With the confirmed COVID-19 cases doubling and tripling in numbers in Singapore, certain people may be experiencing a difficult time accepting that Singapore is not any “superior” than other countries in handling this pandemic.
Professor Donald Low, Senior Lecturer and Professor of Practice at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, had yet again called out Singaporeans who have a sense of “self-superiority”.
In his Facebook post that he uploaded earlier today (17 April), he highlighted how certain Singaporeans are using the nation’s result in managing COVID-19 to speculate and belittle Hong Kong and Taiwan’s capability in handling the outbreak.
Prof Low noticed that some Singaporeans claimed that the high number of COVID-19 cases in Singapore was due to widespread testing among foreign workers, and that the low numbers in Hong Kong and Taiwan were due to inadequate testing.
He said that this mentality is absolutely in denial and defensive, as well as “factually incorrect”.
Prof Low explained that he could visit his GP and ask for a test, or he could also get tested right away at a public hospital in Hong Kong, implying how convenient it is to obtain COVID-19 tests.
“It’s not a wrong argument as such but I also see some people using this argument to say that Taiwan and Hong Kong’s numbers are low because they aren’t testing widely. This is not just denial and defensiveness, it is also factually incorrect. In Hong Kong, I can go to my GP and ask for a test; I can also get myself tested pretty much right away at a public hospital,” wrote Prof Low.
To further explain the situation of a country without widespread testing, Prof Low said that hospital admission data would be able to provide evidence. According to him, if a country’s low number of COVID-19 cases was a result of inadequate testing, it would only take a couple of weeks for the hospital admission rates to rise abruptly.
“More importantly, a place can only “get away” with inadequate testing for a short while. If its low number of cases is the result of inadequate testing, it is only a couple of weeks before it finds hospital admission rates rising suddenly and ICU beds being filled up quickly by severe cases of respiratory illnesses.”
Prof Low defended Hong Kong that the numbers of deaths and ICU admissions due to respiratory illnesses including COVID-19 patients for the current flu season were about 50 per cent lower than last year.
He stated that even if most cases are mild or asymptomatic, “inadequate testing” does not apply to Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Singaporeans’ “cocky” mentality
Other than addressing the reality in Hong Kong and Taiwan, Prof Low highlighted a deeper problem manifesting among Singaporeans. Through this pandemic, he said that it reflected Singaporeans’ sense of supremacy and refusal to acknowledge that other countries had so far, done a better job than Singapore in terms of handling the pandemic.
“Second and more problematically, the argument reflects a deep-seated self-superiority and a refusal to acknowledge that in handling this pandemic, others seem to have done a better job than us (so far). Because these people already hold quite jaundiced views about Taiwan and HK, even the possibility that these places did a better job than us causes cognitive dissonance.”
“And we deal with cognitive dissonance not by adjusting our mental models or world views, but by denial (“there’s something wrong about the data”, “we’re not comparing apples to apples”) and ex post rationalisation (“the number of confirmed cases is not a meaningful statistic”),” according to Prof Low.
He further pressed on the Singaporeans who were not only complacent about Singapore’s low COVID-19 number in the initial stages, but also labelling other countries with high numbers of cases as examples of poor handling of the pandemic.
After seeing a drastic spike of cases in Singapore, these Singaporeans would argue that the spike was a result of aggressive testing.
In regards to this argument, Prof Low rebutted that Singapore had been doing testing “quite aggressively” right from the start.
Instead of claiming how other countries weren’t doing a good job, he mentioned that Singaporeans shouldn’t be “too cocky”.
“In this case, ask yourself whether at an early stage in this pandemic, you’d already thought that the number of confirmed cases in a country is not a meaningful statistic and that countries which have high numbers (and correspondingly low mortality rates) are probably doing a good job with widespread testing.”
“And ask yourself if you at least entertained the possibility that Singapore’s low numbers initially might be the result of inadequate testing and that we shouldn’t be too cocky. (We were actually doing testing quite aggressively right from the start if you’d bothered to find out then.) If you’d answered yes to those two questions, then your argument doesn’t suffer from the outcome bias,” wrote Prof Low.
The observations above made by Prof Low simply showed the behaviour of certain Singaporeans who were unwilling to accept that other countries are doing better in terms of COVID-19 crisis response.