Making sense of COVID-19 laws: NUS Law students launch website to aid understanding
The COV-AID Exco members, including Faculty Advisor Professor Alan Tan (middle row, centre); COV-AID co-founder Mark Tang (bottom row, second from left); and co-founder Anders Seah (bottom row, third from left)
As the COVID-19 crisis evolved, so did the laws that were urgently updated or passed to contain the virus – from stringent workplace regulations to sweeping travel restrictions to strict safe distancing measures.
It is not surprising that many were confounded by the constant changes, a confusion that third-year NUS Law student Anders Seah sought to address with a website that explained all the laws.
“The main problem was that there were so many new laws being passed, but they often contained legal jargon that is hard for the layman to understand,” he said.
He decided to simplify matters. Together with Mark Tang, his former junior college classmate and fellow third-year law undergraduate, they founded COV-AID. The one-stop online portal provides comprehensive information on the ever-changing COVID-19 laws and measures.
“Some laws are quite difficult to understand. This is why law firms try to help simplify matters for their clients,” Mark noted. “But there is nothing much being done for the man on the street, and we saw this as an opportunity to do something good for the community.”
It took three months to build the website that was officially launched on National Day, featuring a simple layout with clear directions that take users to specific areas of COVID-19 regulations and government grants.
The sections provide updated and detailed guidelines on a wide range of categories, from sports and religion to workplace regulations and contracts related to events and tourism. Users can also seek further clarifications through an FAQ section.
Managed by a team of nine students who also run its social media pages, the website has gone a step further by shedding light on some key legal issues that arose from COVID-19.
Other than articles by 80 other students, the website has two sections – Academics on Pandemics and Conversations with Lawyers – compiling articles by and interviews with academics and practitioners that explain how the pandemic has affected world affairs, regional politics and even mental health.
Notable contributors include NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye; veteran diplomat and NUS Tembusu College's Rector Professor Tommy Koh; and Law Society President Gregory Vijayendran. Many of them are contacts of Professor Alan Tan of the NUS Law School, who supervises the COV-AID project.
“This initiative is singular testimony to the energy and drive of my splendid students at NUS Law,” he said. “Years from now, they will look back at this crisis of our times with great humility and a profound sense of contentment that they gave something back to the community.”
Within a few weeks of its launch, COV-AID has already made an impact. Recently, a social organisation approached the team to draft a plea bargain for a youth who had breached social distancing measures. Anders and his team then asked the Law Society’s Pro Bono Services arm for help.
“We found that workers from social organisations were also using our website to get information,” he said.
Working on COV-AID has benefitted the team too. “We devised Conversations with Lawyers to employ an interactive talk show format, so that the students get to interview and interact with the lawyers through Zoom,” said Professor Tan.
“Some of the lawyers even assign research questions to the student interviewers, so the whole experience becomes a mini-internship! I think this has been a beautiful, unparalleled networking opportunity for the students.”
But managing a website that requires frequent updates while juggling a heavy academic workload can be tricky. “It all boils down to discipline, focus and sacrifice,” said Anders. “Thankfully, we have a very dedicated team and system in place to make sure COV-AID runs like a well-oiled machine. All credit must go to them.”
Seeking to make a bigger impact
The team is currently working to expand COV-AID’s reach. While they are ramping up its publicity, they have also contacted organisations such as the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations and Enterprise Singapore to explore possible collaborations. Discussions are still in the early stages.
But one priority remains clear. “The most important thing is to ensure that the content is relevant, updated and accurate, especially when new laws or amendments to existing laws are passed,” said Anders.
Based on users’ feedback, the team is satisfied with the work so far. “The reception to COV-AID has been very heartening. Many people have found the website to be very informative and helpful,” said Mark.
“I think that’s the best part – that we’ve been able to help some people. It’s been very rewarding.”