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Kok Ming Cheang: Please do not make people of Singapore sacrificial lambs due to political considerations that may take priority over their safety and health

by Kok Ming Cheang

“Do Not Wear A Mask If You Are Well”

This is the morning message that greets us every morning in the Straits Times (ST) front page for the last several days.

I believe this Health Advisory is the brainchild of the newly formed Multi-Ministry Task Force co-chair by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

When there is an infectious disease invading our country and all over the world, such Health Advisory defies simple logic and common sense.

Young parents with children in pre-schools and kindergartens know too well how easily their little darlings fall ill to flu, cough, and cold and how easily they infect their parents and grandparents (and vice versa). The young children in pre-schools and kindergartens do not wear face masks and so they pick up viruses from those who are ill. Parents send their children to school without knowing if there are children with a cold or runny nose.

I was in Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic on 30 January to consult a doctor for a cough that lingers on. I noticed the frontline staff (including the doctor I met) wore N95 masks. I was in Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic again on 3 February, and I noticed all the frontline staff there wore surgical masks. For sure they weren’t sick but it was right for them to wear face masks for their own protection because of the number of patients they were meeting daily.

On a crowded MRT train, would we know if any commuters standing or sitting near us without a mask are already infected with the Coronavirus? Personally, I always wear a surgical mask on the train even though I’m not unwell because I am prone to catching a flu in a crowded place.

The four masks that the government is giving to 1.3 million households is no consolation to those who need to wear a mask in crowded places as it has to be discarded after use.

The government has confidently stated that Singapore has sufficient stock of face masks, so much so it advised people against hoarding. However, I went to the pharmacy in Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic twice and other pharmacies (like many other people) but no masks (of any kind) and hand sanitisers were available.

If there are sufficient stocks of masks in the warehouse, wouldn’t it be better to supply to all pharmacies to sell them directly to people who need them? Why control the distribution to only four masks per household (like giving out war rations)? The whole distribution of masks exercise looks like a rehearsal for mobilisation exercise for the coming General Election. 89 community centres and 654 RC Centres were activated involving an army of volunteers and PA staff (besides the SAF men handling the packing of the masks into small bags).

Despite this huge organisational and manpower effort, it seems that the giving of four masks to each household has not created much excitement, judging from little queues reported. In fact, as of Tuesday (4 Feb), ST reported that only 26% of households have collected their masks.

Instead of setting up such elaborate organisational structure and manpower resource to distribute the masks and requiring people to look for the RCs or community centres to pick them up, a much easier way is to set up distribution booths in all MRT stations and bus terminals and provide a supply of masks on all buses for anyone who needs a mask. Of course this brings us back to the fundamental issue of the health advisory – “Do Not Wear A Mask If You Are Well” – so does Singapore hold enough stock to give a mask to anyone who needs one?

It seems to me that setting up a large Multi-Ministry Task Force with two co-chairman is politically intended to show the people that the PAP government has the leaders who are capable of executing a plan to defend Singapore against the Coronavirus. But a Multi-Ministry Task Force does not guarantee wise and practical decisions if every member in the committee sings the same tune.

Instead of the Minister for Health being the key minister to be responsible for the task of fighting the Coronavirus and bear the ultimate responsibility, this is now shared among a team of 4G and younger ministers. This large task force is a show of strength and unity of PAP new leaders before an Election takes place. It also means they are ready to take credit for its success in fighting the community spread of virus and the ultimate responsibility for any failure.

Our whole country is guided by this task force and our lives are in their hands. So I think it is fair and appropriate that Singaporean voters judge them accordingly and hold them fully accountable for the outcome of their decisions and actions as members of the task force.

The first ‘baptism of fire’ came when ST reported on Tuesday that “Singapore recorded its first cases of local Coronavirus transmission, with four women here infected who had not travelled to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak”. The new cases constitute “limited local transmission,” according to MOH. Health Minister Mr Gan Kim Yong said at a press conference, “There is, however, no evidence of widespread community transmission” (ST 5-02-20), which sounded like he was consoling himself.

Yes, it wasn’t a widespread community transmission yet, but could this high-powered task force have prevented it from happening?

The are a few key questions to be asked: Had the Health Advisory (“Do not wear a mask if you are well”) contributed to this “limited local transmission”? Was the Task Force careless and irresponsible in approving and issuing such a Health Advisory? Are the people expected to wait till they get infected by the Coronavirus before wearing a mask?

I sincerely ask Health Minister Mr Gan not to look for an escape route so soon when he cautioned us that “despite our best efforts, Singapore could still see extensive community spread”. (Straits Times, 5 Feb)

This warning directed at all of us gives the impression that as Health Minister and Co-chairman of the Multi-Ministry Task Force, he does not have the confidence to defend Singapore against this virus epidemic (even though Singapore is a small nation with a comparatively small population).

Over the last five decades, the people have always turned to the PAP government in a time of crisis. The Coronavirus epidemic is no different.

Therefore, I feel it is timely that Singaporeans take a hard look at how the 4G and younger leaders performed throughout this crisis period at the coming Election.

Please do not make the people of Singapore sacrificial lambs because there are political considerations that may take priority over the safety and health of our people. The people of Singapore includes everyone living and working or studying here with/without their families who are citizens, PRs, foreign employees, and expatriates.

I certainly wish this Multi-Ministry Task Force succeeds in defending Singapore against the Coronavirus attack and keep Singapore and all its people safe from harm.

Thank you.

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