Posted on: May 13, 2020 at 6:29 pm

Even after several months, the COVID-19 pandemic has relentlessly continued to cause illness and death, and completely disrupt the lives of nearly everyone on the planet. Schools, businesses, and public spaces have remained closed, and social distancing rules and stay-home orders, which were originally expected to last only a few weeks, have endured so long we can scarcely remember life before they existed.

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Not only have governments around the world been forced to develop new laws and regulations to guide their citizens and keep everyone safe, but they’ve had to come up with strategies for how they will enforce these new restrictions and remind their people of the new rules.

Singapore has employed a very unique approach to reminding its citizens to keep their distance, and it looks like something out of a sci-fi film.

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Spot the Social Distancing Robot

To help curb coronavirus infections and remind joggers, cyclists, and walkers, to stay six feet apart, Singapore’s government enlisted the help of Spot- a four-legged, remote-controlled robot dog.

The machine was built by robotics company Boston Dynamics and deployed in a park on May 8 as a part of a two-week trial. If the tactic is successful, Spot could become part of a team of robots that are policing the city-state’s greenspaces during the lockdown.

Instead of barking orders at passers-by, the robodog speaks in a soft, female voice, reminding everyone to keep their distance to stay safe.

“Let’s keep Singapore healthy,” Spot says in English as he patrols the park. “For your own safety and for those around you, please stand at least one metre apart. Thank you.” [1]

Spot is not the only robot tasked with enforcing social distancing measures. Another, in the shape of a small car, polices a nearby reservoir to remind visitors not to loiter, and that gatherings are prohibited.

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Spot, however, is better suited for the rougher terrain in a park, and is fitted with cameras and analytics tools to track how many people are in the park. He will not, however, be able to track individuals or record personal data.

The canine machine is also being trialed for use at a temporary hospital, as a safe way to deliver medications to patients [1].

Read: Antibodies that prevent COVID-19 virus from infecting human cells have been identified by scientists

Lockdown Measures in Singapore

At the end of April, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that they would be extending lockdown measures for another month, until June first. The government also planned to increase the number of tests amid concerns over a growing number of unlinked cases, and more workplaces would be closed. Only the most essential services would remain open.

The prime minister said in a statement that he understands the disappointment that this extension would bring, particularly for business owners and non-essential workers who are struggling without work, but that they must press on to bring daily case numbers down significantly, perhaps even to zero.

They have committed to providing an additional 3.8 billion Singapore dollars (2.7 billion US dollars) to support businesses that are hurting financially under the new rules.

“I hope you understand that this short-term pain is to stamp out the virus, protect the health and safety of our loved ones, and allow us to revive our economy,” Lee said [2].

Singapore had drawn worldwide attention initially for its great success in containing the virus in the early stages of the pandemic. In mid-March, the city-state appeared to have everything under control with only 200 COVID-19 infections, but by the end of April, their number of cases had exceeded nine thousand.

A vast majority of these infections were found in Singapore’s migrant workers, who live in crowded foreign worker dormitories, making social distancing impossible and allowing the virus to spread easily and rapidly throughout their quarters.

The first coronavirus case in a migrant worker was a Bangladeshi worker known as “patient 42”. Singapore was slow to test for the virus in the crowded dormitories, which resulted in a sudden outbreak. According to Mustafizur Rahman, Bangladesh’s high commissioner to Singapore, 1,200 to 1,300 Bangladeshis had been impacted as of mid-April. Numbers of cases in Singaporean nationals, however, remain under control.

Several dormitories have now been quarantined to reduce the spread of infections, and thousands of workers have been relocated to alternate, more spacious, accommodation [3].

Read: Professor researching Covid-19 was killed in an apparent murder-suicide, officials say

Strict Rules and Steep Penalties

All residents in Singapore must wear a mask at all times when in public and are only permitted to leave home for essential reasons, like grocery shopping. Outdoor exercise is allowed, but it must be done alone.

Although Spot the robodog is polite, the repercussions of failing to follow social distancing regulations are significant, and failure to follow lockdown rules will result in large fines and even potential jail time [1].

Although the strict rules in Singapore are challenging for its citizens, the government has made it clear that they are committed to doing whatever it takes to eliminate the virus and to keep its people safe and healthy.

“I know this has not been an easy time for everyone,” said Lee. “We are making progress, but we have not yet succeeded” [2].

Keep Reading: WHO backs away from ban on live wildlife markets, prompting serious warnings.

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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