PM Lee Hesitates to Call S’pore’s Response to COVID-19 a Success Yet Coz ‘We Are Right in the Midst of a Battle’

COVID-19 has been around for quite some time now but it seems like it doesn’t plan on leaving us so soon.

Image: Ministry of Communications and Information

While Singapore has been praised worldwide by many for the efficiency of our healthcare system and the ability to try to curb the spread of the highly contagious and deadly virus, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has spoken up during an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday, 29 March, and said, “I hesitate to talk about success because we are right in the midst of a battle, which is intensifying.”

PM Lee Hesitates to Call S’pore’s Response to COVID-19 a Success Yet Coz ‘We Are Right in the Midst of a Battle’

You might think he’s being humble, but he’s just speaking facts.

He does not foresee the pandemic ending any time soon and believes that it will continue to spread to other parts of the world like India, Africa, South-east Asia, and Latin America.

Image: Giphy

He said, “By the time it goes around the world, and then finally runs its course, I think that is several years unless something happens to abort that process.”

“I think we are in a very difficult situation and it is most constructive for us now to look ahead and find the best way to move forward and deal with a problem which we now have,” he added.

While it is true that we didn’t expect this virus, he said that Singapore never once saw COVID-19 as a laughing matter. In fact, we took it very seriously.

I mean, you can see it in the way the authorities did contact tracing and all of the measures that have been imposed till date. 

Image: Giphy

He explained, “We watched what was happening in Wuhan, in China. We prepared our people. In fact, we have been preparing for this since Sars, which was 17 years ago.”

He also offered two ways we could go about tackling the virus. One was to do so through herd immunity, in which the whole community will get infected first so that they can later build immunity towards the virus.

Image: Giphy

Clearly, that wasn’t the favoured option. Furthermore, Mr Lee said that this would be way too painful for our society, especially since a large portion of our community will be affected.

Another way was to flatten the epidemic curve, even if it takes a long time.

In case you don’t know what that means, an epidemic curve is mostly used to visualise when new cases will happen and at what rate during a virus outbreak.

He elaborated and said, “You have got to hope for an off-ramp to get off that path, and the only visible way to get an off-ramp is to have either a treatment or an effective vaccine. That is some distance down the road, but many very smart people are working very hard at it. I can only hope and pray that they will make some progress soon.”

Battling The Virus

Zakaria asked Mr Lee if Singapore had been able to contain the virus all this while because of our government’s “paternalistic system”, but the latter assured that the government has not exercised “extraordinary powers”.

So what is it that Singapore has done right?

Well, Mr Lee raised two main factors.

Trust and transparency. 

Image: Giphy

“We put a lot of effort into explaining to (the public) what is happening, speaking to them and I have done it a few times directly on television, so people know that we are level and we tell it straight. We are transparent – if there is bad news, we tell you. If there are things which need to be done, we also tell you. I think that you have to maintain that trust because if people do not trust you, even if you have the right measures, it is going to be very hard to get it implemented,” he explained.

While it is probably much easier to use phone data to contact trace, he assured that our government has been using “traditional detective work”.

Image: Giphy

He added on, “We have been interviewing people, asking them, interviewing them, tracking down their contacts, interviewing their contacts, trying to piece a story together… We hope to get a quick answer out within a couple of hours, but in fact, we have pursued the cases for days to try and pin down, who talked to whom and who might have given the virus to whom.”

Yep, it’s a really rigorous process, and I’m proud that our system is rather efficient, thanks to the hard work of those on the frontline.


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The Devastating Impact Of COVID-19

Obviously, the people who have been infected and the people who have lost their lives because of it is one of the most devastating impacts of COVID-19. But there is another impact that has been affected equally.

The crippling of our aviation and tourism industry, disruption of supply chains, as well as the upending of the gig economy.

The COVID-19 infection has obviously affected the lives of many and as more businesses suffer, more companies are asking employees to either take pay cuts, unpaid leave or to leave the company.

Of course, while the government has been developing a Resilience Budget to help all of us cope financially, Mr Lee believes that it will take a while before jobs return.

“I do not see that coming back until such time as people gain confidence that they have a hold on the virus, that we can resume normal socialising, normal travelling, normal human intercourse. I think that is quite some time down the road.”


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Zakaria also asked if the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to Mr Lee reconsidering when he steps down from his position, and to that he replied, “I think this crisis keeps my hands full. Let us just focus on that for now.”

US And China

Mr Lee was also asked what he thought about the role of US and China in this pandemic.

He finds it an absolute pity that the US, with “the resources, the science, the influence, the soft power, and the track record of dealing with these problems convincingly and successfully”, is not putting those resources to work “to deal with this very grave challenge to mankind.”

He has also kindly asked for US and China to work together to battle against COVID-19.

We all know that US and China have not been the best allies for a long time, and throughout this whole period, they have just been pointing fingers at each other and blaming the other for the outbreak.


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Image: Giphy

He commented, “It is a most unfortunate situation to be in. I mean, US-China relations have been complicated even before this. But if we are going to deal with this virus, you have got to get all the countries to be working together, in particular, the US and China. Under the best of circumstances, it is going to be a very difficult challenge for mankind. But if the US and the Chinese are swopping insults and blaming one another for inventing the virus and letting it loose on the world, I do not think that that is going to help us solve the problem sooner.”

China, as everyone would know, has been criticised for not being transparent about the virus, which ultimately led to the uncontrollable outbreak that spread throughout the world. Mr Lee was asked if he believed that this worsened the pandemic, and he explained, “I am sure that there were many aspects of the Chinese response to this outbreak which they will look back upon and believe that they should have done better.”

He also added on, “But I do not think overall that one can say this would not have happened if only the Chinese had done the right thing. Because you look at the way the outbreak has continued to grow and spread in many countries, and they do not have the Chinese government and yet they have not found it easy to keep the outbreak under control in their country.”

At the end of the day, COVID-19 is a highly contagious and deadly virus that we all have to work together to battle against. While we can hope that it will all be contained soon, we still have to prepare ourselves for the fact that it will still take us a while before we can give it a rest.

So in the meantime, let’s all do our part and continue to be socially responsible. We’ve done it once 17 years ago during Sars, we can do it again.

Image: Giphy

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