TL;DR – That’s what the Reuters article said, but there are at least three other critical success factors.
In the beginning, many of us were worried about the relatively high number of COVID-19 cases Singapore was seeing. Then the theory emerged that we’re just that much more diligent and vigilant in uncovering the cases since we comb more ground and we comb with very fine-tooth combs too.
Then praises started to come
Slowly, we started reading about how some people, experts no less, around the world saying good things about the way Singapore is managing the Covid-19 situation locally.
There is the Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and epidemic expert saying that if Singapore can’t contain Covid-19, then the rest of the world will be all screwed.
The director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu of the very authoritative World Health Organization (WHO) also said he was very impressed with Singapore’s efforts in tackling the COVID-19 outbreak.
A new study at Harvard University also saw researchers using Singapore as a benchmark for other countries, and saying Singapore has ‘near-perfect’ coronavirus detection. They said Singapore’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak is the “gold standard” for case detection. Their estimates is that Singapore is picking up three times more cases than other countries due to our disease surveillance and contact-tracing capacity.
Praises are still coming in
Just last night, I was watching a CNBC video where they invited Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Pfizer board member and former FDA commissioner, to discuss about the COVID-19 situation.
In the six-minute video, the hosts and Dr Gottlieb touched on how the United States currently does not have diagnostic capability and hence, have not been able to identify the cases. It only has very lag indicators for now, and the doctor believes that there’re cases, although probably not widespread, that are just not discovered. And yes, of course, he mentioned Singapore, hehe.
Towards the end, he spoke of how Korea appears to have an OK system surfacing the cases, Japan less so, and Singapore has an excellent system.
And then comes a question
If Singapore is managing it well, why aren’t the other countries following our way?
This Reuters article attempted to explain why Singapore’s admired virus playbook cannot be replicated.
The article described Singapore’s “fastidious approach” to combating and containing the outbreak, and how it included, “using police investigators and security cameras to help track and quarantine.”
As WHO chief had said, “Singapore is leaving no stone unturned.”
The article went on to say how our virus-fighting playbook cannot be easily copied in other countries that lack its geographic attributes, financial clout and wide-ranging state controls. Basically, other than the fact that we’re small and dense, which presumably makes for easier management and containment, the article pointed out that there’re two other unique points that facilitated our method.
- Deep pockets
The article talked about how the country has tight control over the movement of people into and out of the city and that Singapore has strict laws to keep potential virus-spreaders in line. It also touched on how airlines would hand over flight manifests, how security cameras and police investigators are used for contact tracing and containment of the virus.
Other than that, there are strict enforcement and also penalties for breaches of quarantine orders and even confinement orders.
The article carried these quotes from Chong Ja Ian, political science professor at the National University of Singapore,
“There is an acceptance of that intrusiveness in Singapore.”
“The public response to these sort of demands tends to be quite ready, so that helps with the ability to trace.”
The article touched on how our deep pockets have allowed us to decisively execute decisions even if they came at heavy economic costs.
Yea, this part is quite nice. And right. We were the third country to close our door to people arriving from Hubei and surely that came with some economic cost, and may also incur the wrath of they-think-they-are-big-brother China.
Our deep pockets also allowed the Government to do things like announcing that they will foot all hospitalisation bills for Covid-19 patients, and also the $100 allowance for Singaporeans having to serve Quarantine Orders and subsequently, rolling out to the Leave of Absence and Stay At Home Notice. All these are part of their whole holistic strategy to uncover more cases.
But are being intrusive and having deep pockets enough?
I don’t think so.
My view is that the Reuters article missed out a few more important points that made our virus-fighting playbook different from others.
1. Singaporeans have relatively high trust in our Government
This is an underrated factor as without this, it will be very challenging, if not impossible, for the Government to be “intrusive”. The people’s high level of trust leads to our confidence in the Government to do the right thing and hence measures that may feel intrusive to people in countries are more acceptable to us.
Most Singaporeans have faith that the Government will carry out the necessary measures to contain the situation for the benefit of the majority.
2. Our Government has testicular fortitude
Remember how in the beginning, Singapore was ranking so high on the
viral virus chart and there were people dissing at the supposedly poor management and containment? But doggedly and against pressure, this Government soldiered on with what it believed to be the right thing to do: test test test, trace trace trace, test test test and leave no stone unturned.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, we kept unearthing new cases and the number of cases kept climbing whilst it seemed to a picture of peace and quiet in the other countries. But they just kept at what they’re doing. It’s a new virus, and no one really knew and still don’t know for sure how it’s gonna all play out, so to buck everyone’s trend and to insist on our own way is not easy at all.
And even their stance on the use of surgical masks. Even now, they’re possibly the only Government in the world who proactively tells its citizens to only wear masks when sick and to prioritize the masks for the healthcare and other frontline workers. Of course, they also tell us the important things like better hand hygiene, etc.
3. Frequent communication to update everyone
Did you notice how the communication got better and better? In fact, I even feel that the communication is getting better day by day, if that’s even possible.
There’re daily press briefings, media releases, and even the messages into the Gov.sg Whatsapp channel went up in frequency. Then the Chinese messages came out. And then there were even YouTube videos in different dialects. They even got Phua Chu Kang back!
I see all of these as an attempt to inform and update the public, so that we’re aware of what’s happening, how to deal. Yea, probably their way of calming our knickers. And I’d say it worked.
Look, I work in comms myself. And looking at the frequency, volume and myriad of contents the Government is putting out everyday, I can only say it must have been rough on the comms team during this period. Kudos to the people working behind the scenes to assure and reassure us every day that we’re gonna be OK.
Oh, one more thing!
Before I go, there’s one more thing. Let’s go back to the beginning of that Reuters article.
I happened to chance up on a Facebook post that unveiled the identity of the “senior government minister”!
According to the labour chief, Minister Ng Chee Meng, the “distinguished looking man” mentioned in the article was Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean! I suppose he must have been making his rounds, visiting and chatting with residents.
(Featured image via)