Merlion Park
Photograph: Kashmira Kasmuri

2020 round-up: we look back at the highlights of this year in Singapore

This year has been an eventful one with something major dominating public conversation every month. Here are the ones that got us talking

And just like that, the end of 2020 is here. So how has the concluding year been for you? Regardless of whether you used the past 365 days to get woke, stay safe, or achieve a personal best on Netflix – all amid a pandemic – let’s collectively reminisce about the key things that happened in 2020 one final time, before heralding new beginnings in 2021.

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January: Fireworks and Chinese New Year

Like all new year celebrations, the year started with the usual fireworks, hope for the new year, and excitement for the upcoming Chinese New Year as well. While news on Covid-19 was still developing and cases arising in the community, little did we know that this would be the last of "normalcy" as we know it. 

February: DORSCON, what?

The Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level is raised from Yellow to Orange after more cases with unclear origins surfaced and almost immediately, panic began setting in – especially in supermarkets. Despite this, February was a great month for events (before everything came to a halt). The announcement of a Singapore edition of the famous Chatuchak Night Market from Bangkok was popular news. The light show, #futuretogether (by the same Japanese art collective teamLab responsible for the Future World exhibition at the ArtScience Museum at Gardens By The Bay was also a visual feast that many enjoyed.


March: Clapping on balconies

With several clusters of Covid-19 in the community, Singapore invoked the Infectious Diseases (Covid-19) movement control law, affecting businesses like entertainment outlets, nightclubs and tuition centres, and restricting remaining building crowd density such as MRT and LRT stations, and shopping centres to one person per 16 square metres of space – failing which they will be asked to close.

Inspired by #ClapforNHS in the United Kingdom, British expat Martin Verga brought the movement to Singapore with Clap For #SGUnited. Like in the UK, everyone living in Singapore would clap from their windows or balconies – to show love, support and appreciation for everyone working on the front line. This includes "doctors, nurses, carers, emergency services, delivery workers, warehouse workers, cleaners, supermarket staff and everyone else keeping Singapore safe and stocked," he writes in his Facebook event page.

April: The start of the "circuit breaker"

As countries all over the world started imposing lockdowns, Singapore implemented "circuit breakers". In an address held by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on April 3, he announced that Singapore was putting stricter measures in place to reduce the spread of Covid-19. Phase 1 began on April 7 which saw the closing of non-essential physical workplaces, home-based learning in schools and going out only to purchase groceries and takeaway or essential services. Phase 1 was expected to last a month – and then reviewed to be possibly scaled back or extended. Unsurprisingly, Singapore became a ghost town. The number of food deliveries increased and masks are also mandatory when going out. 


May: Rise of the homebodies

We started getting used to doing everything at home. Ordering food in, baking and making bread, working out, streaming online events, bingeing on TV shows and also working at home. There was also a trend of send care packages to loved ones we could not visit during this time. Despite this, the mood was hopeful – everyone was looking forward to the first stage of the nation reopening. 

June: Phase 1 and Phase 2

After more months of staying at home, we can finally regain some sense of normalcy with Phase 1 and 2 which happened in June. The reopening of the city saw schools and offices reopen with stricter measures put in place, households are allowed to welcome two visitors who are family-related at a time. Places of worship reopened – only for private worship only. Wearing of masks are made mandatory for all outings except for those who have health issues or are young children who can wear face shields – those doing vigorous exercise need not wear any masks or face shields.

Phase 2 eased more restrictions and allowed households to receive five visitors; retail, dine-in, home-based and tuition/enrichment classes are allowed to resume with safety measures put in place; and recreational and sports facilities reopen for members of the public to use.


July: GE2020

Once every five years, Singapore's general election rolls around. It's usually a jam-packed affair full of handshaking at hawker centres and rallies filled with thousands of people. But this year, the campaigning went differently with televised debates and well-produced videos on social media. There were also plenty of helpful infographics on Instagram to keep first-time voters and seasoned box-crossing pros in the know. 

But what’s politics without the drama? Leading up to Polling Day July 10, the internet broke with political memes, a certain potty-mouthed influencer, and cancel culture. Nonetheless, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has retained power, but with a reduced majority.

August: NDP fireworks in the heartland

There’s no denying that the main star of the National Day Parade (NDP) is, of course, the prodigious pyrotechnics. This year, the fireworks display was set off at 10 different locations including Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, Buona Vista, Jurong Lake Gardens, Marina Reservoir, Punggol, Sembawang, Tampines, Woodlands, and Yew Tee, allowing everyone to catch ‘em from their respective sweet digs.


September: First 'floating' Apple Store in the world

What looks like a floating orb from a distance is actually an Apple Store where trees, a giant screen and an underwater boardroom – and of course, a myriad of Apple products – are housed. It opened its shiny new doors on September 10, and visitors can enter the dome via the mall from Basement 1, or take the scenic route and enter from the bridge on the MBS deck. The impressive space also offers 360-degree panoramic views of Downtown Singapore – you can see everything from the Merlion to National Gallery Singapore on a good day.

October: The Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble

When it was announced in late October that Singapore and Hong Kong have reached an in-principle agreement to establish a two-way Air Travel Bubble (ATB), we were super excited. This allows travel between both cities without quarantine, but with conditions such as testing negative for Covid-19 in place. It was originally set to launch on November 22. 

However, the news burst our bubble in November when it reported that the launch was postponed to 2021 due to the rise of Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong. Oh, well.


November: Live performances resumed

It's been a long and dry year for the performing arts scene in Singapore. But in October, live small-scale performances were rolled out as part of a pilot scheme by the National Arts Council. Theatres began to really fill up when live performances were given the green light to resume from November 1 with up to two zones for a maximum of 50 audiences each. Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) and Wild Rice even extended their respective runs for Tuesdays With Morrie and An Actress Prepares, which sold out quickly when tickets were first released.

December: SingapoRediscovers vouchers and Phase 3

On December 1, Singaporeans were given $100 worth of SingapoRediscovers vouchers to use to visit various tourist attractions, hotels and tours around town. This is part of the government's efforts to boost domestic tourism amid the Covid-19 slump. These vouchers are redeemable until July 30 next year. And with Phase 3 here, you can play tourist with up to eight friends (no more cutting that sixth pal out) – with safety measures in place, of course. Read our edit on where to spend your $100 tourism vouchers.


Bonus: Hawker culture recognised by UNESCO

More good news to end the year with – Singapore’s hawker culture is now officially listed as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. The result was announced on December 16, some two years of hard work after Singapore first announced the intention to list hawker culture as part of the UNESCO list. This means that the hawker culture is now the country’s first item on the intangible cultural heritage list, and joins more than 460 other entries including Thai massage and yoga in India. 

To celebrate this momentous occasion, a three-week celebration called SG HawkerFest takes place from now until January 11, 2021. Participants can take part in virtual treasure hunts and online quizzes, and win prizes in the form of vouchers that can be redeemed across 29 participating hawker centres.

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