GE2020: Focus on public health could have been lost in March amid talk of early election, suggests SDP's Paul Tambyah
CORRECTION NOTICE: This article contains a false statement of fact. For the correct facts, click here: www.gov.sg/article/factually050720a
The above Correction Notice – related to comments made by Dr Paul Tambyah – was published as required by law in compliance with a direction from the POFMA Office conveyed to CNA on Jul 5, 2020.
SINGAPORE: Could the ministerial committee in charge of tackling COVID-19 have lost their focus on public health and started thinking about the election in March? Infectious diseases expert and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chairman Paul Tambyah suggested this possibility at a forum on Friday night (Jul 3).
Dr Tambyah was sharing his views at the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) Pre-General Election Forum 2020.
The forum, held in collaboration with Mothership, was moderated by former nominated Member of Parliament (MP) Viswa Sadasivan. Other speakers included were People's Power Party's Goh Meng Seng, Singapore Democratic Alliance's Harminder Pal Singh, Reform Party's Charles Yeo, Progress Singapore Party's Francis Yuen and Red Dot United's Michelle Lee.
Dr Tambyah, who was recently elected to be the president of the US-based International Society of Infectious Diseases (ISID), praised Singapore's initial handling of the pandemic, saying that he had given comments to CNA in January on the issue.
"I think it was widely acknowledged in January and February, Singapore handled the pandemic really well. We followed the basic principles of public health. You identify all cases, you identify their contacts, you do extensive testing, you quarantine the contacts, you isolate, identify and you prevent chains of transmission from occurring," he said.
In February, Dr Tambyah said there was a cluster of COVID-19 cases involving Bangladeshi workers at the Seletar Aerospace Heights construction site, and this was also "handled really well", with identification of contacts, quarantine, and testing.
"And then what happened was the employers started thinking, 'hey my workers are living in the same dormitory maybe you should bring them for testing'.
"And then what happened was Ministry of Manpower issued a statement telling the employers they were not allowed to bring their workers for testing, and if they brought their workers for testing, they would lose their work pass privileges," said Dr Tambyah.
He said that "all hell broke loose" in March, with people returning from the United States and Italy, and outbreaks in the dormitories.
"I have an opinion as to why that happened, I don't know for sure. But you know that was the time they started talking about an early election. And you wonder whether the ministerial committee lost their focus on the public health and started thinking about the election," he said.
"Like even today, we've got this cluster of cases in Tampines. And the head of the ministerial committee has to go to Marsiling to explain to people why they should vote for PAP even though Madam Halimah abandoned the constituents there," said Dr Tambyah.
"He should be there in Tampines trying to sort out what's going on with the outbreak. So it's a huge distraction and we've argued that for a long time - that this distraction has actually hampered what was really going well, has just gone south."
Dr Tambyah stressed that this has got "nothing to do with the public health officials who are excellent professionals - the scientists, the nurses, the doctors".
"A lot of this could have been done better and the consequences are devastating. We've got ... 44,000 people infected and they are invisible to the majority of Singaporeans but these are real people," he added.
DENYING THE INCUMBENT A "BLANK CHEQUE"
Other topics discussed at the forum, which lasted more than two hours, included what the opposition candidates can offer and how they need to be in Parliament to deny the incumbent "a blank cheque".
SDA's chief media officer Mr Singh said he felt it was "totally irresponsible" for the PAP to have called an election at this time, but "what is done is done".
"And it is done because they have been unilaterally making decisions and being given a free cheque to make a decision, a blank cheque if I can use the word, and that's one of the main reasons ... that we need to see a more variety of colours in Parliament. We need to have the alternative parties, the opposition parties coming in because they have had a blank cheque for too long a period," said Mr Singh.
Reform Party's Mr Yeo urged electors to vote for "each and every opposition party", saying that "political fragmentation" is in the interest of Singaporeans.
All the political parties were invited to Friday's forum, but the People's Action Party, National Solidarity Party, Peoples Voice, Singapore People's Party and Workers' Party either declined or did not reply to the invite, said moderator Mr Sadasivan.