Three missteps have brought Singapore to the current Phase Two Heightened Alert. As a result, Singaporeans are “biting the bullet” until three a half weeks later when it is unclear, at this stage, whether things will get much better.
The most ridiculous cockup is surely the emergence of the KTV cluster, which stood at 232 cases as of Saturday July 24. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said this did not in itself cause the P2HA, it was the Jurong Fishery Port cluster (740 cases and growing). Perhaps. But it has not been ruled out that some port workers might have contracted the virus or that there had been contact between KTV hostesses and port/wet market/food centre workers.
In itself, it looked like the KTV cluster actually emerged right under the noses of the authorities. All sorts of excuses were thrown up to explain an absurd incongruity and omission. Basically, it goes something like this: “Actually, we were aware of the problem. In May, we already got wind of a lounge which was operating illegally with dubious hostesses. Of course, we know. Our main concern was how we could allow as many of these joints to ‘pivot’ to legitimate food and beverage businesses.” It was seen more as an economic issue than a pandemic risk. Mistake.
Then, when the KTV cluster started to appear, the focus became that of bad and irresponsible people doing bad and irresponsible things: “We were so close, so very close to getting back on the road to normal life. And this has to happen. We leave it to the police anyway to deal with the cat and mouse problem.”
The big elephant in the room – and not the cat and mouse – question in most people’s minds – and which has not been satisfactorily answered is: How were the “illegal KTVs” allowed to operate for so long and at a time like this?
And we have been told that dealing with the pandemic requires a whole of government approach. Looks like one or more parts of the government were lagging.
The second misstep is, of course, the Jurong Fishery Port cluster.
Now, most Singaporeans buy their fish from wet markets or supermarkets. The products come from local farms (and some foreign imports) channelled to the Senoko Fishery Port (which replaced the former Punggol Fishing Port) and from international sources landing in the Jurong port.
Nothing heard from Senoko so far. Fingers crossed. Jurong Fishery Port, however, is in the spotlight as the source of the most worrying Covid-19 cluster in Singapore since the foreign workers dormitories pandemic outbreak in early 2020.
The worry is: Fish is distributed to and from the port by people working and selling it throughout the island. There is clearly a nation-wide virus spread taking place that is now being traced, ringed and controlled. It is serious enough for Health Minister Ong to finger it as the real cause of the P2HA.
The statements made at the week’s Multi-Ministry Task Force conference announcing the Jurong outbreak largely and strangely admitted that conditions have always been ideal for an outbreak! Porous nature of the port boundaries, Indonesian fishermen, humid atmosphere and so on. There was even a hint that proper checks were not always possible.
Here is the crux of the fishery problem. Nothing happens, no one cares. Something bad takes place, there is egg on the face. Right now, we do not quite know where the egg has landed. Anyone cares to accept the blame? MTF, NEA, Singapore Government Food Authority, immigration and customs, port enforcement, police?
Then there is our elderly – the 200,000 citizens who have not been vaccinated – the third misstep. Half are 60 and older and the half 70 and older. The now woke generations – millennials, Gen Y and Gen Z – seem to regard them as oddities in the new world (Are these jurassics still around? Why can’t they be more responsible?).
The People’s Action Party in the early and mid-2000s appeared, at least to me, to be ready to deprioritise the needs and wants of older born and bred Singaporeans as it tried to make the country more competitive. Their healthcare was neglected. An unGodly influx of foreigners made life almost hell for our pioneers in the fight for jobs and space. To its credit, and but not without the jolting reminders of GE2011 and GE2020, it has corrected that error.
Yet again, in this Covid-19 struggle, the government has almost overlooked the concerns and problems of a particular “silent” group of citizens who represent a segment of our almost cast aside Singaporeans. They should now be a priority for every Singaporean who wishes to get back to as normal a life as is possible in a herd-immunised Covid-19 world.
Three missteps – four if the foreign workers dormitories outbreak is added – are three too many.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.
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