A Happy New Year to the readers of this ridiculously irrelevant column. 2021 has been a year of shattered hope (that we would have gotten the pandemic under control) and realised fears. Delta and Omicron bookended 2021 and the world spent another year in a surreally sad state of ( albeit milder) lockdowns, social distancing and masks.
We now look back at the year that has passed and we dish out various awards to folks who gave colour to 2021, through the eyes of a halfling who is stuffed with beer and suffused with melancholy….
First World to Third Award
Recently, it was reported that close contacts of patients who had contracted the Omicron virus were quarantined in hotel rooms. Many of them were made to share room with complete strangers. Seriously, after spending billions on disease control for the pandemic, we have to save on such stuff? We have to bear in mind this is more than a one-night stand and complete strangers are made to share rooms for several nights. Maybe folks such as Singaporean boys who have done NS and slept in army bunks can accept this, but how about other folks?
Sharing a room with family members and friends is probably OK. But complete strangers?Whoever thought of this needs to get his mind checked (to see if any brain is present in the first place). The foreign press took us to town for this and perhaps justifiably so.
Best Cultural Advancement Award
For centuries, humankind has frowned on nose-digging, especially in public, as a uncouth, distasteful act. Now we have to do it twice weekly in the form of regular ART tests. Now, it is not only public but if you return from VTL flights, it is supervised nose-digging. Trust this hobbit, most people can dig their nose pretty well, with their fingers or with a swab. They don’t need supervision. I actually think these chaps have a strange job – all they do is watch people dig their nose, day-in, day-out…..
No Reality Check Award
This goes to the unknown genius that believed that KTV lounges/clubs etc will willingly pivot to become food establishments without any hanky-panky business. This of course we know became the KTV cluster later on. This is made all the more incredulous when it was discovered that many of these “pivoted” food establishments do not have kitchens to do any serious cooking.
Fat Cats Award
In 2020, Integrated Shield Plan (IP) providers collectively made S103.75M. This hobbit thinks 2021 will likewise be a bumper year for them. Will they pass any of these earnings to the policy holders? Will premiums not rise as such? Will they stop threatening to raise premiums at every call for increasing doctor panel size or improving reimbursement rates for doctors? This hobbit is not holding his breath for this. They are the big winners of this year’s Fat Cats Award.
This goes to the Life Insurance Association (LIA) of Singapore. For years they have been singing the familiar tune that private healthcare costs are increasing unsustainably because patients are overconsuming and healthcare providers are overservicing and overcharging. This will lead to premiums likewise increasing at an unsustainable rate.
Well, it turns out that for the Integrated Shield Plan (IP) sector, from 2016 TO 2019, Gross Premiums (i.e. total premiums collected) went up by a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10%; while Gross Claims (money paid out to policyholders who made claims) increased by 11%, while Management Costs went up by 16% and Commissions by 15%!
In other words, the main causes of unsustainability is that the amount of money these IP providers are paying themselves is increasing at a far faster rate than that of premium growth! And all this while, nobody really noticed until recently.
LIA wins the Stealth Award (quietly and invisibly)
Circular King Award
Current DMS wins this award for the second time running. 244 circulars were issued in 2020. 192 circulars were issued in 2021, slightly fewer. But this hobbit thinks that 192 may be an underestimate because a new practice may have emerged. Quite a few circulars were re-issued with updates and amendments and given an alphabet suffix; e.g. Circular 188A/2021 and so on. So the actual number may be around 200 or so.
Not all circulars apply to all doctors. But let’s say we halve that number – to 100 circulars. That would mean that an average of 2 circulars a week require my complete understanding and compliance. That’s pretty scary isn’t it?
Common Sense is Uncommon Award
We allow passengers to take public transport (such as buses MRT trains) with practically no social distancing. But till now, we continue to have alternate urinals and wash basins taped up so that no one can use them.
In some toilets, we even see every other toilet cubicle with full-height partitions likewise adorned with signs that state they cannot be used in order to maintain adequate social distancing.
Do the folks who implement this realise Covid-19 cannot spread through full height partitions, and also one spends considerably less time at a wash basin or a urinal (unless you have serious prostate problems) than in a bus or train ride?
The persistence of such practices reflects what my professor taught me long ago, “common sense is uncommon”.
Up till early Oct 21, before the introduction of the simplified 3 Protocols, the country’s policies and regulations on Covid-19 quarantine, treatment and recovery were so complex it was really impossible to understand, let alone remember. This was best encapsulated in a flow diagram published in Lianhe Zaobao on 4 Oct 21. You don’t have to understand any Chinese, just look at the diagram. Adjectives such as “bewildering” and “befuddling” are but euphemisms in this instance:
Kudos to the folks who contributed to the vast array of policies and regulations that controlled our lives for a few weeks. Even bigger kudos to the Zaobao team for understanding them and compressing all that into one single expansive flow diagram. They are the deserved winners of this year’s Complexity Award.
Road to Endemicity Award
This goes to the Delta variant for breaching our defences at the Jurong Fish Port shortly after the KTV cluster. After these two clusters there was no turning back for us. We were truly well on the road to endemicity…..
Online commentator Calvin Cheng on 22 May 21 posted, “What are GPs? They are general practitioners who got a degree in medicine, who then either chose not to specialise in a certain field, or were not good enough to be chosen to be specialists. So they became GENERALISTS. They look after small every day illnesses, and once an illness or disease is too complex for them, they refer them to the real experts, a specialist”
Enough said about this guy. He likes to be heard I guess. Even for the worst reasons. He gets this year’s Clueless Award hands down.
Contrast this to what the Prime Minister said at the recent celebrations of CFPS’ 50th Anniversary on 3 Dec 21:-
“As family physicians, you are specialists in your own right. Hospital specialists see patients for a specific condition, but you see patients holistically as a person, across their range of conditions”.
The Facepalm Award
This is a new award category. It is given to the folks who make the most ridiculously embarrassing actions in the previous year. The inaugural award goes to a small bunch of anti-vaxxers who do the silliest things. There was one chap who claimed on social media that he can be contacted via DMS. That was another one who threatened to sue people, including the DMS, the prime minister’s wife and a prominent infectious disease specialist.
By all means, be an anti-vaxxer if you so choose. But don’t do or claim things that make you look stupid or even looney. This is no way to heal any divide….
The Grinch Award
This hobbit thinks Omicron is like the character Grinch in Dr Seuss’s book – How the Grinch stole Christmas. It appeared in November and literally took out the festive spirit in December, just when many people all over the world believed we had the Delta strain under control, and were prepared to travel for holidays and take part in end of year festivities. Maybe we should rename Omicron as the Grinch variant.