Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, June 29, 2020

Singapore's Success in Crushing COVID

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript
The most successful places in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic have been in East and Southeast Asia, where public health systems are robust. It is hard to believe their cultural traditions, which focus on collective well-being more than personal autonomy, have not played a role in their success.

In Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on June 23 called an early general election to be held July 10, saying the outbreak has stabilized. 

The announcement came just days after the country lifted most COVID-19 restrictions. Still, no live rallies pertaining to the election will be held.

Lee’s People’s Action Party, in power for half a century, is widely expected to keep its overwhelming majority in Parliament, where it currently holds 83 out of the 89 seats.

Singapore is one of the most politically stable states in Southeast Asia. Since it gained its independence in 1965, it has become one of the best-governed nations in the region. 

The country opened its economy to international trade and capital, rising from a middling post-colonial port city to the ninth wealthiest nation in the world per capita. 

Life expectancy in Singapore is 85.2 years, and its infant and maternal mortality rates rank among the lowest in the world. As such it was better prepared than many to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

This city-state of 5.8 million was hailed from the early days of the crisis by public health experts and international media outlets as being at the forefront of response efforts, though there were setbacks.

Singapore has several characteristics that make it particularly susceptible to a pandemic and its impacts. It is small, densely populated and highly urbanised.

It is also a major node in global finance, trade, and tourism with virtually no natural resources and a heavy reliance on imports.

But thanks to the 2003 SARS outbreak, Singapore paid keen attention to COVID-19 and had plans and staff in place to do massive testing and contact tracing.

Temperature screenings for incoming flights from China were instituted in early January, before Singapore’s first case was even confirmed.

By Feb. 1 Singapore had already imposed travel restrictions on passengers from China. This contravened the World Health Organization’s advisory that travel bans were not necessary at that point.

Local transmission was confirmed on Feb. 4; three days later, the national Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level was elevated from yellow to orange, signalling to the public that disease was severe and spreading, but was being contained.

By March, Singapore had banned all entering or transiting short-term visitors and mandated a 14-day stay-home notice on those returning from abroad.

These measures were supplemented by heavy penalties for defying quarantine and isolation orders and countering misinformation with constant communication from the government via press conferences, ministerial speeches, and messaging platforms.

The government distributed reusable cloth masks to households and made it mandatory to wear masks outside people’s homes.

Singapore has also sought to reassure the public that its economic needs will be taken care of during and after the pandemic.

While Singapore was praised for its testing and contact tracing, an outbreak in crowded quarters for migrant workers did force a temporary shutdown.

Prime Minister Lee on April 6 told 20,000 foreign workers, who work in construction, to stay in their dormitories for 14 days.

He also announced a temporary closure of all non-essential workplaces and schools and prohibitions on all public and private social gatherings.
The government was quick to pledge to its citizens and long-term residents that the costs of testing and treatment would be covered for all COVID-19 cases and that daily financial compensation would be provided to those under mandatory isolation or quarantine.

Additionally, over two months, the government announced three unprecedented budget allocations amounting to almost US$41.3 billion, or 12 per cent of GDP, to support jobs, livelihoods, businesses, and major industries.

The Singapore government contributed US$500,000 to the World Health Organization’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan for COVID-19, and delivered relief to regional neighbours like China, Indonesia and Myanmar.

Despite setbacks, Singapore has reported only 26 deaths attributed to COVID-19, a lower per-capita rate than most countries. It has been a success story and Lee will be re-elected.

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