What do you think were the two biggest pandemic stories of the last week – and would continue to be in the weeks ahead? One is a worrying development that Singapore seems to have control over. Unfortunately, the second is a disaster that is growing by the day – and has consequences for us.
On April 30, the Health Ministry announced that the number of new community cases has increased to 35 cases in the past week, from 10 cases in the week before, with the first Covid-19 hospital cluster (in Tan Tock Seng Hospital) growing to 13 cases. After months of calm, with very few new cases reported, this sudden spike was worrying.
The Multi-Ministry Task Force has come up with a slew of new measures to tighten social interactions and prevent further spread. Apart from stricter control for shopping malls to admit smaller crowds, the other rule which will have an impact on community behaviour would be that of limiting social gatherings to two a day, subject to the existing no more than eight persons restriction. Now, everyone will have to check their diaries!
I am sure Singaporeans would regard these new measures as a small price to pay for avoiding the inconvenience, discomfort and economic consequences of another circuit-breaker. They have already experienced such a lockdown and surely do not want a repeat. Basically, it is a no sweat reaction from the ground. Singaporeans will follow the new rules to the T.
So much so that while watching the MTF press conference, I was more interested in two points covered by Education Minister and co-chair Lawrence Wong.
First, he stressed that this time, the task force did not have to face the new local pandemic spike with only the SARS experience to fall on. Today, it already has a system honed by having to fight the Covid-19 outbreak almost on the run from day 1. And there is now new equipment and the vaccine. Good point.
Second, yes, the vaccine. When the virus broke out in Wuhan in December 2019 and started to ravage China and the world, the science to contain the disease was in the early stages. Until a vaccine emerged, it was an uphill struggle. It is different now.
“But vaccination does not guarantee non-infection” was a point made in a question at the MTF press conference.
“We always knew that vaccinations are not 100 per cent,” Wong replied, warning that Singaporeans should not jump to the conclusion that there is therefore no need for vaccination.
“They protect (you)… from the risk of severe disease, and they do help to reduce transmission. It’s not 100 per cent, but there is an impact. And the more of us who are vaccinated, the bigger the impact would be in reducing overall transmission of the virus in our community.”
In fact, according to Dr Anthony Fauci, the most prominent US infectious disease expert, herd immunity against the novel coronavirus come when vaccination rates are “between 70 per cent and 90 per cent”.
All this means that Singaporeans should be in a good place in a Covid-19 savaged world. But are we?
We may not necessarily be.
The situation in India is now an existential threat to the world and to the region. CNA reported on May 1: “India recorded on Saturday (May 1) more than 400,000 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hours for the first time, the first country to do so in the pandemic, official data showed.
“According to the health ministry, 401,993 new infections were registered taking the total caseload to 19.1 million. There were 3,523 deaths, bringing the toll to 211,853.
“Many experts suspect that because of insufficient testing and inaccurate recording of cause of death, the real numbers are much higher.”
TIME magazine elaborated: “For six of the seven days beginning April 21, India set new global records for daily COVID-19 infections, repeatedly surpassing the 300,000 tally previously set by the US. Its total confirmed cases—more than 18 million—are second only to that of the US.”
India’s incapacitation has other consequences. New Delhi, once touted as the world’s leading vaccine maker, has suspended its exports and is looking to import doses from other countries. This will have critical repercussions. Millions in Africa and Latin America, who depend heavily on India’s vaccine production to cope with not just Covid-19 but other diseases, are now left in the lurch. Not good news for the embattled world.
A troubled India will also have an economic impact on Singapore. We are the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) into India. According to the Indian Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Singapore’s investment came to US$16.23 billion (S$22.1 billion) in 2019-20.
But investments are one thing. The Covid-19 virus knows no boundary. We are not too far from India and are not all that immune from the threat of a sick subcontinent. Singapore and Singaporeans’ ties with India are deep and historical. We certainly do not enjoy viewing the sad scenes of death being played out every day in full view of an anxious and endangered world.
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 world.
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