SINGAPORE: There is no “magic solution” to the COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore, and a series of brakes are needed to handle the situation, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Mar 31).
When asked at a press conference why Singapore has not been locked down, Mr Wong said: “There is a view, I think, that people sometimes say, ‘why don’t you just … don’t have to wait, just go for the drastic measures now, go for the so-called lockdown today, do it for two weeks then life can go back to normal’.
“There is no such magic solution as (a) two-week lockdown and then we are free from the virus. It will not happen.”
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Several countries have heavily restricted people’s movement, including Malaysia and Indonesia, while parts of Europe have declared lockdowns.
Singapore could put in more “drastic measures” sooner, but the minister said that would not “eradicate the virus”.
“It will still be with us, and we will still have to continue with this set of measures – like what we are today – for maybe months,” explained Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministerial task force looking at the COVID-19 situation.
“We are in this for the long haul. We have to prepare that we have to deal with this situation for quite a long period of time.”
Singapore will be “exposed continuously to recurring waves of infection from around the world” and local transmission within the country that will continue.
“(It) is not just one month, two months, but potentially all the way until the end of the year and beyond,” Mr Wong said.
“So, we have to find measures that can control, slow down the virus and do so in a way that is sustainable – not just for two weeks, two months, but all the way through to the end of the year.”
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Singapore has announced several measures, including safe-distancing and stay-home notices for all travellers, among others.
On Tuesday, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said that regulations will be amended to ensure that employers are doing all they can to encourage workers to telecommute, rather than come into the office.
Mr Wong said that “extra brakes” can be put in if the situation warranted it.
When asked if there was a “trigger point” for when a lockdown might be implemented, Mr Wong said the measures are a “series of brakes which you can put in place”.
“Rather than use a phrase which means different things to different people – because people have different interpretations of what a lockdown means – we look at the measures specifically and what these measures imply,” the minister added.
The task force has set out baseline measures that will continue for sustained periods, and “extra brakes” on top of those measures.
Singapore has enforced “moderate brakes”, such as preventing large-scale gathering and safe-distancing measures.
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“We will not see the benefits of these measures until one or two weeks later, so it’s a bit too early to say the measures are not working,” he said.
“Whatever cases we are seeing now … symptoms came a week ago. You have to look forward and look at the data (that) we will continue to monitor and look at what happens to the trends of local cases, unlinked cases over the next one, two weeks.
Depending on the indicators, the task force could apply “extra brakes”.
“There is no magic two-week solution to this. These brakes have to be applied for a sustained period. If the situation improves, we remove some brakes. But even as we remove these brakes, we will not go back to zero.
“We will still need a set of precautions – could be baseline, could be more than baseline – but if the situation does not improve, then we apply extra brakes.”
He said this “posture” of apply and removing brakes will go on until at least the end of the year.