Mundusians under the Covid-19 Lockdown: Part 7 - Alex Westcott-Campbell

Welcome to the seventh interview in our series about Mundusians under the Covid-19 shutdown. Today, we say hello to alumna - Alex Westcott-Campbell (and her little one) as she shares her experience with the lockdown in Singapore.

2020.05.19 | Ellie Sellwood

Alex in her home office in Singapore with her baby and her dog.

The Covid-19 lockdown has been tough for all of us, but what happens when you add a newborn into the mix? That’s exactly the situation that new mum - Alex - found herself in these past few weeks with the birth of her baby in April. 

Alex graduated from the Mundus Journalism programme in Swansea in 2015. She is from South Africa and is currently working for Springer Nature as an academic publishing editor and commissions books in the humanities and social sciences in Southeast and East Asia.

Alex’s job involves travelling around the region a lot, something which has stopped in light of the Covid-19 lockdown. On the plus side, she was perhaps more prepared than most when Singapore introduced lockdown measures - thanks to the preparations she made for her maternity leave, read on to find out more!

Mundus Journalism: What is the situation like in Singapore right now? How long have Covid-19 measures been in place? What’s the mood like?

We had a lockdown imposed on 7 April until 30 April, but found out on 21st April that this will be extended until 1 June. Singapore started implementing social distancing measures bit by bit from mid-February, when I started working from home, due to my pregnancy, and the government was determined to try and keep the economy ticking along, with schools and businesses remaining open.

The government has worked incredibly hard to conduct contact tracing, also launching a Bluetooth-enabled app to trace people’s movements and exposure to known cases. Testing has been aggressive from the beginning. However, as the knowledge about the disease has changed, so has the containment strategy: for instance, we were told emphatically not to wear masks in the beginning as they were seen as offering little resistance to the virus. Only people feeling ill were told to wear them. Now, you are fined if seen outside without one.

One of the major gear shifts I’ve noticed is the change in political rhetoric: the public communication has been incredibly nationalised, directed exclusively at Singaporeans, and consequently failed to factor in the large demographic of foreign workers here. Singapore was initially hailed as the ‘gold standard’ litmus test for successful containment of the virus, but the international attitude has now changed to criticism of too much self-congratulatory back-patting, as it’s been revealed that the weak point in the system was to ignore the migrant worker community here. This is where the bulk of cases are now concentrated, with over 1,000 cases a day now recorded, the majority in the worker dormitories. 

Now we are on severe lockdown, and the PM announced this week that no one is to venture outside with family members (previously you could exercise in open spaces with members of the same household). The mood is frustrated, and bleak. The ‘circuit breaker’ is set to be extended until 1st June.

Mundus Journalism: How have the Covid-19 measures affected your work at Springer Nature?

My role involves a lot of travel in the region. After Chinese New Year, I was due to go one more work trip to Borneo ahead of ceasing travel due to the third trimester of my pregnancy (at 34 weeks). This was during the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak. I made the call with my boss the day before I was due to fly not to go, because I was aware that there would be numerous delegates attending from China, which was the hotspot of the virus at that time. The conference organisers were disappointed as I was due to speak at a workshop. I remember feeling like I was perhaps overreacting, but given my pregnancy, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk. Turns out it was the right call!

All travel was subsequently cancelled bit by bit in my company. I was due to start working from home from mid-March ahead of my due date in early April, as I worked up until 40 weeks. In the end, it didn’t actually affect my workflow so much because I wasn’t due to travel anyway from the end of February onwards.

However, as travel is so important for commissioning editors, it has meant that we have had to adapt our communication and acquisitions strategies as we still have to meet our targets. I was fortunate that I had done a lot of prep for 2020 knowing I would take several weeks maternity leave. We had some cases of Covid19 in my office building in March so I am thankful my company allowed me to work from home from an earlier stage.

The company also organised a lot of virtual activities and meet ups to try keep up morale, and there was very good communication via our Intranet on a daily basis. A lot of academic conferences have been cancelled this year, so I think the impact of this will be felt even more next year in my company due to this year’s slow down.

MJ: What kind of tools have you been using to facilitate working remotely?

Our company Intranet, GoToMeeting, Cisco Jabber, Skype, Whatsapp calls.

MJ: Do you have any tips or tricks for fellow Mundusians working in the same field as you?

I am not sure how many graduates work in academic publishing to be honest! But I do know that there are several alumni working in academia generally. I think making important content freely available is more important than ever right now to enable online learning, and my company has been doing so to assist professors and students in their change in teaching and learning modes.

I think we all need to rally forces to improve services in our respective industries to weather this storm as best we can. To those able to work from home: I found social chats with my team (scattered in different offices) every week to be helpful in keeping the spirits up.

MJ: How do you think your job will be affected in the long term i.e. once measures have been relaxed?

I am not sure at this stage. It’s certainly a crucial time for scientific publishing, and Springer Nature has been publishing some of the leading research on the virus in recent weeks. We have followed suit in the social sciences, opening content in bioethics, mental health research, etc., and publishing new findings of scholarly research relating to COVID19.

So, I don’t think it’s hard to argue a case for the relevance of what we are doing at the moment. But: business models will be hit hard by this. In what ways, exactly, it’s hard to gauge at this stage. Budgets will be axed, and that will have an indelible impact in the forthcoming months.

MJ: How do you think the world will change in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic?

There was this great article in Foreign Policy which will appeal to Mundusians (some familiar names here from our Aarhus days!). It discusses whether this is the end of globalisation as we know it and whether this situation means that we will see the shift to the Asian Century as Kishore Mahbubani has long prophesied? Certainly, I think the US has failed abysmally in its leadership. But: what kind of world order are we looking at if the power hub is to be shifted to China, whose handling of the early stages of the virus was all smoke and mirrors? (I am sure Georg Sorensen would have a lot to say about this!)

From my side - and it may be the extended lockdown speaking here - but I’m in the same camp as Stephen M. Walt: the handling of this crisis has been ‘each man for themselves’ and I think we may be in for a regression to reinforced nationalism and isolationism after this pandemic is over. It’s already begun, in my book. The level of incompetency in much of our global leadership is ominous. I’d like to look to causes for optimism such as those presented by Yuval Noah Harari (another great read in FT) that this is an opportunity to pursue global solidarity. But, as it stands now, I think we are seeing the opposite. And as a new mother who has just brought a kid into this world, it scares the daylights out of me in terms of what kind of future he is going to inherit from this.

Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Alex - keep up the good work! These last weeks have truly been life changing for you, we look forward to keeping up with your family and the articles on Springer Nature. In the meantime, you can access a lot of free textbooks on Springer Nature - to get you through the lockdown - here.

Want to join the Mundus Journalism MA programme next year? Applications will open again on 10th November 2020!

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Tags: WFH, Working from Home, Singapore, academic publishing, Covid-19 lockdown