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  • The Convergence

Covid infographics and methods of governance

By Jazmine (Editor)



Photo by Kentaro Iwamoto on Nikkei Asia

Introduction


Many would recall 2020 as a year of disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Globally, many industries were affected badly by the pandemic, such as travel and agriculture. Singapore’s industries were not exempted from this impact, given the heavy interconnectedness of Singapore’s economy with international markets.


However, while it was a year of much destruction, it is often neglected that it was also a year of creation, with new jobs and regulations emerging. With much new information that people needed to be aware of to learn how to minimise the spread of the virus, Covid infographics became increasingly common as a way of disseminating information in a digestible way.


These range from safe distancing posters to ART guidelines, and have assimilated so smoothly into the ‘new normal’ of Singapore that we often pay little attention to it.


Besides guiding our actions during the pandemic, I’ve noticed that these posters also reveal the Singapore government’s unique way of handling crises, and more broadly, their longstanding method of governance - which tends to be more paternalistic and regulated. When contrasted with other countries’ Covid-19 infographics, these trends become more obvious, and remain relevant even beyond the Covid-19 context.


Infographics


The following posters are commonplace, most prominent in newspapers such as The Straits Times or on public transport. Most variations of infographics provide tips on how to behave during the pandemic, and link to more detailed ones on government websites.


What makes Singapore infographics interesting is how exceptionally specific they are, going above and beyond the instructive nature of other nations’ infographics. In the infographics below, [1] there are very clear actions that are stated, and are even targeted according to venue. Although the ones here are about workplaces and visiting, there are also infographics on ‘safe shopping’, ‘safe commuting’ and many more.


Fig 1: Examples of Singapore Covid-19 infographics

Contrast this to National Institutes of Health infographics in the US below. [2] Although their messages are similar, the US infographics only have broad statements like ‘keep your physical distance’ and ‘cloth face coverings are required’. Unlike Singapore infographics, these are more general requirements that are applicable for any venue, rather than specific instructions to follow.


Fig 2: Examples of US Covid-19 infographics

So how do these infographics reveal a state’s method of governance?


Singapore and paternalism


Singapore has long been labelled a ‘nanny state’ by other countries, and these paternalistic methods of governance often reveal themselves in our infographics. Paternalism can be seen in many aspects of Singaporean life, from politics to even the simplest of everyday activities, such as banning the sale of chewing gum. A key example would be the government’s tight control on press freedom. The 1974 Newspaper and Printing Presses Act is applicable to all news print media in Singapore, and mandates that only newspapers with a permit can be published. [3] This permit can be withdrawn at any time by the government, so even though there are private news companies in Singapore, there is still significant government regulation over press freedom.


Hints of Singapore’s paternalism in dealing with national or regional health crises is not a new phenomenon, which is evident by paralleling current Covid-19 infographics with SARS infographics from 2003. The SARS poster below [4] details specific steps citizens should take, such as using serving spoons for common dishes and telling the truth in health declarations. This level of specificity is similar to Covid-19 infographics, revealing that government response to pandemics over time have been quite consistent.


Figure 3: Example of Singapore SARS infographic in 2003

Same pandemic, different responses


Let us refer back to the Singapore Covid infographics in Figure 1. Besides looking at the infographics’ level of specificity, analysing the positioning of elements may also reveal more unwritten messages. In the Singapore infographics, both have a ‘top and bottom’ composition . According to “Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design”, the upper section represents the ‘ideal’, and ‘tends to make some kind of emotive appeal’. On the other hand, the lower section represents the ‘real’, and ‘tends to be more informative and practical’. [5]


While the infographics are clearly meant to be instructive, there is also an attempt to appeal to the public’s emotions which may not be as obvious. This is most clearly seen in the title of ‘New Normal’, a common phrase used to describe living with Covid. It caters to many citizens’ desire for normality after the upheavals caused by Covid, thus lending greater impact to the infographic.


In the bottom section, there are more practical matters such as a link to the gov.sg Whatsapp channel, and reminders to use TraceTogether. Besides providing a useful source of information, these government-related reminders being placed below ‘the ideal’ conditions of a new normal imply that heeding government protocols and remaining updated are the best ways to achieve the ‘ideal’ shown above.


This method of persuasion differs slightly from the US infographics. Referring back to the US infographics in Figure 2, the second poster shows people of different occupations looking at the viewer. Such a positioning creates a form of ‘direct address’, and ‘acknowledges the viewers explicitly’ to take action. [5] Although both Singapore and US infographics rely on the individual to take action, there is more emphasis on the individual in US infographics, where it illustrates the societal impact of individual action less. The government also plays a larger role in Singapore infographics, which could reflect its more paternalistic governance.


Compared to Singapore, the US government indeed does take a more ‘hands off’ approach in governance. For example, comparing their attitude towards press freedom compared to Singapore, in the first amendment of the US constitution, it states that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the freedom of speech or the press, in contrast to Singapore’s Newspaper and Printing Presses Act.


As seen from the infographics, each country’s approach to the pandemic differed according to their governance style. In Singapore, wearing a mask was made mandatory during the height of the pandemic, and those who did not comply faced a fine. Whereas in the US, during the early months of the outbreak, CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and WHO stated that face masks were not necessary unless a person was experiencing symptoms or caring for someone who was. [6] Though eventually health experts encouraged citizens to wear a mask, it was not made compulsory, unlike in Singapore where a fine was imposed for not wearing a mask when required.


The Singapore government was also diligent in contact tracing through TraceTogether, which helps identify people who have been in close contact with positive cases. Tracing was so rigorous that checking in before entering public areas was mandatory and monitored, resulting in doubts over data privacy being raised, as the public worried who would have access to such information. [7] On the other hand, compared to Singapore, the US was less thorough in isolating those who were known or suspected to be infected, whether is it through tracing their contacts or requiring quarantines for those who were exposed. [6]


Conclusion


Though normal activities have resumed for most citizens, it is still worth considering Singapore’s methods of communication during the pandemic in relation to other countries. While infographics are a tool used by many governments, each country adopts a unique design language that may reveal its method of governance, and therefore its response to crises. Though not discussed in this article, examining the change in infographics throughout the pandemic may even reveal changes in policy or conditions over time. Hence, while often neglected today, infographics have the potential to reveal much about the handling of the pandemic, even in the future after the worst of Covid-19 has passed.





Bibliography


[1] https://www.moh.gov.sg/covid-19/general/resources


[2] https://ors.od.nih.gov/mab/Pages/COVID-19-Resources.aspx


[3] https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/NPPA1974?ProvIds=P12-#pr3-


[4] https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/posters/record-details/314ef27b-115c-11e3-83d5

-0050568939ad


[5] https://cdn.glitch.me/05cf2253-657b-4ca7-a4fe-293daf3e7498%2Fkress%20and%20van%

20leeuwen%20-%20reading%20images%20the%20grammar%20of%20visual%20design%202.pdf


[6] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-u-s-pandemic-response-went-wrong-and

-what-went-right-during-a-year-of-covid/


[7] https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/politics/polices-ability-to-use-tracetogether-data

-raises-questions-on-trust-experts




 

Jazmine is a Year 1 Global Studies major who is an Editor at The Convergence. Having an interest in social phenomena such as culture and inequality, she hopes to raise awareness on social issues as well as learn more through writing and research. Over time, she hopes to explore more areas of research, such as environmental and economic issues. In her free time, she enjoys reading fantasy novels and sleeping.





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