SINGAPORE: Singapore is in a "grave situation" in terms of health and economy because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Mar 27).
Speaking at the Istana a day after Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced a supplementary Budget in response to the outbreak, Mr Lee described the Resilience Budget as a "major package" and said he wanted to give his take on the situation, explain why the Government introduced the package and what lies ahead for Singapore.
Mr Lee said the tide has not turned here and that in fact, "the tide is still coming in".
"We have been fighting and the tide is still coming in. What has changed is that we have put up our dyke, we have held the water out, but the dyke leaks," he said.
There are “bits coming in, people coming home” and the virus is still getting into Singapore, he said.
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“We have to keep a very vigilant eye on it continuously and make sure that every drop that comes in we mop it up quickly before a drop becomes a rivulet, a rivulet becomes a stream, then I have a flood and we are sunk,” he said.
He noted that countries near and far are in lockdown or worsening situations, and that "in Singapore, we are sitting watching our dyke".
“(We are) trying to keep ourselves safe and preventing any of this from coming in, and I have a situation which going out of control," he said. “So I am in this for a very long time to come.”
To sustain current efforts, Mr Lee called for people's cooperation in aspects such as safe distancing, contact tracing and discipline in that when they return from overseas, they should stay home.
“That way we slow the spread of the virus. If you have a spot pop up, we have a good chance to mop it up before it gets out of control and ... we have a public health disaster,” he said.
SITUATION IN OTHER COUNTRIES
China, which is where the COVID-19 outbreak started, is an example of a country that has successfully brought its number of infections to zero with "superhuman effort", said Mr Lee.
"Now they are very worried about the virus coming back to them from other countries in the world," he said.
Mr Lee noted that the outbreak is "taking off exponentially" in Europe, Italy, Germany, France, Spain and Britain. It is a very grave situation and they are imposing drastic emergency measures such as lockdowns, he said.
In the United Kingdom, Mr Lee said Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told people to simply stay at home because the have decided that it is "not tenable" to let the outbreak just carry on and burn out.
“They have to do their best to put the fire out. But it is going to be very hard,” Mr Lee said, adding that in the United States, the outbreak is worsening.
"It is a crisis situation," said Mr Lee, adding that it is like the Chinese saying - before one wave settles, the next wave comes.
He cautioned that this is not the "last wave" and pointed out how countries such as Malaysia, India and Russia are worried and have gone on lockdown.
The Thais have closed their borders and Indonesians are also very anxious, he added.
In Singapore, the healthcare part is a "very big problem", said Mr Lee. He said it is “absolutely crucial” for Singapore to hold together, to respond effectively to the immediate challenge and also to give people confidence that the country can cope with this
“What lies ahead is very uncertain. Many possibilities, which are very worrying. We have to be prepared for them and we must be ready if it comes, we are able to respond to them," he said.