OGlings] that we couldn’t even go out for OG dinner or hang out in school”, recalled Jannatun Tajrian (20S03A), one of MR12’s OGLs. 

Her worries regarding disheartened juniors proved to be all but unfounded, however—she was, in fact, “sadder than them”. To her pleasant surprise, MR12 was immediately enthusiastic in finding contactless ways to meet up on the very same voice call; they went on to initiate a Secret Valentine’s lunch when school officially began for the Y5s—complete with full OG attendance. 

“It was heartwarming to see how much they cared to make the most out of it.”

Jannatun Tajrian (20S03A)

This initiative on the part of the Y5s was no anomaly: Jovan Ang (21A01B), along with his former Y4 classmates, decided to call for an OGL Appreciation Day. 

“At the time,” he enthused, “my Y4 class was already doing this spontaneous thing where we dedicate each day to a certain member of our class to appreciate them […] when news of Orientation being cancelled broke out, we decided to dedicate a day to the OGLs instead to appreciate their efforts.” Their hashtag, #oglappreciationday, may not have become ubiquitous on Instagram feeds or stories, but their appreciation pictures remain there, speaking their heartwarming thanks to any OGL it encountered.

Elsewhere, this optimism was evident just as much. Those walking by the classroom corridors of Block J would have found it transformed into a gallery walk of memes: A4-sized posters adorned every window (and the Instagram stories of amused passers-by), calling upon their readers to “GPA before PDA, say no to physical contact” and to “nCoV: no Coughing on Visitors”. 

A timely reminder on Valentine’s Day.

For their creator, Lim Zheng Wei (20A03A), the humour of these posters was a response to “the whole of Singapore collectively losing their minds in a cloud of mass hysteria”. In this atmosphere of fear he was resolved to help defuse, “humour seemed like an appropriate antidote through which people can be reminded to keep their chill and have a good laugh.” And reminded they were as they turned away from the posters to continue with their daily lives—and with enlivened smiles.

Feeling lost about how to stay happy and healthy? Here’s your guide.

In Zheng Wei’s words, “embrace teachers, not hysteria”. Given the present situation, our teachers have not only had to adapt to new methods to disseminate information, but also deal with certain unexpected complications along the way. Mr Gerald Choo (Chemistry Department, Y5–6), being the first lecturer to be affected for H2 Chemistry, had to record his lecture at home over the weekend and upload it as soon as he could in time for the first lecture slot the following week.

“I recorded the lecture in my room with the door closed while my mother was watching TV in the living room.” said Mr Choo. “But I think I spoke very loudly—too loudly in fact. When I finished the recording and went out to the living room, my mother gave me weird stares.” 

“I think she had thought that I was having a conversation with myself in the room.”

Mr Gerald Choo (Chemistry Department, Y5–6)

With this new system in place, the teachers weren’t spared from their fair share of difficulties: due to technical issues or the need to re-edit components of the lecture, Mr Jason Lai (Geography Department, Y5–6) found himself having to re-record and edit his lecture videos at times. Still, even as he describes the changes to the lecture system having been “quite challenging”, he manages to find the silver lining amidst these struggles—he “enjoy[s] the time in the morning for attendance and temperature taking… not having to rush in the morning for flag raising has its advantages.” 

Even the often troublesome video lectures could be approached with a fair dose of humour. Referencing the subject code for H2 History, Ms Lynette Lim (History Department, Y5–6) transformed into a radio broadcaster as she thanked students for “tuning into channel 9752, your history channel” at the beginning of each lecture video; she even imbued a tender sweetness into an otherwise unforgiving revision routine by recording her son wishing everyone “all the best for revision” at the end of her last lecture. Mr Lai, meanwhile, confessed that listening to himself helped discover answers to every teacher’s perpetual confusion:

“I personally find it quite strange to listen to myself, but it reminds me of my soothing and melodious voice, which my wife says that I have… maybe that is why some students travel to slumberland during my lectures.”

Mr Jason Lai (Geography Department, Y5–6)

There have also been unsung heroes working behind the scenes to help the school adapt to COVID-19 as well: not only have our school cleaners been tirelessly sanitising commonly-used areas such as the library and the canteen, but RI’s timetable committee has also accomplished the logistically remarkable feat of rearranging a grand total of around 2400 students from their original lecture locations to new classroom venues. Said Mr Edmund Kwok (History Department, Y5–6): “I really salute [the] timetable committee… [they’ve had] to figure out how to fit the classroom-based lectures into the curriculum given the limited classrooms that we have.” 

Weaved together, this kaleidoscope of stories tell a tale of persistence, of optimism, and above all, of a relentless resolve to rise above the challenges, however pervasive they may seem. It may be true that the epidemic has intruded upon far too many aspects of our daily lives, but one thing is certain: stories of those who, unfazed by terror, continue to adapt and support those around them can be found everywhere. 

Let’s keep calm and carry on.

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