Report: Review of academic research on COVID-19 in Singapore

Academic Views, Special Topics / Wednesday, April 19th, 2023

More than 800 academic articles have been published focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore. They focus on on six major themes: the healthcare response; institutional and societal response; social and behavioural impacts; educational impacts; economic and financial impacts; and environmental impact. Our report reviews this literature.

Three years ago, on April 18, 2020, we published an editorial, “Academia (and knowledge) in the age of pandemic”, reflecting on the responsibilities of citizens and scholars to engage in the public sphere. We argued then that knowledge-production is important for building up insights about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and that scholars have an urgent, collective task of paying attention to the lacks in existing systems and imagining possibilities for building back better. In the following year, colleagues from various disciplines contributed commentaries to AcademiaSG, answering exactly this call. Like others, we also took to webinars to continue scholarly engagements that could no longer be carried out in seminar rooms and lecture halls, participating in the numerous ongoing efforts at making sense of these times.

While it was clear by April 2020 that the world was facing an unusual crisis, none of us imagined just how protracted and sustained the “social distancing” — including from students, academic colleagues, research field sites, in-person meetings and conferences — would be. Three years on, as we finally resume the full range of “normal” academic activities, there is a feeling of euphoria but also a kind of haziness around the strange time-warp we just experienced: we are excited to be conversing in person again, and indeed appreciative of encounters previously taken for granted; there is tacit understanding that some major shifts have taken place, but perhaps because of fatigue (who isn’t sick of uttering/hearing “pandemic” in 2023?), there is also a surprising lack of reflection on collective lessons.

Many scholars, across disciplines and indeed around the world, have been working to capture the components and textures of the pandemic; the regimes, institutional dynamics, and cultures revealed by the crisis; and the complex and uneven impacts experienced by humans. If in 2020, we were right to articulate that knowledge-production matters for understanding the past and imagining the future, then in 2023, it is appropriate to take stock of these myriad efforts.

As individual academics, we are embedded within disciplines and do not always seek work outside of our areas. Individual members of the public, too, are unlikely to come across the wide range of scholarly research. We decided therefore to commission a literature review that casts a wide net — tracking research across disciplines — and that captures findings in general ways for non-specialist readers. We are delighted that Wong Yee Lok, Research Associate at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, has done a magnificent job of collecting, organising, and summarising this work in ways that will help us broaden and deepen our thinking about how we have been shaped through this global crisis and what questions and tasks we should be looking toward. The task of reflection is important and possible, and perhaps here is where we could begin.

— Teo You Yenn, Chong Ja Ian, Cherian George, and Linda Lim