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Of masks, school closures, GE and the like as the scramble for updates continues

Here are some of the hot button issues that have had debatable change of turns in the war against Covid-19

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Singapore—Do I wear a mask or not? Who should really be wearing a mask?  Will our children be safe at school? Why are schools not closing? Will the elections be held during the coronavirus crisis?

No doubt, these are just some of the questions many of us have asked ourselves since the coronavirus crisis began in January. With the whole world in completely uncharted territory, it’s not surprising that at times the information released by public officials has been less than clear. And, as new information emerges, there have been times when officials seems to take a complete u-turn.

We take a look at some of the issues wherein our officials seemed to go in one direction, only to make a U-turn after some time.

To mask or not to mask?

The first hurdle early in the outbreak concerned masks, something that Asians have worn for years. Many Singaporeans believed that they should start wearing them in public as well. But no, for the coronavirus outbreak, since many experts said its spread was via droplets and not airborne, the public has been told over and over again, by the World Health Organization (WHO) no less, that hand washing is far more important to stay uninfected.

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Some doctors even said that wearing masks could do more harm than good, as they could provide a false sense of security, that health and other frontline workers would run out of them if everyone else used them, and that they are not effective in preventing people from catching the coronavirus.

Singapore’s Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing famously said in February, when Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam wore a mask during a press conference, that if Singaporean officials did the same “our hospital system would have broken down,” among other choice things.

But as the WHO seems to have pivoted concerning the wearing of masks, Singapore’s leaders had been saying that masks were not needed, but, by last Friday (April 3), in the words of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, “The situation has now changed.”

He said, “There are some cases in the community going undetected, and there is evidence that an infected person can show no symptoms and yet still pass on the virus to other. Therefore, we will no longer discourage people from wearing masks.” Two days later, the Government began to distribute reusable masks.

As for Mr Chan, he said that the Government had been preparing for this for “some time”, and that masks were readily available in stock within the country.

From safe schools to HBL

As part of its recently-announced “circuit breaker” measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, schools are now closed, with home-based learning (HBL) implemented in full.

On March 22, the day before classes began again, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung made the case in a Facebook post that schools were a safer place for children than elsewhere amid the current coronavirus pandemic.

He reasoned that the coronavirus seems to have affected children considerably less than it did, adults, and neither do children seem to spread the virus. He pointed out that children who get infected do so through adults spreading the coronavirus in their homes.

But less than two weeks later, the announcement that the shift to HBL was announced. And while Mr Ong said, again in a Facebook post, that schools had been kept “safe,” he said that shifting to HBL is “part of enhancing safe distancing with nationwide circuit-breaker measures. We want everyone to stay home, and come out only for essential activities.”

What about the GE?

And now, people are wondering if the General Election (GE) can push through, despite the current coronavirus crisis. National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force assembled to tackle the crisis, told CNBC Asia’s Squawk Box Asia that medical experts have said the coronavirus outbreak may not go away in the near future, therefore it may possibly “drag on for a year and beyond a year”.

“So, whatever the timing of the election, because it has to be held by April 2021, it is very likely that it will have to be held when Covid-19 is still circulating in our midst — that’s the reality,” Mr Wong said.

While the Minister has not gone back on his word, he has shown a higher degree of urgency in implementing more stringent measures to control the spread of Covid-19, especially after Singapore showed a surge of locally transmitted and seemingly unconnected cases.

He wrote in a Facebook post on April 3, “Our original plan was to wait for at least two weeks after the last round of measures to see if they have any effect. But given the latest trends, we cannot wait any further. The Taskforce has therefore decided to put in place a nation-wide circuit breaker for at least a month, starting from 7 April.”

Mr Wong added that it was of supreme importance that people stay home, and not to go out unless it was essential, and furthermore, he told the public, “If you have to go out, and cannot avoid close contact with others, wear a mask.” —/TISG

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