SINGAPORE: Singapore has to shift its approach towards containing COVID-19 within the country, as the virus spreads worldwide and border controls become less relevant and effective in the future, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday (Mar 10).
"As the virus spreads to countries everywhere, country-specific border control measures will become less relevant and effective because we are unable to shut Singapore from the world. We have to now shift our approach," said Mr Wong.
The authorities will have to double down on measures within Singapore, even as some basic surveillance at the borders continue, said the minister, who is the co-chair of a multi-ministry task force set up to handle the coronavirus.
“We will look at the whole range of social distancing measures,” he said at a press conference held at the National Press Centre.
The Ministry of Health announced on Tuesday that senior-centric activities by government agencies will be suspended for two weeks. Over time, the Government will have to ramp up and implement more social distancing measures, Mr Wong said.
“We will look at a fuller range of social distancing measures we can put in place including for public events, community activities, school closures, workplace social distancing - including things like staggered hours, telecommuting - as well as religious services too. We will cover a broad spectrum and we will see what we should put in place,” Mr Wong said.
Singapore already has other social distancing measures like isolating patients, putting close contacts on quarantine and issuing Stay-Home Notices, he added.
However, the authorities are “very mindful” that these measures can disrupt the lives of Singaporeans.
“If we were to do all of them at one time, we will literally have to shut down our city and everything will grind to a halt,” he said.
REVIEWING ADVISORY ON LARGE-SCALE EVENTS
An advisory on large-scale gatherings has set the threshold for attendees in the thousands, but if this was adjusted to 500, it would affect religious services and weddings, he said.
Responding to a question on whether the National Day Parade (NDP) on Aug 9 will be affected, Mr Wong said: “For large-scale events, we are reviewing all the measures.”
He added that the authorities are looking at whether they should be tightened.
“If so, then it will have downstream implications on all the events ... whether it is NDP or any other thing that is going to happen through the coming months,” he said.
When asked if the upcoming March school holidays will be affected, Mr Wong said there are no plans to extend the school holidays but he did not rule out school closures in the future.
“If necessary, we will put them in place, and we will provide lead time for parents so that they can work out their own arrangements for caregiving of their children,” he said.
"If there are social distancing measures we put in place that will impact Singaporeans, we will provide lead time. So certainly, school closures is one thing that impacts many people. We will have to provide lead time. We can’t just do it overnight.”
FATIGUE IF MEASURES START TOO EARLY
He cautioned that if some of the measures start too early, people may become fatigued and the measures may not be sustainable or effective.
“In that context, it is useful to think of this broad sweep of social distancing measures as something we can apply from time to time, as circuit breakers throughout the entire epidemic cycle,” he said.
By doing so, Singapore puts in "brakes" to try and stop, or slow down the transmission chain, and flatten the epidemic curve, he said.
“That should be our thinking around social distancing, and it’s something we are actively studying. We are putting in something today, and there will be more measures that we will continue to consider over the coming days and weeks,” he said.
He added that it is “critical” to implement the right measures at the right time, and this will be done based on the data, evidence and expert advice. Some will be temporary while others will be permanent, he said.