Amidst COVID-19 epidemic, Professor Tommy Koh reminds how Singapore emerged victorious out of all other major crises

On Thursday (13 Feb), the Straits Times had published an article, ““Fighting coronavirus: An appeal to Singaporeans” written by professor and international diplomat, Tommy Koh Thong, who is also Singapore’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Prof Koh’s article which was a premium story, was a reminder to everyone how Singapore stood through the test of time and emerged victorious in the face of all other major crises before, and reminder to the country that by being united and focused, it can overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These were World War II, the expulsion from Malaysia and SARS. We survived those crises. We showed the world that Singaporeans are a tough and resilient people. When faced with adversity, we remained united, courageous and caring. We can do so again.” wrote Prof Koh in his Facebook post about his article.

The professor recounts a difficult period during World War II, where food was scarce and times were hard. He explains that despite the tyrannical Japanese occupation in Singapore, citizens from diverse ethnicities and cultures lived together in harmony. He had also highlighted the level of trust that existed within the community, as they never had to worry of keeping their doors locked.

The article then proceeds to address Singapore’s expulsion from Malaysia in August, 1965. Following the separation between both countries, Singapore faced a shortage of housing in which the British deemed as an “insoluble” problem.

As Singapore’s economy suffered, the rate of unemployment soared. To make matters worse, tuberculosis, a contagious infection, was also becoming an epidemic in the country.

The Professor highlights that despite these temporary setbacks, Singaporeans did not seek financial assistance from others. Instead, Singaporeans stood together in solidarity as they overcame the obstacles thrown at them.

Prof Koh writes that, “The progress of Singapore, during the past 54 years, has been nothing short of a miracle.”

“The miracle is, however, human-made and not heaven-made.”

What Singapore had were honest political leaders, excellent public service, and hardworking people, who Prof Koh credited for having “devotion to education and adaptability”.

Prof Koh also pointed out about the turbulent period back in 2003, whereby Singaporeans were at war with the deadly respiratory disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The SARS outbreak began with three Singaporean women, who after being infected in Hong Kong, were admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). Despite one of them having recovered from the fatal disease, her family members did not.

Prof Koh identifies two key factors that led to Singapore’s victory over SARS. They were due to the roles of concerned civilians as well as heroic efforts exercised by medical professionals.

In 2003, Dr. David Heymann, Executive Director for Communicable Diseases at WHO, commended the Ministry of Health (MOH) for Singapore’s excellent collaboration efforts in handling the SARS outbreak which was regarded as “exemplary”.

Prof Koh reiterates that Singapore has been historically proven to be able to withstand the major crises that have taken place over the course of time. He urges Singaporeans to remain strong and united whilst caring for one another.

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