SINGAPORE: With a worldwide spike in the number of COVID-19 cases being detected, Singapore must be mentally prepared that we might also see a spike in cases, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.
This spike could be "significantly different from the numbers we are seeing today, and we must never be complacent", Mr Chan told reporters after visiting NTUC FairPrice's Benoi Distribution Centre in Joo Koon on Saturday (Mar 7).
Mr Chan, who stopped to speak to employees sorting and packing items at the high-tech facility, said Singapore has been fortunate that it has been able to keep the numbers down with very stringent measures over the past month.
However, because "there's a worldwide spike in the number of cases being detected and it's impossible for us to shut ourselves out totally from the rest of the world", we must be mentally prepared to see a spike in our cases as well.
The minister pointed to South Korea, which he said was at "about the same stage as us some weeks back", but suddenly saw a sharp spike in numbers after "a very unfortunate development" of having a few clusters.
"So we must be prepared for this," said Mr Chan, whose comments came a day after Singapore reported 13 new COVID-19 cases in the largest single-day spike since the first case was confirmed on Jan 23.
Explore our interactive: All the COVID-19 cases in Singapore and the clusters and links between them
Mr Chan also touched on how Singapore needs to continuously adapt its supply chain strategies, to ensure sufficient supplies.
"As the rest of the world has more and more cases, we can kind of expect there'll be more disruption to our global supply chain.
"That requires us to re-examine how much we must stockpile and at the same time re-examine which are the places we can continuously diversify so we can keep the supplies coming. That's the ongoing work every day," he explained.
HOW SINGAPORE DIVERSIFIES SUPPLIES
He pointed to one example of how Singapore has done this - with rice. In the past, most of our rice came from Thailand and Vietnam, but today some of the supply comes from Japan and India.
He added that pre-COVID-19, Singapore took into account potential regional contingencies when stockpiling, such as if haze occurs and disrupts supply lines.
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"But now there is a global situation, we have to make sure that we have even more suppliers than previously, so we may have to open up relationships with new suppliers from places further afield, so that helps us to continuously diversify," said Mr Chan.
He gave another example of noodles - which Singapore imports but also manufactures locally.
"So that has been quite a nice balance, so we don't have to stockpile as much because we have the ability to ramp up the local production," said Mr Chan. "But that requires us to re-examine the supply chain of where the flour ingredients come from."
He said it will not be possible to "produce everything here" due to land and manpower constraints, but said Singapore will "carefully build up some local capacity" of certain critical essential items for times of need.
He lauded the hard work by all the agencies involved to ensure the country keeps abreast of its supply lines and keeps two steps ahead even as some countries halt exports of some products.
"We are quite fortunate that we have a team ... who have been thinking ahead, even way before this, how would we make sure that while we get from the following suppliers we always have a back-up set of suppliers that we can open up a new supply line when things don't work out," said Mr Chan.
He said Singaporeans are "very fortunate" to still have most of their daily essentials from supermarket shelves and thanked NTUC FairPrice group CEO Seah Kian Peng and his staff for their work. However, he said the supplies must be used judiciously.
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"I really say it with a lot of feelings," said Mr Chan.
"Today, very often we walk down an NTUC aisle and we see all the shelves being filled. I think sometimes we seem to take it for granted as the average Singaporean, but for me, and definitely for Kian Peng, to see the aisles and every shelf filled with all the things that Singaporeans need, it's a lot of pride, a lot of hard work behind the scenes to make it happen."
Mr Seah, who accompanied Mr Chan during the visit, told reporters that things are "a lot calmer now". However, he said inventories are being built up for certain essential items such as rice, canned food and biscuits.
Referring to a weekend of panic buying that wiped out some supermarket shelves after the DORSCON level was raised to orange on Feb 7, Mr Seah said consumers have since become better informed and more assured.
"As you've seen, what happened in Singapore, actually it's replicated in many other countries," he said. He added that the setting of purchase limits for buyers was "quite a first", with other countries since following suit.
"I assure our consumers and the public out there - stock is there ... we just need time to bring them to the stores," said Mr Seah.