POFMA Office instructed to issue correction directions to CNA, Online Citizen Asia, NUSS and New Naratif over Paul Tambyah comments

POFMA Office instructed to issue correction directions to CNA, Online Citizen Asia, NUSS and New Naratif over Paul Tambyah comments

Paul Tambyah SDP NUSS Forum
Dr Paul Tambyah at the NUSS Pre-General Election Forum 2020. (Photo: Anne-Marie Lim)

SINGAPORE: The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) Office has been instructed to issue correction directions to four organisations, including CNA, on Sunday (Jul 5).

The direction is with regard to statements made by Dr Paul Tambyah over the outbreak of COVID-19 in foreign worker dormitories. He was speaking on Friday (Jul 3) at the National University of Singapore Society's (NUSS) Pre-General Election Forum 2020.

In the statements, Dr Tambyah said that “the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) email advisory to employers on testing of migrant workers was made without the advice from public health medical professionals”, the office said.

He also said the “advisory stated employers would lose their work pass privileges if they brought their workers for COVID-19 testing” and that the ministry “actively discouraged” the testing of workers, it added.

The correction directions were issued to an article published by CNA, a video posted by The National University of Singapore Society (NUSS), a Facebook post and video from The Online Citizen Asia (TOC), a livestream video posted by TOC, and an audio recording published by New Naratif.

In its news release, the POFMA Office clarified that these allegations are false.

"The multi-ministry taskforce, led by the ministers and staffed by senior public officials and medical professionals, was set up in January 2020 to direct the national whole-of-government response to COVID-19 and to ensure smooth coordination across ministries and all affected sectors," it said. 

"The medical management of migrant workers was guided by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and its medical professionals, based on the prevailing scientific evidence and local situation."

The Government published a Factually article on Sunday to refute the statements. 

Earlier on Sunday, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said comments from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) on the Government's handling of the pandemic are "baseless and false".

Dr Tambyah is the chairman of SDP, and is contesting in Bukit Panjang SMC.

“The MTF (multi-ministry task force) has always relied on scientific evidence, and the advice of medical experts in our work, and in coming up with all decisions,” Mr Wong added.

“Medical experts are an integral part of our team, we involve them in all our deliberations."

READ: GE2020: SDP made 'false and baseless allegations' on Government’s handling of COVID-19, says Lawrence Wong

The POFMA Office was instructed by the alternate authority for the Minister for Manpower, permanent secretary Aubeck Kam.

The Act states that ministers may appoint public officers to issue orders under POFMA during an election period, which is defined as the period between the day a writ of election was issued and the close of Polling Day.

CNA published the correction on the article on Sunday night.

The article in Factually is as follows:

False statements were made in a video, “NUSS Pre-General Election Forum 2020”, published by NUSS on 3 July 2020 on YouTube; a Facebook post and videos titled “Dr Paul Tambyah reveals MOM’s role in outbreak of COVID-19 within dormitories”, published by TOC on 4 July 2020; a video titled “TOC GE2020 Livestream – Afternoon session 2 July 2020”, published by TOC on 2 July 2020 on Facebook; an online article “GE2020: Focus on public health could have been lost in March amid talk of early election, suggests SDP’s Paul Tambyah”, published by CNA on 4 July 2020; and an audio recording titled “An Interview with Dr Paul Tambyah”, published by New Naratif on 5 July 2020.

Falsehoods

The NUSS forum video, TOC’s Facebook post and videos, CNA online article and New Naratif audio recording featured the following claims by Dr Paul Tambyah:

  1. MOM issued a statement to all the employers that if they brought their foreign workers for COVID-19 testing, they would lose their work pass privileges.
  2. MOM actively discouraged the testing of workers.
  3. MOM made these decisions without consulting public health medical professionals or MOH.

The statements above are false for the following reasons:

  • In its advisory to employers, MOM did not say that employers could not bring their workers for testing. Neither did MOM actively discourage the testing of workers. What MOM said was: “Do not send workers to hospitals unless it is a medical emergency. If the worker is unwell, employers should send him to a general practitioner to seek medical attention, who will make a proper assessment on whether the worker needs to be sent to the hospital.
  • The MOM advisory also did not state that employers who brought their workers for testing would lose their work pass privileges. What MOM said was: “Our hospitals are working hard to ensure that medical emergencies are handled promptly. We encourage you to be socially responsible and only send workers to the hospital if it is a medical emergency as doing so otherwise will deny immediate treatment to those who need it. Employers who act irresponsibly by misusing medical facility may have their work pass privileges suspended.”
  • The Multi-Ministry Taskforce, led by the Ministers and staffed by senior public officials and medical professionals, was set up in Jan 2020 to direct the national whole-of-government response to COVID-19, to ensure smooth coordination across Ministries and all affected sectors.
  • Decisions made on the management of foreign workers and advisories, including the decision to issue the above MOM advisory to employers, were guided by MOH and its medical professionals, based on the prevailing scientific evidence and local situation.

In a Facebook post on 25 April 2020, Minister for Manpower Mrs Josephine Teo clarified that the MOM advisory was “to ask employers not to send their workers who are healthy for testing” at hospitals, that “Our regular doctors are better able to pick up early signs and order tests if necessary”, and that the advisory was sent out at the request of MOH. As the Minister’s Facebook post was published before Dr Paul Tambyah’s remarks, Dr Tambyah could have easily verified beforehand what the correct facts were.

Additional Clarifications

  • On 8 February 2020, Changi General Hospital (CGH) informed MOH that an employer in the construction industry was sending all his workers to the CGH A&E Department to be tested for COVID-19 though the workers exhibited no symptoms and were well. The employer also asked for memos from CGH to certify that the workers were not infected with COVID-19 and were fit to work. The hospital was concerned that this would trigger a flood of well workers being sent to A&E Departments, distracting hospitals from the care and treatment of ill patients who required their attention. On 12 February 2020, MOH, MOM and other agencies jointly issued an advisory to the industry to advise that there was no need to prevent workers who were residing in the dormitory from working if they are not unwell.
  • Subsequently, the hospitals informed MOH that employers were still sending workers who were healthy for testing. MOH then informed MOM, and a further advisory was sent out on 19 February 2020 to advise employers not to send their workers who were healthy for testing, to ensure that medical facilities and resources were focused on unwell individuals who needed medical treatment. This advice was based on the prevailing scientific evidence at that time, which was also in line with MOH’s risk-based approach to prioritise testing and care for those who are of high risk.
  • The same advice was given to all in Singapore, citizens as well as residents: If unwell, even with mild respiratory symptoms, see a general practitioner immediately, who will decide on the course of treatment.
Source: CNA/ga

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