Feb 25, 2020: OPINION
Just slightly more than a week ago, Singapore was in the unenviable position of having reported the largest number of COVID-19 cases outside of China. Just yesterday, we had our first day with zero reported case. While it is not a ranking contest, Singapore’s total infection has stabilized and our country in no longer at the top of the list. Maybe it is too premature to claim any sort of victory, but with almost a month into this nightmare, I feel it is a good time to recognise and thank our government for their decisive action to stem the spread of this virus in our community.
- When WHO declared this a global emergency, our government swiftly implement a ban on all visitors who have been to whole of China in the last 14-days – beyond the existing ban only covering the infected regions of China. The government also implement strict controls on our citizens, permanent residents and long term pass holders that are returning from China. It is hard to quantify the exact impact this policy has, but I am sure it made a BIG difference in keeping us safe.
- The government drew millions of masks from its inventory reserves to distribute to every household. Even though it was only 4 pieces per household, it had two important effects on the population. First, it likely had a calming effect and gave the public confidence that the government is acting quickly (compared to long lines for masks in Hong Kong). More importantly, the government took the opportunity to educate the public during the mask distribution process about the disease and how to prevent its spread through leaflets and trained volunteers on-site.
- Our government helped prevent any misinformation through the right messaging. For example, we did not see our leaders going around with masks everywhere. The fact that they are getting around to meet the citizens in public areas reassure us that we are safe to live our lives as normally as possible. Walking the talk is a big part of sending the right message.
- Quick and transparent contact tracing of those testing positive and taking immediate steps to order the necessary isolation of those contacts to restrict the spread of the virus is key to Singapore’s success. The daily briefing that includes clear statistics and status of the infection – which some may feel is too much – is the much needed transparency that is key in building trust between the government and citizen during this public health crisis.
- The activation of the Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs) to focus our primary care efforts to better detect and manage COVID-19 infections is key to ensuring that the public has access to a doctor at a very reasonable cost for any respiratory symptoms like runny nose, fever, cough and shortness of breath. Don’t know where to go – start here https://www.flugowhere.gov.sg/faq. The PHPCs help us detect and monitor the situation quickly by engaging hundreds of clinics across the island and giving the public the confidence to seek medical help.
- The government probably had the 2020 Budget ready to go when the virus hit. With amazing speed, the Finance team quickly revised the budget in a matter of days to quickly account for the economic impact of the COVID-19 virus by putting in place various assistance programs to help both the public and business owners through this difficult time.
The WHO has acknowledged that the Singapore approach is something that other nations can learn from. While I do not want to jinx our progress to-date, I wholeheartedly agree with WHO’s assessment.