In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak which has been declared by the World Health Organization as a pandemic, Singaporeans should adopt precautionary measures before attending any gatherings, including religious ones, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thu evening (12 Mar).
Delivering his address in Malay, Mr Lee made a reference to two new cases involving Singapore citizens who attended a mass religious gathering at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur.
The case subjects, a 29-year-old male and a 48-year-old male, were confirmed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) this morning to have been infected with the virus. Both men are now warded in an isolation room at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.
MOH noted that the Malaysian authorities had subsequently reported several confirmed COVID-19 cases linked to the gathering.
The two men had been in Malaysia from 29 February to 4 March.
Mr Lee in his speech today said that in critical times such as the present COVID-19 situation, he hopes that Singaporeans will “understand and support practical measures” such as reducing the number of congregants or shortening sermons in places of worship as a means to protect the health and safety of devotees.
“In South Korea, the cases spread through the Shincheonji church group. In Singapore, two of our big clusters happened in church groups … The issue is of course not religion itself, but that the virus can spread quickly to many people in crowded settings, like religious gatherings and services.
“That is why Saudi Arabia temporarily stopped umrah pilgrimages and the Pope live-streamed his sermons to avoid crowds on Saint Peter’s Square.
“I hope Singaporeans understand that during this period we may need to shorten religious services, or reduce our attendance at such gatherings. Please work with your religious leaders to make these practical adjustments,” he said in English.
The prime minister also reiterated the Government’s commitment to assisting Singaporeans throughout the outbreak, particularly gig workers and the self-employed who are among the most vulnerable workers in the Singapore economic landscape currently.
“The latest COVID-19 situation is a test of our psychological resilience,” he said, adding that frontline workers — healthcare workers, immigration officers, civil servants, public transport workers, taxi drivers, cleaning staff — are giving their “full dedication” in carrying out their duties to the public.
Mr Lee also stressed that everyone has a role to play in fighting the COVID-19 outbreak by maintaining personal hygiene and keeping the environment clean.
“Together, we can overcome this epidemic,” he said.
The Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) remains at Orange level on the MOH website as at press time.
Singapore, said Mr Lee, will not be “going to DORSCON Red”.
“We are not locking down our city like the Chinese, South Koreans or Italians have done. What we are doing now is to plan ahead for some of these more stringent measures, try them out, and prepare Singaporeans for when we actually need to implement them,” he added.