Singapore officials seem to be flip-flopping on whether the nation is too densely populated or not. One of Singapore’s foreign diplomats said that the nation is one of the most densely populated cities in the world while one of the Government’s key leaders has said he believes Singapore’s population density is not excessive.
In a recent interview with US news organisation CNBC, ambassador-at-large at Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Chan Heng Chee, talked about how dense Singapore’s population is as she tried to defend the way Singapore has been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Singapore’s initial response to the pandemic was first considered the gold standard in virus prevention – until the situation spiraled out of control and the infection spread like fire in the overcrowded foreign worker dormitories, infecting tens of thousands. The Government came under scrutiny for not implementing safe distancing measures in the dorms earlier and was also criticised for telling Singapore residents not to wear masks if they are not sick.
Trying to justify Singapore’s actions, Chan said that “no one in the world” knew about asymptomatic cases in February – around the time that the Government told Singaporeans not to wear masks if they are not sick. Asserting that the number of infections here are not as grim as they seem to be, she added that the surge in coronavirus cases are due to aggressive testing.
On the transmission of COVID-19 in the dorms, Chan said that Singapore could have moved the foreign workers out of the dormitories earlier but added that it would have hardly made a difference in containing the spike of cases. In her defense of the Government’s response to the pandemic, Chan added that Singapore has the densest population in the world, barring Monaco, and dense cities have trouble dealing with pandemics.
She asserted: “Singapore is the densest city and the densest country in the world, well, barring Monaco. We are denser than Hong Kong, and dense cities have a problem dealing with epidemics, with pandemics.”
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, however, seems to have a different view on how densely populated Singapore is. Almost exactly a year before Chan’s interview with CNBC, DPM Heng alluded to a 10 million population target and said that the government projected a population growth of 6.9 million by 2030 — an aim that had drawn widespread backlash when it had first been announced in 2013.
Citing former chief planner Liu Thai Ker’s argument that Singapore should plan for a population of 10 million people so that it can remain sustainable in the long term, DPM Heng said that Singapore’s population density is not excessive and that other cities are a lot more crowded in terms of liveable space.
The ruling party politician – who is expected to become Singapore’s fourth Prime Minister sometime after the next election – added that the projected population of 6.9 million goes beyond how densely populated Singapore would be and that social space is as important.