SINGAPORE: Singapore could lower its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level if COVID-19 spreads widely around the world and travel restrictions no longer prove useful, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Tuesday (Feb 25).
On Feb 7, Singapore increased the DORSCON level to Orange. Since January, the country has implemented a series of measures, including travel restrictions, to contain the coronavirus spread.
Mr Gan was asked during a press conference on Tuesday if Singapore would lower its DORSCON level from Orange to Yellow.
The health minister explained that moving the DORSCON level is a "judgment call" that takes into account different risk factors, including how the the COVID-19 situation develops in Singapore and the rest of the world.
It is not a "checklist where we tick off everything", the health minister added.
"If it has become quite a widespread community transmission all over the world, and a lot of these border control measures may no longer be useful, we may begin to remove some of these border controls if it becomes apparent that every country is going to have transmission," Mr Gan said.
"It’s not possible for us to isolate Singapore from the rest of the world. It’s not just the economies part - human-to-human interaction, country-to-country interaction (make it) not possible.
"So, we may have to then readjust our posture and decide how we want to go. If that situation occurs, we may have to adjust our DORSCON level downwards as well."
SINGAPORE CANNOT BE COMPLACENT
Speaking at the press conference, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said Singapore cannot be complacent due to "a lot of uncertainty" over how the COVID-19 situation will evolve in other countries.
South Korea, Italy and Iran have recently seen a spike in cases.
"If it is not contained well in other countries, including in countries where the health systems may not be of the same standard as what you see in developed countries ... you may well start to see sustained widespread transmission of the virus around the world," Mr Wong told reporters.
"And that's why in Singapore we cannot afford to be complacent because we can put in place travel restrictions for China, where the source is. We can do for another country, second country or third country, but can we afford to shut ourselves out from the world?
"And if the virus truly transmits everywhere in the world, then we have to expect another wave of new imported cases coming into Singapore, and we have to be prepared for that."
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health announced that Singapore will impose travel restrictions on visitors from South Korea's Daegu and Cheongdo, believed to be the epicentres of the outbreak in the country.
Mr Gan said this is one example of how authorities can introduce more stringent measures within the same DORSCON level, pointing out that some of the current measures relevant to DORSCON Orange were introduced even before the level was raised.
"DORSCON is a reference for us to work out our plans, actions and various measures," he explained, adding that there was "latitude to adjust our posture and measures" within the same DORSCON level.
"Similarly as we move forward, we may adjust some of our measures downwards, some of the restrictions we have put in place, we may decide to lift them if the situation is more stable," he said.
"In the end, it’s a judgment call," he added. "We take into account all the risk factors, we look at the situation, we look at what other countries are doing, what is happening both in Singapore and around the world before we come to a conclusion."
If there is widespread transmission around the world, Mr Wong said "that might well be the scenario where the virus becomes embedded in the human population".
"And we have to learn how to live with it, take the necessary precautions," he added.
"Hopefully (there might be) some medication that can be promising by then. But at the same time, we all have to keep calm and carry on with life, but just with appropriate precautions."
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Singapore has 91 confirmed COVID-19 cases. The latest case, linked to a known cluster at The Life Church and Missions Singapore and a member of staff at Grace Assembly of God church, was identified after she had recovered from the disease.
Mr Wong said: "We continue to be alert and vigilant and we call on Singaporeans to do so, but at the same time stay calm and continue to carry on with your lives.
"Do all that we can to uphold good personal hygiene and take all precautions to keep Singapore and Singaporeans safe."