Wednesday, 20 Jan 2021

Youth in Singapore more likely to meet others for socialising in phase 2 of Covid-19 reopening: Survey

When it comes to Covid-19, Mr Lim Chia Wei plays by the rules. He wears a mask, maintains safe distancing, washes his hands regularly and uses common serving utensils when sharing food.

But the 24-year-old student also meets two to three different groups of friends a week – something not uncommon among people his age.

A recent online poll commissioned by The Sunday Times, carried out by online market research firm Milieu Insight, found that young people have been meeting more groups each week in phase two of the reopening.

The poll of 1,000 people, representative of the Singapore resident population aged 16 and above, was conducted over the recent National Day long weekend. The margin of error was +/- 3 per cent with a 95 per cent confidence level.

Respondents aged between 16 and 34 were more likely to report that they had been socialising with people outside their households for non-work purposes a few times a week since phase two started.

This was in contrast to those aged 35 and above, who were more likely to say they socialised outside their households only once a week or once every few weeks.

Overall, about 51 per cent of those surveyed said they socialised with people outside their households once a week or more, while only 14 per cent indicated that they had not socialised with anyone since phase two began.

Among those who had socialised, 68 per cent tended to meet one to two different groups a week, while another 30 per cent said they socialised with three to five different groups on a weekly basis.

Those aged between 16 and 24 were statistically more likely than other age groups to socialise with more groups across their networks each week, with 40 per cent saying they met three to five groups per week.

Mr Lim said: “Initially, I was very scared of the virus, minimising my number of trips to supermarkets during the circuit breaker period. After that, it seems that the community infections have been kept low. I slowly shifted to the belief that ‘lives need to go on safely’, so I take the necessary precautions while trying to return to normal life, including meeting up with friends.”

Fifty-three per cent of those who had socialised since phase two started said they tended to hang out in groups of four to five people, while 44 per cent said they usually socialised in groups of two or three.

Only 4 per cent said they had been meeting up in groups of six or more. Among this group, about a third were aged between 16 and 24.

Not all youth are social butterflies, however. Fifty-seven per cent of those aged between 16 and 24 said they stuck to meeting one to two groups of people each week.

Mr Gabriel Lim, 25, who works in the consulting industry, is among them. He said he has grown used to the idea of virtual meet-ups.


There will, of course, be the ones who are more adventurous with risk-taking, but that is equally true for people of other age groups as well.

PROFESSOR TEO YIK YING, dean of the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, on how people are behaving during the pandemic.

“Though I am not afraid of getting the virus, limiting meet-ups does provide peace of mind,” he said, adding that he avoids visiting homes where there are elderly people to lower the risk of them being infected.

“And even though virtual meet-ups will never replace the human connection one gets from a physical exchange, it is common now for us to catch up over Zoom. They have also brought about many conveniences, such as not having to use a mask, saving on travel time and saving money – and you can still talk to friends from the comfort of your room.”

Seventy-seven per cent of those aged 55 and above in the survey said they met only one to two different groups a week.

Housewife Nancy Ong, 55, has stayed home most of the time since the start of the circuit breaker, and resumed visits to her elderly mother only since restrictions were eased.

She said she used to gather with her friends on the weekends for activities but most have been cancelled and she avoids the rest.

“I think it’s good to cut down on meeting people in general, but it’s still important not to stay home all the time. Hence, I have started to join a group of friends for outdoor exercise, once every week or two, and we mostly keep to the same people,” she said.

Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser of the department of sociology in the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences said the difference in types of behaviour likely had to do with the usual lifestyles of different age groups. “What we are seeing here with regard to young people reflects their lifestyle of meeting friends often in large numbers… after the work day,” he said.

While there are currently no rules on how many different groups one can meet during phase two of the reopening, experts said that meeting more people increases the risk of spreading or catching Covid-19.

But Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said that attempting to completely restrict young people from socialising may end up driving many activities underground.

“A better approach is to communicate to these people clearly, so they understand the risks involved,” he said.

The main risk is of them passing the virus on to older family members, who may be at higher risk of developing complications because of their age or health condition.

Prof Teo said: “It’s about letting them know the consequence of their actions will be felt more acutely by their loved ones, and I expect for a society like Singapore’s, a majority of the young people are actually sensible about it.

“There will, of course, be the ones who are more adventurous with risk-taking, but that is equally true for people of other age groups as well.”

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