Singapore’s efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 have drawn praise from many countries, including the World Health Organization (WHO) that indicated Singapore is “leaving no stone unturned” following the country’s efforts to find every COVID-19 case.
In fact, Hollywood movie star Barbra Streisand also took to Twitter on 30 March praising Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong over his “common sense” in fighting the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, one local netizen pointed out that it was Taiwan that had imposed the ‘gold standard’ in dealing with the COVID-19 virus, not Singapore.
On 5 April, local netizen Feng Yi posted on Facebook voicing her opinion on the differences between Singapore and Taiwan in dealing with the COVID-19 situation. In the post, she uploaded a photo of a lift in Taiwan in which the elevator buttons were covered in plastic.
“I know Singapore has done a comparatively good job. But since there are already many articles praising our response, I thought I should share something different,” Ms Feng wrote.
While claiming that she had spent two months in Taipei and had just returned to homeland Singapore recently, she said, “If you haven’t heard, the gold standard in dealing with the virus has actually been Taiwan, not Singapore.”
Ms Feng pointed out the day when the infected cases in Singapore had reached 1,200 cases, Taiwan, on the other hand, only reported 355 cases despite its proximity to China.
She noted that Taiwan’s move to ration face masks early and allow its citizens to purchase two masks per week had stopped people from hoarding masks. The country was also able to maintain the cheap cost of masks and ensure sufficient supplies for healthcare workers.
“Two months later, its citizens can buy more masks per week, with an excess of 10 million for international donations. The Taiwanese people have also been very resourceful, using cloths to extend the life of their limited surgical masks (they put the latter inside a washable cloth mask), and double-masked people are quite common on the streets,” Ms Feng wrote.
Singapore, however, had a different stance on masks. Despite the country’s effort to distribute face masks to all 1.3 million households on 1 February was laudable, Ms Feng noted the move was likely insufficient “for a single bout of flu”.
“Our earlier no-need-mask stance was also stretched a tad too far and too harshly. Rather than commend extra vigilance or understand why people were masking up, some of us – employers, people in varying positions of power – instructed those below to remove their masks because masks were ‘unnecessary’,” she stated.
The Government’s move was of good intention, but Ms Feng opined that it has “inadvertently made vigilance something to be embarrassed about”.
Another ‘big difference’ between the two countries was the public attitudes towards health, hygiene, and vulnerable communities. She noted the wide use of hand sanitizers in Taipei started as early as when the case of the virus was first reported in Wuhan, China.
“People, even older ones, were incredibly hygiene conscious. When they met, they spoke of caution as a virtue,” said Ms Feng.
According to her, public awareness about the use of masks was high in Taiwan. For instance, they will press their masks neatly against their noses and handled them delicately, and even migrant workers – especially domestic helpers – will put on masks when they were running errands outside.
“The CDC website even has separate videos in Vietnamese and Indonesian (wow!), making safety tips easily accessible to migrant workers,” Ms Feng wrote.
As for Singapore, the country only began to implement the use of sanitizers in public after a while, and no sanitizers are being provided for the public in many places.
“Hygiene standards remain wanting – today, it’s still considered okay to make sandwiches for hundreds without wearing a mask,” she remarked.
Ms Feng explained the experience she had when she encounters an elderly man who was not wearing a mask when handling luggage at the airport. The incident happened when she first returned to Singapore in March and she described it was shocking as if the old man was ‘naked’.
“But then I realised that in Singapore, where GDP per capita is higher, it’s okay in a pandemic to have naked old people clean toilets and clear trays, picking up biohazards without even makeshift protection every day,” she noted.
She further asserted, “At the same time, it’s common to hear ‘last time people never wash hands also like that, this is our last dine out before the rules kick in’, etc. Public education has been comparatively weak, with the mass display of bravado and ignorance culminating in last-hurrah drinking parties that were worryingly legal.”
During the period when local transmissions of the virus ‘barely had the time to reveal their spread’, Ms Feng noticed the media had conveyed ‘premature messages of confidence’ with news like “Singapore has done well in managing the COVID-19 virus” and other self-praising headlines.
“At this point where human lives are at stake and people grow emotionally and economically weary, it might help if the media could be more forthcoming with the sharing of best practices,” she said.
Ms Feng added, “It’s comforting to be told that we have done a relatively brilliant job – and indeed we have. However, allowing people to read or hear on mainstream media about cities that have fared better would help to save lives and the economy.”
WHO refused to acknowledge Taiwan due to its geopolitical disputes over sovereignty
Despite Taiwan’s laudable efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus, WHO denied Taiwan’s membership due to the country’s geopolitical disputes over its sovereignty. China refused to treat Taiwan as an independent state as it claimed Taiwan as part of its territory.
The WHO’s refusal to acknowledge Taiwan became obvious when its assistant director-general, Bruce Aylward during a video interview with The Pulse on 28 March pretended to have technical difficulties and abruptly ended the interview when he was asked about Taiwan’s membership in the WHO.
Taiwan also claimed to have alerted the WHO about the risk of human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 in late December but was ignored by the organisation, adding that WHO has failed to pass on the warning to other countries.
“While the WHO’s IHR internal website provides a platform for all countries to share information on epidemics and their response, none of the information shared by our country’s CDC was put up there,” said Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) director-general, Chou Jih-haw.