According to a recent press conference given by the government in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak, it would appear that the government has changed its advice in relation to whether or not people should be wearing face masks. National development minister Lawrence Wong stated that the change in advice was in line with changing advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
I can understand why a government may want to follow advice from an internationally recognised body such as WHO. However, Singapore has not always been a country that has followed international standards often citing “Asian values” for deviations from international standards. With this in mind, how does Singapore’s seeming stance of using WHO’s advice as a reason for not advocating the use of masks earlier stack up?
Singapore has always appeared to seek more alignment with more conservative Asian countries such as China as opposed to its more liberal counterparts . Most notably where freedom of press or civil liberties are concerned. If that is the case, why has it not followed advice coming out of China where the wearing of masks are concerned? Given that COVID-19 originated from China and China appears to have more success in combating it than the west, shouldn’t advice from China be preferred over advice from WHO?
If the government has unwittingly made an error in relying solely on WHO’s advice, that’s fine. COVID-19 has taken everyone by surprise and to err is human. It would not deviate from public belief that the government is dong a good job overall. However, is it fair to seemingly shift the blame entirely on WHO which is what Wong appears to be doing? Wong is after all the person in charge of managing the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore, not WHO.
If we are following the advice and directive of international bodies, then we should be following the stance of other international norms such as greater civil liberties and a freer press as well. It cannot be a case of cherry picking to ensure that authorities are never seen to fall short.
Fear of COVID-19 is sky high at present. While we are not quibbling the efforts of the government, we do need to ensure that there should still be accountability. As social commentators have pointed out, far ranging powers granted to governments to deal with pandemics out of fear may be harder to claw back when things calm down.
Some Singaporeans have criticised those who have pointed out inconsistencies in government statements in relation to COVID-19 as causing disunity. Is that really the case? Asking questions is not the same as making trouble. Asking questions and pointing out inconsistencies does not mean that we are not appreciative of the overall efforts of the government.