Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has said that “immediate measures are necessary to stem the spread of COVID-19 and protect people’s health, even if they do take a short-term toll on the economy”. I find his choice of words rather ironic given that it isn’t the “immediacy” of measures that is needed but rather the foresight that comes from those measures.
Immediacy is not the issue for Singapore. Singapore is churning out new and immediate rules at such a rapid pace that it is doubtful that the average citizen is even aware of what the latest missive is.
Rather, the issue is whether these new regulations and rules are merely reactionary or do they actually have a longer term goal in mind?
It is more important to actually think through something and pass a regulation that will actually have a longer lasting effect of meeting the objectives behind that rule than to be churning out millions of rules only to have to update or change them within a few days or even less.
This kind of “immediacy” does not solve problems or calm public nerves. They have the opposite effect of causing panic if people get the inkling that those in charge have no clue what they are doing.
Further, is it accurate to say that the toll on the economy will only be “short term”? This is a pandemic that has affected the entire world with unprecedented global measures taken. Experts are calling the economic fall out from this to be the worst since the great depression! It isn’t at all fair to mislead the expectations of the people because that will only lead to disappointment and mistrust.
If any lessons can be learnt from the last few days in Singapore, it is that we need to be prepared. We need to observe and we need to understand. Take the entire foreign worker dormitory spread issue. We really dropped the ball on that one by failing at three crucial points.
Failure 1 – Not realising that the dormitory set up is ripe for virus transmission
Failure 2 – Not taking action way back in February to address the “kindle-box” of an outbreak in the dormitories when a confirmed case was identified in a dormitory
Failure 3 – No contingency plan for an outbreak of illness in the dormitories
What is the point of “immediate” actions now when the crucial first steps (which required foresight) were not taken?
It might have been more apt for Heng to have said that the government needed to think through the implications of each action it takes before it takes them to try and safeguard the health of those in Singapore while also balancing the implications that this might have on the economy both in the short term and in the medium to long term.