SINGAPORE—National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday (Mar 24) that the strategies the government is implementing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 are being introduced in tiers, and some may be kept on permanently, even after the outbreak is over.
The minister-in-charge of the multi-ministry task force handling Singapore’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic spoke on the different measures the government has put into place to combat the infection that is spreading the country.
Mr Wong noted that the measures were “based on risk”, adding that some are things “we ought to do permanently”, citing that even after the outbreak, standards must be kept high.
“We like to think of our strategies in different categories and based on risk. At the very baseline level, there are things that we ought to do permanently, and even after COVID-19 is over – and it will be over at some stage – we have to maintain these standards,” said Mr Wong.
With other countries all over the globe going into what is ubiquitously known as “lockdown”, many have wondered when Singapore is going to do the same and “go all the way”. Singapore is “not there” yet, said Mr Wong, adding that the term “lockdown” is used “very loosely these days” and “means many things to different people”.
The minister reiterated that the new high standards, specifically in terms of health and safety, must be upheld even after the COVID-19 outbreak is over.
He called for a nation-wide improvement in personal hygiene standards, such as washing hands regularly and thoroughly, and not touching your face with your hands.
“Even after COVID-19, these practices will be useful for countering any other infectious diseases as well,” Mr Wong said.
More than the “baseline measures” introduced by the government, the multi-ministry task force spoke of “a series of measures that can be put in place throughout”, which can be enforced as “additional breaks” only when there is need for them.
As an example, minister Wong cited last Friday’s (Mar 20) announcement on large-scale gatherings at food and beverage establishments and other social distancing measures and then the “higher category” measures announced on Tuesday (Mar 24) of limiting get-togethers to 10 or fewer people.
Mr Wong explained the tiered way the government is introducing measures:
“We’ve said that these measures will be put in place for a month, and if these measures are effective for a month and it helps to break potential transmission chains, we may then come back to tier two, where we were last Friday,” said Mr Wong.
“If these measures are not effective, we may continue them for another month – we could escalate further,” he noted, adding that the “next level of measures” would include suspension of schools and work places.
The minister said that closing schools and workplaces would “have to go together”, because “you can close the school, but people need to look after children, and if parents are working, then it’s very hard for them to look after the children and the children will be running around anyway in the community”.
“So closure of schools, closure of work places – other than essential activities – that’s the most drastic step. That’s what, I suppose, people call a lockdown,” the minister explained.
He acknowledged that there might come a point when those measures might “well be necessary”, adding that the task force could introduce a “series of breaks” before taking those advanced measures, should the situation call for it.
Mr Wong said that if Singaporeans follow the “preemptive” measures set by the government stringently, “we may be able to get through this current, very critical time of the infection cycle”. Currently, Singapore is seeing a rise in imported cases as well the “real risk of local transmission happening”.
“Perhaps there is a certain sense of ‘things are okay in Singapore’, but the risks are very real and that’s what we are trying to highlight and that’s why everyone needs to take these measures seriously,” minister Wong said.
“If all of us do our part, that’s the only way we can have a chance of success with these strategies.”