The 2003 epidemic Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) tested the ability of several states in East Asia to keep it under control; this essay chronicles the steps taken by the Singapore government. Once the epidemic broke through confinement in hospitals into the community at large, efforts to keep it under control became discursively a “war against SARS”; epidemic is a “disease” that invades potentially all the bodies of the entire nation and the state is the only organization that is capable of defeating it. Strategically, the government placed exposed individuals under strict quarantine and introduced new regulations for personal hygiene for all. The public had to be mobilized to assist in tracing the exposed, help the quarantined, and to observe the personal hygiene procedures voluntarily. Success of the government's strategies was absolutely dependent on the voluntrism of the entire population. In this sense, during its course, the epidemic produced a “national” community that the long-ruling single-party state government had been skeptical to affirm. The end of the epidemic became a moment of affirmation of the nation as community.
Sars Epidemic and the Disclosure of Singapore Nation
CHUA BENG HUAT IS PROFESSOR IN THE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIOLOGY AND IN CHARGE OF THE CULTURAL STUDIES CLUSTER AT THE ASIA RESEARCH INSTITUTE, BOTH AT THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE. HIS MOST RECENT BOOK IS LIFE IS NOT COMPLETE WITHOUT SHOPPING: CONSUMER CULTURE IN SINGAPORE (2003) AND, AS EDITOR, COMMUNITARIAN POLITICS IN ASIA (2004).