Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Tuesday (25 February) that Singapore may lower its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level if COVID-19 spreads widely across different countries in the world and travel restrictions are not useful anymore to contain the outbreak.
Mr Gan said this when asked if Singapore would lower its DORSCON level from Orange to Yellow at a press conference on Tuesday.
Earlier this month (7 February), Singapore increased its DORSCON level from Yellow to Orange after a few confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus in the country showed that it had no links with any previous cases or travel history to China.
Since January this year, Singapore has also implemented a number of measures like 14-day leave of absence for anyone who returned to Singapore from mainland China, suspension of inter-school and external activities, as well as travel restrictions, in order to contain the spreading of the novel coronavirus.
Mr Gan went on to state that the decision to lower the DORSCON level is a “judgement call” that considers different risk factors, like how the COVID-19 situation develops in Singapore and around the world.
He pointed out that it is not a “checklist where we tick off everything”.
“If it has become quite a widespread community transmission all over the world, and a lot of these border control measures may no longer be useful, we may begin to remove some of these border controls if it becomes apparent that every country is going to have transmission,” Mr Gan said.
He added, “It’s not possible for us to isolate Singapore from the rest of the world. It’s not just the economies part – human-to-human interaction, country-to-country interaction (make it) not possible.”
“So, we may have to then readjust our posture and decide how we want to go. If that situation occurs, we may have to adjust our DORSCON level downwards as well.”
Cannot be complacent as things are uncertain
While speaking at the same press conference, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong highlighted that given how the COVID-19 situation is constantly changing in other countries, Singapore cannot be complacent due to all these uncertainties.
“If it is not contained well in other countries, including in countries where the health systems may not be of the same standard as what you see in developed countries… you may well start to see sustained widespread transmission of the virus around the world,” Mr Wong told the press.
He continued, “And that’s why in Singapore we cannot afford to be complacent because we can put in place travel restrictions for China, where the source is. We can do for another country, second country or third country, but can we afford to shut ourselves out from the world?
“And if the virus truly transmits everywhere in the world, then we have to expect another wave of new imported cases coming into Singapore, and we have to be prepared for that.”
On Sunday (23 February), the Ministry of Health (MOH) released a statement urging the people of Singapore to avoid non-essential travels to two areas in South Korea – Daegu city and Cheongdo county. This announcement was made following the high number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country.
However, just two days later (25 February), MOH announced that it will not allow entry to visitors who have travelled to these two areas in the last 14 days.
Pointing to this, Mr Gan said that this is one example on how the Government is working to have more stringent measures within the same DORSCON level, adding that several of the current measures were imposed even before the level was increased.
“DORSON is a reference for us to work out our plans, actions and various measures,” he noted. He went on further to say that there was “latitude to adjust our posture and measures” within the same DORSON level.
“Similarly as we move forward, we may adjust some of our measures downwards, some of the restrictions we have put in place, we may decide to lift them if the situation is more stable,” he said.
“In the end, it’s a judgement call. We take into account all the risk factors, we look at the situation, we look at what other countries are doing, what is happening both in Singapore and around the world before we come to a conclusion,” he added.
On the other hand, Mr Wong stated that if the virus is transmitted widely around the world, then “that might well be the scenario where the virus becomes embedded in the human population.”
“And we have to learn how to live with it, take the necessary precautions. Hopefully (there might be) some medication that can be promising by then. But at the same time, we all have to keep calm and carry on with life, but just with appropriate precautions,” he explained.
In Singapore, a 58-year-old woman became the 91st person infected with the deadly coronavirus here after she was tested positive for the virus on 25 February.
To date, a total of 58 cases have fully recovered from the infection and have been discharged from the hospital. Of the 33 confirmed cases who are still in the hospital, most are stable or improving. Seven are in critical condition in the intensive care unit.
Mr Wong said, “We continue to be alert and vigilant and we call on Singaporeans to do so, but at the same time stay calm and continue to carry on with your lives. Do all that we can to uphold good personal hygiene and take all precautions to keep Singapore and Singaporeans safe.”