SINGAPORE: Singapore leaders on Monday (Feb 24) said the country stands in solidarity with the Chinese people during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The coronavirus has killed more than 2,500 people in China and infected more than 75,000. On Sunday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the outbreak is the country’s largest-ever public health emergency since 1949.
Singapore President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sent their condolences to those who lost loved ones during the outbreak.
In her letter to Mr Xi, Mdm Halimah commended his “swift, decisive and comprehensive measures" to contain the COVID-19 outbreak and safeguard the health of the Chinese people.
“These measures are beginning to yield encouraging and positive outcomes. I am confident that under your able leadership, China will overcome COVID-19 with strength and fortitude," Md Halimah said.
Shortly after the outbreak started in Wuhan, the Chinese government moved to contain the spread of the virus, such as shutting down transport links in and out of the city. It also built hospitals in days to treat patients.
"We have seen how speedily China has mobilised itself to contain the spread, and implemented practical measures to help people affected, both in Wuhan and the rest of China," Mr Lee wrote in his letter to Mr Xi.
"We applaud China’s firm and decisive response, and are happy to see early indications that it is beginning to bring the outbreak under control.
"I am confident that with your leadership, and the support of the Chinese people and the international community, China will succeed in this urgent task."
During the lockdown, several nations, including Singapore, airlifted its citizens back to their home countries.
“I would also like to express my appreciation to the Chinese government – in particular the Hubei government – for its facilitation of Singapore’s efforts to repatriate our nationals and their dependents from Hubei,” wrote Mdm Halimah.
“I am also glad that we were able to assist with the repatriation of Chinese nationals in Singapore back to Wuhan. This is a testament to the strong cooperation between our countries.”
Mr Lee said China and Singapore "cooperated closely" on the repatriation of each other's nationals.
He said Singapore has been affected by the coronavirus and has introduced restrictions and stepped up detection at its borders.
"We have implemented strict quarantine procedures. And we have strengthened our healthcare system, to treat and care for those who have contracted the virus. Many COVID-19 patients, including a significant number of Chinese citizens, have recovered well in our hospitals and been discharged," he wrote.
"Singapore is cooperating with China on multiple levels. Our shared experience fighting the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 taught us that countries have to work with one another to deal with a global public health crisis."
The Prime Minister also noted that while there are similarities between COVID-19 and SARS, there are also "significant differences".
"The scientists report that COVID-19 is probably more infectious than SARS, but less lethal. Consequently, it may take longer to bring under control, and is more likely to become endemic in human populations," he said.
MEDICAL SUPPLIES, DONATIONS
Mdm Halimah added that the Singapore Government has contributed medical equipment, supplies and diagnostic test kits for COVID-19, as well as seed money to a humanitarian fund which has already raised more than S$6 million.
“I hope that our modest contributions have brought some comfort and relief to those affected by the virus,” she said.
Mr Lee also noted that Singapore had responded to China's early request for personal protective equipment, medical supplies and diagnostic test kits.
Mdm Halimah said international cooperation is "crucial to effectively combatting COVID-19".
"It is to China’s credit that its willingness to work with the international community has allowed us all, including affected countries like Singapore, to develop test kits and come up with appropriate measures to manage the outbreak together," she added.
Mr Lee said Singapore researchers are ready to collaborate with their Chinese counterparts and share their expertise to work towards a vaccine and treatment for the coronavirus.
"I am happy that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and Vice Premier Han Zheng have agreed to discuss cooperation in the management of public health crises at the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC)," Mr Lee added.
Singapore is also cooperating on a regional basis with China and other neighbouring countries to counter the outbreak, as seen in the recent Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on COVID-19 in Vientiane.
“Even as countries take strong measures to contain the disease in the early phases, we should begin exploring how over the longer term we can best manage the health effects of the virus on our people, while progressively restoring economic activities and international trade and travel,” said Mr Lee.
“Singapore has some ideas, which my Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan shared with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi when they met in Laos last week. Our officials can discuss this further.”
Singapore and China are marking the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year. Mr Lee said the two countries’ close cooperation in meeting common challenges such as COVID-19 testifies to their "strong and steadfast friendship".
“I send my best wishes for your continued success, and look forward to meeting you again soon to discuss these and other issues,” he said.
Mdm Halimah said: "I am confident that with your strong support, our two countries will continue to build on this firm foundation to further deepen and broaden the multifaceted cooperation between our two countries."