SINGAPORE: The measures used to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore are introduced in tiers and based on risk, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Mar 24).
When asked why Singapore did not shut schools and “go all the way” into a lockdown like other countries, Mr Wong said it is a term used “very loosely these days”.
“It means many things to different people,” the minister, who co-chairs a multi-ministry task force on COVID-19, added.
“We like to think of our strategies in different categories and based on risk. At the very baseline level, there are things that we ought to do permanently, and even after COVID-19 is over – and it will be over at some stage – we have to maintain these standards.”
This includes an improvement in personal hygiene standards, such as washing hands regularly and not using your hands to touch your face.
“Even after COVID-19, these practices will be useful for countering any other infectious diseases as well,” he said.
BREAKING TRANSMISSION CHAINS
Beyond the baseline measures, the multi-ministry task force is talking about “a series of measures that can be put in place throughout”.
These precautionary measures can be triggered as “additional breaks” as and when the need arises.
He gave the example of the announcement last Friday about large-scale gatherings at F&B outlets and other safe distancing measures and the “higher category” announced on Tuesday of limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people.
READ: COVID-19 temporary measures: Gatherings outside of school and work limited to 10 people, entertainment venues to close
“We’ve said that these measures will be put in place for a month, and if these measures are effective for a month and it helps to break potential transmission chains, we may then come back to tier two, where we were last Friday,” he explained.
“If these measures are not effective, we may continue them for another month – we could escalate further.”
This would go into the “next level of measures”, which would include suspension of schools and work places, the minister said.
“They have to go together … you can close the school, but people need to look after children, and if parents are working, then it’s very hard for them to look after the children and the children will be running around anyway in the community,” he said.
“So closure of schools, closure of work places – other than essential activities – that’s the most drastic step.
“That’s what, I suppose, people call a lockdown.”
He said while those measures might “well be necessary”, the task force can introduce a "series of breaks" before taking those measures, if the situation warrants it.
He urged Singaporeans to take the current measures seriously.
“If we do these steps well, then we may be able to get through this current, very critical time of the infection cycle, where we are seeing a rise in imported cases … and very real risk of local transmission happening,” he said.
“It has not happened yet in a widespread manner, so all of these measures are really preemptive.”
In many countries, these drastic measures are implemented after widespread outbreak, but Singapore is “not there”.
“Perhaps there is a certain sense of ‘things are okay in Singapore’, but the risks are very real and that’s what we are trying to highlight and that’s why everyone needs to take these measures seriously," the minister said.
“If all of us do our part, that’s the only way we can have a chance of success with these strategies.”