Singapore’s 1918 “Circuit Breaker” Was Covered In The Straits Times

With the Covid-19 pandemic in full force, it’s understandable that it’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Nevertheless, if we take a step back, we’ll remember that this isn’t the first time Singapore has been struck by a deadly virus.

Over a century ago – 1918 to be precise – the ‘Spanish Flu’ hit our shores and measures to contain the outbreak may be more similar to present day Singapore than you’d think. Spoiler alert — there was basically a circuit breaker just like the one we are seeing now.

The ‘Spanish Flu’ wasn’t actually from Spain

Contrary to what its name suggests, the Spanish Flu actually originated from U.S. Army Training Camps.


As World War I continued to rage on, people travelling all over the world accelerated the spread.

With Singapore already positioned as a global trading hub, it was only a matter of time that the flu hit us too. And it did.


Affecting us in 2 major waves, our little island suffered a death toll of over 2,870 cases.

Straits Times letters reveal ‘Circuit Breaker’-esque conditions

Digging into their archives, the Straits Times published articles and letters to the editor from the height of the 1918 flu outbreak.

In an article titled “The Mysterious Malady”, businesses all over the city were said to be adversely affected. Does this sound familiar already?


That was in July, approximately during the first wave of infections.

The second wave brought with it even more measures, giving us nothing but intense déjà vu. A letter to the press details school closures — though we’re unsure if home-based learning like ours was in place.


However, contrary to our strict measures, the letter lamented the allowance for entertainment outlets to still remain open.

Cinemas and theaters were apparently still having business as usual, a tad different from us where entertainment outlets were one of the first things to go.


While citizens at the time had to desperately seek out the authorities to take action, we have our government to thank for acting quickly on closures in 2020.

OG Circuit Breaker folk had it rough compared to us

Singapore has built up a reputation for being a pristine nation, but that hasn’t always been the case — especially not during the Spanish flu outbreak.


In yet another released letter, an afflicted patient sent in a desperate plea to improve of the conditions they lived in. Aside from having to worry about the rising death toll, “inch-deep dust” contaminated the very water they drank.


While the situation is far from ideal with Covid-19 – as our national tally exceeds 8,000 – the fact that we don’t have to worry about basic necessities is a win in itself.

Let us be thankful for the time we live in

It goes without saying that Covid-19 has taken its toll on many aspects of our lives — Circuit Breaker measures being a big part of that.

A glimpse into the past, however, shows us just how much we have to be thankful for in spite of the dark cloud of the raging pandemic.

Technological advancements and solid governance are definitely things we shouldn’t be taking for granted.

For all who are finding circuit breaker measures challenging, continue pressing on. Singapore has overcome great obstacles a century ago, and we will do it again.

If people living in inch-deep dust can do it, we can too.

Featured image adapted from The Straits Times.