By and large, Singaporeans trust the People’s Action Party (PAP) dominated government to keep them safe.
In many ways, our government is a paternalistic one whereby we obey the government and it in turn looks after us. This is why any advice that the government dispenses, especially when a global health pandemic is raging is of grave importance.
Accordance to the Straits Times, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) has said that “it could take several years for the coronavirus to go around the world and run its course”. With that in mind, it is rather surprising that the official advice given by the government differs from that given by top scientists in China who are in the forefront of battling this coronavirus outbreak.
George Gao, director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that “the big mistake in the U.S. and Europe, in his opinion, is that people aren’t wearing masks. This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role—you’ve got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth. Many people have asymptomatic or presymptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.”
Given COVID-19 originated from China and Gao has extensive experience in viruses that have fragile lipid membranes such as SARS-Cov-2 —and how they enter cells and also move between species which are in the same group of viruses as the dreaded coronavirus, shouldn’t his advice be strictly followed by Singapore? It is also important to note that Gao has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Oxford and did postdocs there and at Harvard University.
The current advice given by the Singapore government is this: “Wear a surgical mask only if you feel unwell and have respiratory symptoms like a cough or a runny nose. People who are well do not need to wear a mask”.
Singaporeans probably trust the government more than their counterparts in other countries. They also follow official guidelines far more closely than their counterparts in other countries. With so much trust put by Singaporeans in the government, could the Singapore government run the risk of putting its own people in harm’s way by issuing advice that is so different from that dished out by a key player in the epicentre of the virus?
The degree of trust Singaporeans place in the government places the government in an even greater position of power. With great power, comes great responsibility. Should the Singapore government perhaps amend their official advice and perhaps provide an explanation to Singaporeans as to why they have said something different to Gao?
Added to this, if PM Lee is cognizant of the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak, why is his PAP dominated government still seemingly doggedly pushing ahead with the General Elections? What if cases spike as a result of the General Election activities with many people walking around without masks spreading water droplets around? Is that the responsible thing to do?