by Cheang Kok Ming
Has the Multi-ministry Task Force succeeded in its national mission to protect people’s lives or is it game over?
When the Multi-ministry Task Force was set up on 22 Jan 2020, comprising 10 members including the majority of the 4G leadership with Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat as Advisor, “some observers see (it) as a major test handling a national challenge.”
With Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement yesterday: “Singapore to shut workplaces and schools to curb spike in virus cases,” (ST4-4-20), how should we, the citizens, rate the performance of this team of political leaders so far?
I have said in the early days when the Task Force was set up, it looks like a People’s Action Party (PAP) political platform to showcase its leaders in preparation for General Election 2020. Based on the outcome of their work, which should be outstanding, Singaporeans are expected to give them a clear mandate for another five years, isn’t it?
That’s why the PAP government is talking about the possibility and feasibility of holding a GE even in the midst of a virus pandemic. The 4G leaders are that confident of themselves.
Till now, we can see that all the measures and decisions taken are led by politicians. My fear has been that they see their work in the Task Force as more political (good public image to please voters) and economic (to protect the economy) than public health.
After 3 months into the game, PM Lee tried to explain the reason for the Health Advisory “Do not wear a mask if you are well” based on WHO and US infectious diseases experts’ advice and now change to “the government will no longer discourage people from wearing masks, and will distribute reusable ones to all households, as there is now some evidence of asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19.”
In fact, the risk of “silent carriers” who are infected but show no symptoms during the early stage of incubation period, infecting people around them, is widely known. I have referred to an article in Guardian dated 12-3-20 which reported a study conducted on clusters in Singapore and Tianjin to show infections passed on by people without symptoms.
Again it’s a political move, like the earlier exercise to give 4 masks per household, to deploy the RCs, CCCs and possibly PA volunteers in another big exercise to give one reusable mask per person. This is so unnecessary and unproductive which can be avoided if only the Task Force did not make a tactical error in the Health Advisory.
As at 3 April, there were 65 new cases bringing the total infections to 1114 and six deaths including one today. Compare this to 226 cases of infections on 15 March and we can see how serious the pandemic has become in Singapore.
Finally, the Task Force is going to implement more drastic measures of shutting down workplaces and schools “to act as circuit breaker” and will run from 7 April to 4 May.
If the circuit breakers are deployed, it clearly shows that there is some faulty wiring or equipment in our house.
Yet, the shut down in Singapore must not be seen as a “lockdown” because essential services are still running. Also , Singapore is still in Dorscon Orange, NOT RED. This Dorscon table is like a management tool which means little to the people.
If we look at the Dorscon table attached, under the “Advice to public” section, only in the RED column that “Practise social distancing and avoid crowded areas” is mentioned.
In reality, Singapore is already in Dorscon RED though the member politicians can’t admit it for fear of losing face.
If the member politicians are truly focused on safeguarding public health, to put Singapore under Dorscon RED is the correct thing to do so the people understand that their safety and health is under severe threat by the virus.
How do PM Lee and the Task Force come to this precarious and politically undesirable position where they have to eat their own words and lose political capital in having to insist that “the outbreak remains under control” but must now shut down all schools and most work places and people are no longer discouraged from wearing masks in public places.
The Task Force and its members have collectively brought Singapore’s public health to the edge of a cliff because they have prioritised politics and economics over public health of the people in Singapore by only taking incremental steps (like closing tuition centres and enrichment classes) and calibrating the measures to make them look like “sweeping measures” when we know that they are too fearful for bold measures that may shake the economy or even threaten their political career.
So the people have to pay the price for the weakness of the Task Force in managing a pandemic which threatens the lives and livelihoods of our people.
Since the PAP government is adamant in pushing through the GE 2020 (based on news reports) when they are not even able to slow down the local transmissions or “flatten the curve”, so to speak, we Singaporeans must decide if they are worthy of our votes and to give them a clear mandate again for another 5 years to rule as they like.
Mind you, they still have a clear and strong mandate obtained in GE2015 and it is fair that we expect them to complete the most important task on the national agenda- that is, to protect and keep Singaporeans safe from the pandemic. This task is not yet complete.
Stay HOME, keep SAFE.