Could Singapore be one of the first to win this COVID-19 battle?

annie-spratt-4HN8SaE9yFM-unsplash Singapore
Credit: Annie Spratt

I don’t usually get political with my articles online but I just had so much to share with the current situation and how our Singapore government has been responding. As a Singaporean myself, I can’t help but share how I feel and comment about how our country leaders had employed a careful approach that differs from what other countries are doing.

There are news reports saying that Singapore practises the gold standards for battling with COVID-19. WHO applauded Singapore’s containment of the outbreak and even Barbra Streisand sang praises Singapore’s way of handling of COVID-19. Yes, we are transparent with the number of cases here and the government would tap on reliable government news sites to update its citizens on the status. There’s even a multi-ministry task force established just to manage the COVID-19 situation in Singapore.

At this point in time, it is difficult to comment whether the measures put in place are sound or not. Even at this time of writing, the situation is evolving. Every day, the government has been introducing and implementing new measures to help contain the spread of COVID-19. Thus, I guess I can only comment about how our government reacted differently from other countries and these measures gave me assurance and confidence that Singapore will be one of the first countries to get through this stormy weather.

1. Singapore rolls out stricter but sound measures with careful deliberation.

Source: Victor He on Unsplash

If you’re a foreigner reading this article, there’s one thing you must understand. The way our government think differs greatly from how our everyday citizens think. With the rising number of local COVID-19 cases in Singapore, most of us were wondering when is the government going to announce that we have reached DORSCON Red levels and when our city is going to be locked down.

I guess many of us would think that drastic measures such as a country lockdown are necessary since this is exactly what other countries have been doing (e.g school closures). However, on the other hand, the government is not very keen on a school closure or a full lockdown of the city.

It is a huge risk to be closing down businesses, airports and schools. We are a nation that heavily dependent on trade and tourism ever since Singapore was under the British. Hence, every time as the number of COVID-19 cases rises in Singapore, the government actually took a calculated risk to put certain measures in place. But guess what? As I’m typing this article, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong just announced that schools will be closed starting next Wednesday. Is this for real?

We are careful when treading on water.

At first, they were just barring visitors travelling from Hubei Province and then further extended it to the whole of China. As days went by, more countries get added to the list and eventually all a majority of our flights are cancelled. Even when our neighbouring country, Malaysia, went for a partial lockdown. We were still not shaken. As the number of deaths increases (they just reported there are 5 deaths today), the government stood firm with their belief that making ‘calibrated’ measures is the way to go. It’s like a ‘let’s-look-at-what’s-happening-and-take-one-step-at-a-time” sort of approach.

Singapore’s COVID-19 Circuit Breaker

But with today’s new set of measures, our government is taking many more steps further: closing non-essential businesses from 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020. Schools will also be closed from 8 April 2020 to 4 May 2020. 4 May? That’s my birthday. Hopefully, it will be a resounding victory for us.

2. Singapore executes stricter and tougher punishments where necessary.

Channel News Asia Covid-19 Singapore
Source: Channel News Asia

It was only last week that the government emphasises on the importance of social distancing. They have even gone one step further of imposing a fine or jail term on people who do not practise social distancing in public places or at F&B outlets. The same goes for those who are on Stay Home Notices but have gone out to public areas. This time, they are flagging out the red card. And when they go to the extent of executing such punishments, we know that this time they mean business.

A few days later, the government came up with even stricter rules and regulations. They would not hesitate to shut down companies who do not allow employees to work from home when it is actually possible for employees to telecommute. At this point, I really wonder if they are enforcing these measures out of panic or fear.

3. Singapore quarantines travellers in 5-star hotels for public health sake.

Channel News Asia Covid-19 Singapore
Credit: Channel News Asia

To maintain good publicity, they treated our citizens and long-term pass holders well. They quarantined travellers in 5-star hotels like Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort and Spa to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Travellers who just returned home from other countries were given proper care and treatment. Those in living in quarantine hotels do not have to pay a single cent. They were provided with three meals daily and were equipped with all the necessary amenities. But, of course, it’s like a staycation holiday as they could not get out of their room.

4. We distribute free masks and hand sanitizers to the public

After we entered DORSCON Orange, people started to stock up on masks and hand sanitisers for themselves. All the surgical masks and hand sanitisers were flying across the shelves. Upon seeing this panic buying situation of masks, the government assured us that they have sufficient supply of masks for the country and they even distributed free masks to every household. But each household one received 4 pieces of masks.

Just last month, Temasek Foundation gave out free hand sanitisers to all households in Singapore. Each household received a 500-ml bottle worth of hand sanitisers. But we have to bring our own clean bottles to contain the hand sanitizers. It is definitely a good initiative on their part to provide hand sanitizers. This is because some Singaporeans, especially low-income families, may not be able to afford hand sanitisers. The prices of hand sanitisers have been jacked up due to the high demand.

5. The government has set up a resilience budget to help businesses and the unemployed to get through this difficult period of time.

PAP resilience budget Covid-19 Singapore
Source: PAP Singapore

This is probably the most generous budget handouts which the government has allocated for Singaporeans. To help businesses tide through this difficult period of time, the government has been providing cash, rebates and subsidies. Other initiatives will also be rolled out to reduce financial burdens for low-income families. It is estimated that an average Singapore household will receive about $2,000++ worth of cash and rebates.

6. Singapore has a good healthcare system to treat COVID-19 patients.

Not every country has a top-notch healthcare system which has the most advance medical equipments and tools. But in Singapore, we do have some of the best medical teams of doctors and nurses. During this period of time, they are working round the clock to treat COVID-19 patients. Many were well-taken care of and many have already been discharged from the hospital.

7. Singaporeans first, others second.

In this crisis, Singaporeans first and others second. The hospitalisation fees of COVID-19 patients (for Singaporeans and long-term pass holders) are being taken care of by our government.

Even then, foreigners like Malaysians and travellers were also treated with equal care and respect. When Malaysia announced the lockdown a couple of weeks ago, many Malaysians were left stranded in Singapore. The government quickly sought help to house these Malaysians and even make affordable housing arrangements for them. We could have blocked the influx of Malaysians coming into Singapore due to the lockdown but we didn’t.

Screenshot 2020-04-03 at 5.26.09 PM
Source: The Straits Times, Singapore

To be very honest, I am still in shock as I’m sitting here in my living room and typing away. I am still trying to process the fact that the government has finally resorted to more drastic measures. Should they have done it earlier, I believe it would not come as a shock for most of us. Right from the beginning, they were so persistent that Singapore is able to contain the virus via contact tracing, but now it seems like their efforts have been busted. They are even taking their words back but advocating us to wear a mask even when we are not sick. Even our most highly-respected and successful government is unable to figure out what’s happening.

But as long as we persist and refuse to ‘surrender’, we will eventually win this fight – with we treat this fight with COVID-19 seriously and do our best to protect one another.

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