“Let us...take sensible precautions, help one another, stay calm and carry on with our lives” Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
While the world shuts down in an effort to control the coronavirus pandemic, Singapore is more or less business as usual. Its schools and universities remain open and its restaurants and malls are operating - albeit with fewer customers.
So how has this Island State kept the new coronavirus under control, despite its strong business and cultural links with China?
As we find out in The Singapore Solution, the country was well prepared with a pandemic response plan. Once the world learned of this new coronavirus in December last year, the government acted on it.
Like many Asian countries, Singapore learned about the power of pandemics the hard way. When the deadly SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus spread through north Asia seventeen years ago, governments were unprepared.
SARS killed hundreds of people across Asia, including thirty-three people in Singapore.
"We’ve been preparing for this since SARS…this is something that is firmly etched in Singapore’s medical history", explains Australian doctor Dale Fisher, an infectious diseases expert who arrived in Singapore during that epidemic and is now part of the team battling the coronavirus.
To beat COVID19, the Singaporeans have set up a network of clinics where symptomatic people can seek advice and if necessary, get sent for testing. Those who are positive are quarantined and tightly monitored.
Singaporeans are being asked to download a tracing app onto their phones. Those who are infected are subject to the ‘contact tracing’ system, where health officials track down all those who’ve had contact with them.
Penalties for breaching these orders can be harsh. "If…they’re caught…there are jail terms", says Prof. Dale Fisher.
Other measures include temperature checks outside public buildings and schools - those with a high temperature must go home - and clear public health messaging and information.
While the measures might evoke fears of a ‘Surveillance State’, they have been successful in flattening the rise of infections. The key to success has been to act fast and comprehensively.
Despite their success so far, authorities remain vigilant. As Singaporeans flock home to escape outbreaks elsewhere, the number of cases has begun to rise again. The government is tightening it’s polices and already the pandemic plan is being updated. Critics are asking if it’s enough.
About Foreign Correspondent:
Foreign Correspondent is the prime-time international public affairs program on Australia's national broadcaster, ABC-TV. We produce half-hour duration in-depth reports for broadcast across the ABC's television channels and digital platforms. Since 1992, our teams have journeyed to more than 170 countries to report on war, natural calamity and social and political upheaval - through the eyes of the people at the heart of it all.
31 Mar 2020