Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke in Parliament today (2 September) on Singapore’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and how we will be preparing for life beyond the outbreak.
PM Lee said that Parliament had to open sooner than it usually does after a general election this year because the government had to urgently deal with COVID-19 and the dwindling economy.
After eight gruelling months, Singapore’s COVID-19 situation has stabilised but it took a tremendous amount of effort to achieve this.
PM Lee stressed that the government’s utmost consideration has always been to protect the lives of Singaporeans.
While many countries had talked about flattening the infection curve or developing herd immunity, Singapore was determined from the beginning not to go down that route.
The government has done its best to contain the outbreak to keep Singaporeans safe, he said. This meant mobilising all of Singapore’s national resources, including building up contact tracing and testing capabilities.
Today, Singapore can do about 20,000 laboratory tests a day, and with pooled testing, Singapore is able to test several times that number of persons.
Expanded Healthcare System And Circuit Breaker Deemed A Good Move
Singapore more than doubled its intensive care capacity, set up temporary community care and isolation facilities at the Singapore Expo, Changi Exhibition Centre, PSA Tanjong Pagar Terminal, old schools and SAF camps, where patients with mild symptoms can be treated.
In total, Singapore created more beds than all acute hospitals put together, all within a few weeks.
To handle the migrant worker dormitories, where Singapore had most cases, the SAF and the Home Team were mobilised.
They have significantly helped in ensuring the well-being of some 300,000 migrant workers, he said, adding that this in turn helps keep the general population safe.
PM Lee also acknowledged that implementing the circuit breaker in April was a big move.
The government knew that it would cause extensive social and economic disruptions, and demand major sacrifices from Singaporeans, but the Cabinet decided to go ahead to slow down the infection rate and get things firmly under control.
Fortunately, the timing of the circuit breaker was right, and it worked, said PM Lee. Each of these operations was huge, and all of them had to be done in parallel.
Singapore’s fatality rate is one of the lowest in the world, new infections in our community are down to just a handful per day and fewer than 100 patients remain in hospital.
This has given Singapore the confidence to reopen the economy and society, gradually and carefully, PM Lee said.
What S’pore Could Have Done Better
No country has been perfect in its pandemic response, said PM Lee. On hindsight, Singapore would certainly have done some things differently.
For example, if it was known earlier that people with Covid-19 were infectious even when asymptomatic, then Singaporeans who were brought back home from abroad in March could have been quarantined earlier, instead of isolating only those returning from certain countries.
They could all have been tested before being released from quarantine, even if they did not show any symptoms, instead of assuming that no symptoms meant no infection.
He added that Singapore would also have recommended everyone to wear face masks sooner but at the time, the best available scientific advice was taken.
Singapore would also have acted more aggressively and sooner on migrant worker dormitories as communal living in any form poses risks.
Singapore stepped up precautions and for a time, these seemed adequate but then bigger clusters broke out in the dorms, which threatened to overwhelm the country.
Now that the dorms are cleared, migrant workers are being helped to resume work, especially in the construction industry. But this has to be done safely, because of the risk of cases reemerging, and it is a complicated exercise, said PM Lee.
Things are difficult and burdensome for employers, especially contractors and sub-contractors who have found it frustrating to deal with all the new rules, approvals and inspections, even as they try to get their businesses up and running again.
PM Lee said he hoped they understand that the Government is doing its best to smooth things out, and is doing all this in order to keep the people safe.
It is better to make these measures work and get businesses to operate safely than to suffer a new outbreak and have to shut down again, he added.
S’poreans Should Not Be Complacent Despite COVID-19 Stability
While the situation is currently stable, PM Lee urged Singaporeans to not let our guards down.
He cited a Straits Times survey which revealed that almost half of the respondents were weary of the safety measures.
The irony is that the more successful Singapore is in keeping cases low, the more people wonder whether all these painful measures are necessary, said PM Lee.
He stressed that the virus remains as infectious and potent as it was before.
“This has not changed. What has changed is that measures have been taken and capabilities built up to contain it. If these are relaxed now because the numbers have come down, there will be a resurgence,” he said.
Featured Image Credit: Ee Ming Toh via AP