National Gallery Singapore. Photo: Choo Yut Shing/Flickr.

Singapore’s Cultural Sector Shuts Down, Braces for Surge of COVID-19 Cases

Arts institutions across Singapore closed today as the city-state prepares to combat a spike in coronavirus cases. While Singapore previously managed to avoid a nationwide lockdown and successfully flattened the curve of the virus through strict social distancing measures, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong informed the public on April 3 that the government will now be taking a more aggressive approach to combating COVID-19. Schools, museums, and nonessential businesses will be required to shut down for a period of at least four weeks, beginning April 7. 

Among the institutions that shuttered are the National Gallery of Singapore, the Singapore National Museum, and the Nantang Technological University Centre for Contemporary Art. A number of museums, including the Asian Civilizations Museum and the ArtScience Museum, had already closed their doors after employees tested positive for the virus. Singapore had also mandated that all entertainment venues close on March 24. Prior to the closures, museums were practicing crowd control by canceling public events and capping the number of visitors admitted. 

The change in strategy was sparked by a jump in cases—a total of 1,114 people had been infected as of Friday. “We have decided that instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now, to pre-empt escalating infections,” Lee said when he addressed the nation. According to Reuters, people responded by emptying the supermarkets, even though grocery stores are essential businesses and will remain open.

Schools and museums reacted similarly to institutions in other countries by moving their classes and exhibitions online. ArtAsiaPacific reports that the National Gallery of Singapore has already introduced an initiative called #GalleryAnywhere, which provides the public with digital access to the museum’s collection and related scholarship.