In April 2020, life in Singapore came to a standstill with the implementation of ‘Circuit Breaker’ (CB) measures meant to curb the community spread of COVID-19. With the closure of all non-essential services and public sporting facilities islandwide, there have been a surge in visitors to parks around the country. Crowds gathered en masse to recreate in parks, seemingly oblivious or blatantly disregarding the dangers of a global pandemic.
In this article, I argue that the proactive personal decision not to visit parks may save lives and prevent causing death(s). My argument is presented in three parts. First, I reason why densely populated areas such as parks are highly likely to facilitate mass viral transmissions by means of asymptomatic carriers. Second, given that adhering to strict social distancing protocols is not always feasible in densely populated parks, I maintain that the best way to prevent infection is to avoid such areas entirely. Third, I address the flawed argument that one’s personal actions are too insignificant to make a tangible difference in the global fight against COVID-19. The article concludes by reiterating our individual responsibility to ‘flatten the curve’; more will be infected if we do not take it upon ourselves to act with civic mindedness.
The dangers of asymptomatic carriers
Given our current knowledge of COVID-19, the public policies implemented, and the social mentality of the average citizen, we may make four evidenced observations:  COVID-19 is significantly more contagious and deadly as compared to a typical flu virus.  There are asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers lurking undetected in our midst. These individuals are likely to be unaware that they are infected and would go about their schedules as per normal, unwittingly spreading the virus.  As there are presently no regulations in place forbidding access to all parks and park connectors, it is reasonable to posit that people (COVID-19 carriers included) will continue visiting these public spaces to exercise.  One’s natural optimism bias (‘I won’t be so unlucky to get infected.’ or ‘There’s no way I can be a carrier!’) would lead one to downplay the dangers of COVID-19. This false sense of security may be bolstered if one takes some form of
We may thus induce from these four observations that there is a high likelihood that densely populated public areas such as parks continue to pose a significant threat to public health and safety due the plausible presence of an unknown number of asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers. Put bluntly, you have no way to be sure whether the person you meet in the park could get you infected. Worse, you have no way of knowing if you are responsible for infecting others.
The limits of social distancing protocols in crowded parks
The physical limitations of space in Singapore is reflected in the size of our parks. Consider, for example, the narrow pathways or trails of certain parks that rarely stretch more than several meters wide. Current social distancing protocols recommend a gap of at least one to two meters between persons, but this only applies to slow-moving or stationary individuals under low wind conditions.
Unfortunately, such ideal conditions do not apply when you are in an environment surrounded by crowds engaged in vigorous activities. Under such circumstances, forceful movements and labored breathing will result in droplets being spread over a wider area (particularly so in a runner’s slipstream, the area directly behind the runner), significantly increasing the risk of contamination if one merely adheres to a social distance of one to two meters. We obviously do not want to be covered in a stranger’s bodily fluids, but maintaining a reasonable safe distance may not be feasible given the space constraints of crowded venues. The solution? Avoid such areas entirely.
Do I make a difference?
One may argue: “If you’re so scared of COVID-19, then just stay at home lah! What I do is my choice, who are you to tell me what to do? It’s not illegal for me to exercise at the parks anyway!” Arguments of this sort have been raised umpteen times, fueling unnecessary tensions among the population. Such arguments typically feature two premises. First, that the autonomy of one’s choices - personal liberty - should be exercised to the extent that one’s actions are not illegal. Second, that one’s actions do not make a difference to the well-being of the collective. As such, since personal liberty is upheld, and that one’s individual actions are insignificant vis collective well-being, it is thus permissible for one to take actions that are not explicitly deemed illegal by the law. I shall now illustrate why both premises are flawed.
1) ‘I can do whatever I want, so long as it’s not illegal.’
A challenge lies in convincing someone not to do something that is not illegal. As legality is deeply ingrained into our civic consciousness, it’s not surprising that people typically assume that whatever actions the law permits is ‘right’, ’correct’ or ‘not wrong’. The relationship between legality and morality is complex, and will not be examined in detail here. It suffices to say that what is legal does not equate to what is moral.
Attention is now drawn to the mentality that liberty is interwoven into our legal institutions; specifically, the assumption that laws are necessary and sufficient determinants of individual behaviors. This assumption is flawed for the following reason: deference to laws is not always required in deciding what to do. For example, there is no rule prohibiting self-harm. It is left to personal discretion whether to follow through or not. Likewise, there is no regulation prohibiting you from willfully exposing yourself to the risks of catching COVID-19. But in doing so, you knowingly and intentionally increase the risks of harming yourself and others - and that says something about your moral character. In short, ‘can’ does not imply ‘should’.
2) ’There are millions of people; my individual actions won’t make a difference.’
In the previous paragraphs, I expounded on the dangers of COVID-19 and the limits of social distancing protocols in crowded parks. Unfortunately, the dangers are usually grossly underestimated due to one’s natural optimism bias. Unless one sees a COVID-19 patient gasping for air and dying before one’s very eyes, the horrors of COVID-19 may seem abstract and distant.
Alas, the presence of even one asymptomatic carrier in a crowded venue is sufficient to create a devastating impact on the community. Given the immense difficulty of identifying COVID-19 carriers in a population of approximately 5.85 million people, there is high likelihood that many carriers remain undetected. It is worth reiterating that there is a heightened possibility that you may encounter a carrier at crowded venues. You yourself may even be an asymptomatic carrier. As such, if we do not take social distancing measures seriously or proactively alter our individual behaviours to avoid crowds, more people may die as a direct result of our actions.
Flattening the curve.
Some maintain that the right thing to do is that which creates the greatest good for the greatest number. Others assert adhering to a categorical imperative, or manifesting the right virtues. Regardless of your guiding moral philosophy, I believe that the current climate is one of the rare few circumstances whereby all can agree that the right thing to do is minimize, to the greatest extent possible, the possibility of harm inflicted unto others. Engaging in physical activity is not wrong, but necessary precautions must be taken when doing so. That includes sacrificing some of the freedoms we used to enjoy, such as running at our favorite parks or park connectors. Throughout history, sports has been, and continues to be, a medium capable of igniting positive change. Do not let its name be tarnished by civic irresponsibility or willful ignorance. Each and every one of us are directly responsible for ‘flattening the curve’. We are already in a position to answer the question posed in the beginning.
Do I make a difference? I might.