S’pore Has Done Well In Handling COVID-19

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke in Parliament today (September 2) on Singapore’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how we will prepare to live beyond the epidemic.

Prime Minister Lee said Parliament is due to open earlier than usual after a general election this year because the government urgently faces COVID-19 and the shrinking economy.

After eight grueling months, the COVID-19 situation in Singapore has stabilized, but it took a tremendous amount of effort to get there.

Prime Minister Lee stressed that the government’s top consideration has always been to protect the lives of Singaporeans.

While many countries had spoken of flattening the infection curve or developing herd immunity, Singapore was determined from the start not to go down that route.

The government has done its best to contain the outbreak to keep Singaporeans safe, he said. This meant mobilizing all of Singapore’s national resources, including building contact tracing and testing capacities.

Today Singapore can perform around 20,000 lab tests per day, and with pooled testing, Singapore is able to test many times that number.

An expanded health care system and a circuit breaker considered a good decision

Singapore has more than doubled its intensive care capacity, set up temporary community care and isolation facilities at Singapore Expo, Changi Exhibition Center, PSA Tanjong Pagar terminal, old schools and SAF camps, where patients with mild symptoms can be treated.

In total, Singapore has created more beds than all acute care hospitals combined, all in a matter of weeks.

To manage the migrant workers’ dormitories, where Singapore had most cases, the SAFs and the local team were mobilized.

They have contributed significantly to ensuring the well-being of some 300,000 migrant workers, he said, adding that this in turn helps ensure the safety of the general population.

Prime Minister Lee also acknowledged that the implementation of the circuit breaker in April was a big step.

The government knew it would cause serious social and economic disruption and require major sacrifices from Singaporeans, but the Cabinet decided to move forward to slow the rate of infection and get things under control.

Fortunately, the timing for the breaker was correct and it worked, Premier Lee said. Each of these operations was enormous and all had to be carried out in parallel.

Singapore’s death rate is one of the lowest in the world, new infections in our community are reduced to a handful a day, and fewer than 100 patients remain in hospital.

This gave Singapore the confidence to reopen the economy and society, gradually and cautiously, Prime Minister Lee said.

What S’pore could have done better

No country has been perfect in its response to the pandemic, Prime Minister Lee said. Looking back, Singapore certainly would have done things differently.

For example, if it was known earlier that people with Covid-19 were contagious even when asymptomatic, then Singaporeans who were brought back from overseas in March could have been quarantined earlier, in instead of isolating only those returning from certain countries.

They could all have been tested before being released from quarantine, even though they had no symptoms, instead of assuming no symptoms meant no infection.

He added that Singapore would also have recommended that everyone wear face masks earlier, but at the time the best available scientific advice was taken.

Singapore is also said to have acted more aggressively and earlier on migrant workers’ dormitories, as community life in any form presents risks.

Singapore has stepped up its precautions and for a while these seemed adequate, but larger clusters erupted in the dormitories, which threatened to overwhelm the country.

Now that the dormitories are cleared, migrant workers are being helped to return to work, especially in the construction sector. But it must be done safely, due to the risk of recurrence of cases, and it is a complicated exercise, Prime Minister Lee said.

Things are difficult and onerous for employers, especially contractors and sub-contractors who have found it frustrating to deal with all of the new rules, approvals and inspections, even as they try to get their business back up and running.

Prime Minister Lee said he hoped to understand the government was doing its best to straighten things out and doing all of this to keep people safe.

Better to make these measures work and get businesses to operate safely than to endure another outbreak and have to shut down again, he added.

S’poreans shouldn’t be complacent despite COVID-19 stability

While the situation is currently stable, Prime Minister Lee urged Singaporeans not to let down our guards.

He cited a Straits Times survey which found that nearly half of respondents were weary of security measures.

The irony is that the more Singapore succeeds in reducing cases, the more people wonder if all of these painful measures are necessary, Prime Minister Lee said.

He stressed that the virus remains as infectious and potent as ever.

“It hasn’t changed. What has changed is that steps have been taken and capacities built to contain it. If these are relaxed now because the numbers have gone down, there will be a resurgence, ”he said.

Featured Image Credit: Ee Ming Toh via AP

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Jothi Venkat

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