Are Singapore's Praiseworthy Regulations Enough?

Updated: May 18, 2020

Being the 4th most affected country of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, it served as a “wake-up call” to the lion city. This resulted in Singapore being better prepared for the Coronavirus pandemic with a more effective interplay between the police force, foreign affairs ministry, home affairs and the health ministry. A better coordinated system of communication from the health ministry was also established as stated by a recent study of Harvard University’s Centre for Communicable Disease Dynamics saying, “Singapore is identifying three times more cases than other countries due to its disease surveillance and contact-tracing capacity”. This was indeed adapted from the SARS playbook. Strides were made in the medical and research fields in terms of the ‘Exercise Sparrowhawk’ that involved over a 1000 health care professionals heightening awareness and test preparedness. In addition, Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong said Singapore is more psychologically prepared too having witnessed similar circumstances from the outbreak of SARS in 2003 and Influenza A virus (H1N1) in 2009. Singapore raised its epidemic alert level to orange (the outbreak was deemed to have moderate to high public health impact) on February 7th, 2020 – the same that would have been used for SARS in 2003, had the framework existed then.

The Singaporean government covers hospitalization expenses relating to COVID-19 for all admissions to public hospitals; this does not include outpatient treatments. This indeed, is commendable considering this role is to be covered by specific insurance policies in most other countries and only the testing for the virus has been covered in some countries. This excludes the expenses, say going to the emergency room to get tested. Moreover, U.S President Donald Trump announced that health insurers had pledged to eliminate “all co-payments for coronavirus treatments and extend insurance coverage to those treatments.” This however, is not true. As of now health insurers have not expanded coverage for anyone, especially the more seriously ill who need hospitalization. This further forged a bond between the Singaporean residents and the government which Prime Minister Lee views to be predominant and key in this global struggle. What has aided this relationship is the role of the media and press that have been given the permission to be plainly transparent.

It is a commendable fact that the PAP(People’s Action Party) created a nation of homeowners by providing means-tested grants for the purchase of subsidized public housing and allowing mortgage payments to be made from the buyers’ Central Provident Fund savings and allowing estate upgrading (asset appreciation). Although the ulterior motive was to secure confidence of their supporters, it has indirectly helped in curbing the spread of coronavirus as such a policy has helped Singapore in achieving a home-ownership rate of 91% with an estimated 0.0175% of the people left without a home. This means 99%of Singapore's 5.7 million people remain at home under lockdown restrictions helping in the COVID-19 spread prevention. Furthermore, people are barred from intentionally standing too close to someone else in a queue, or sitting on a seat less than one metre from another individual in a public place, according to the regulations. Those found guilty of breaking the rules face a jail term of up to six months and a maximum fine of SG$10,000 (US$7,000).

Now the question arises : Despite such laudable measures, why is the count of coronavirus cases in Singapore so high?

This pandemic begins to highlight the vulnerability of Singapore due to the phenomenon of importation. When the gravity of the world situation became worse, countries began to urge citizens to return to their respective countries by the middle of March which led thousands of people returning back to Singapore from countries that had not taken the spread of the virus seriously. Among the returning population more than 500 people unknowingly brought the virus back with them. Hence, the majority of the cases in Singapore are imported. Moreover, after the virus spread from Wuhan, Singapore became the top destination of the virus as the volume of travel between Singapore and Wuhan is the highest.

Second, they became an early exporter of the disease. A global business meeting held at the Grand Hyatt Singapore was attended by some delegates from Wuhan, who infected other delegates who took the virus back to Malaysia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and thereafter to France and Spain.

From this, Singapore’s effective bureaucracy comes into light. Singapore definitely has something to offer to the world in terms of a high capacity, creative and trustworthy government in times of crisis. The coronavirus could have easily created mass panic through the wealthy island city-state, but even as it received infected travelers directly from Wuhan, Singapore efficiently tracked and isolated cases- limiting the early total to just 226 with zero deaths. Witnessing such an increase in cases, Singapore quickly instituted the array of drastic measures that other countries, including the U.S, appear to have discovered slowly. Singapore has been aggressive from the start and will not hesitate to take strong action as long as the virus remains posing as a high threat to the residents of Singapore.

Author : Alekhya Ravindra