Ministers in parliament have outlined various measures that the government has implemented as well as future measures in response to the Covid-19 virus outbreak.
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan assured parliament that the government will take care of Singaporeans abroad who have been affected by travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 outbreak, or if they are at risk of exposure.
“We will leave no Singaporean behind. This is a 24/7 commitment,” he said.
During the Foreign Ministry supply debate, Dr Balakrishnan noted that there is an increasing number of Singaporeans who work and travel abroad, meaning that “more Singaporeans will occasionally run into trouble overseas – be it personal crises, epidemics, natural disasters or political unrest.”
Earlier this year when the outbreak happened, the government evacuated 266 Singaporeans and their family members from the Chinese city of Wuhan where the virus first emerged.
This, Dr Balakrishnan said, was a “major, delicate, whole-of-government operation” between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Health, Transport, and Home Affairs as well as other government agencies. This multi-ministry effort also worked with Scoot to facilitate the repatriation.
Dr Balakrishan highlighted the importance of diplomacy in situations such as this, noting that Singapore’s embassy in Beijing worked with the central Chinese government and the local Hubei provincial government to make it happen.
While Singapore was repatriating its own citizens, the government also imposed travel restrictions of its own on travellers coming from mainland China, which Dr Balakrishnan said was not an easy decision.
“We recognised that this could impact bilateral relations with China. We therefore gave China a ‘heads-up’ before making the public announcement, and we made a special effort to explain why we had to do this,” he said.
“When I spoke to a senior Chinese leader recently, he conveyed China’s understanding of the actions that we had taken due to the unique circumstances faced by Singapore.”
Later in the debate, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Tan Wu Meng also chipped in to say that Singapore is working with its partners to include Covid-19 content into the health-related courses under the Singapore Cooperation Programme. He added that the government will also assist other countries in the region to strengthen their pandemic resilience.
The programme – which was established in 1992 – facilitates Singapore’s support of other countries in reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals while also managing global and regional issues such as this coronavirus outbreak.
Test kit development for virus detection
In the supply debate of the Home Affairs Ministry, Minister of Manpower and Second Minister of Home Affairs Josephine Teo said that the Home Team Science and Technology Agency were quick to develop test kids after the coronavirus genome was made public by Chinese scientists in January.
The kit is now part of the ministry’s Bio-Surveillance Programme and is being used to detect the virus at all checkpoints in Singapore – land, air, and sea.
Since the launch of the programme in 2009, the ministry’s chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives detection laboratories at entry/exit points in Singapore have been screening for bio-terrorism threats, flu, and other pathogens.
“Using a state-of-the-art system, which integrates laboratory functions on a small chip, our scientists can quickly adapt the system to detect new biological agents,” said Ms Teo.
Referring specifically to the coronavirus test kits, Ms Teo explained that they are being used at cruise terminals now to test incoming travellers.
Apart from detecting infected persons, Ms Teo elaborated that the Home Team has also turned to technology for other things as well during the outbreak, such as tightening security at quarantine facilities by deploying close-circuit television cameras (CCTVs) with video analytics and motion sensors.
Total Defence is Singapore’s best strategy
On the defence angle, Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman noted that Total Defence is Singapore’s best strategy against various threats, including virus outbreaks.
“Singapore can and will overcome this Covid-19 situation if Singaporeans are psychologically resilient and support the Government and businesses to deal with this outbreak,” he said.
Dr Maliki said that the Ministry of Defence and the People’s Association are collaborating to strengthen community resilience against potential threats.
This year, the ministry introduced a Total Defence Achiever Badge programme for 2,000 grassroots and resident volunteers in the Community Emergency Response Team (Cert). Cert is part of the Residents’ Committees and Neighbourhood Committees.
Dr Maliki explained that Cert volunteers will have to attend lessons on how to identify fake news, train in community mediation and psychological first aid, and more.
“In this way, Cert volunteers will be better equipped with the knowledge and skills to respond to the evolving nature of emergencies, thereby putting Total Defence into action,” said Dr Maliki.