Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has expressed his hope of wanting World Health Organisation (WHO) and other health professionals to carry out a detailed research on how different countries around the globe dealt with the deadly COVID-19 once the pandemic eases worldwide.
“When the situation stabilizes, I hope WHO and other professionals will do an in-depth study of how different countries dealt with the purpose,” the former prime minister wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday (5 May).
He noted that he has been following “governance issues closely” and opined that “there is no global leadership” at the moment in handling the current novel coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Goh, who was Singapore’s Prime Minister from 1990 to 2004, voiced his fears that the “next pandemic might be one that combines the infectiousness of COVID-19 and the deadliness of SARS, however unlike that may seem now”.
SARS, or also known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, infected more than 8,000 individuals globally, and 774 people have died due to it. The disease hit the shores of Singapore in March 2003, infecting 238 people and killing 33.
Despite his fear, Mr Goh pointed out that the latest pandemic is a “common global examination of the toughest order on the character, and resolve of national leaders, governments, and societies”.
In terms of why he wants an in-depth study, Mr Goh explained, “The purpose is not to grade each country’s response but to identify successes, strengths, lapses and blind spots.”
He added, “All countries need to take a serious look at their systems and practices in anticipation of the next pandemic, as indeed Singapore will be doing.”
Mr Goh also expressed his sadness that there aren’t any global leadership in handling COVID-19 now.
“I hope there will be coordinated global leadership right from the start when the next pandemic comes around. Tackling transboundary issues requires cooperation amongst all countries,” he noted.
As of now, the highly contagious coronavirus has infected over 3.7 million people and killed more than 257 thousand individuals worldwide.
On the local front, the Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed another 788 new cases of the virus today, bringing the total number in the country to 20, 198. This latest figure makes Singapore the country with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, where majority of its cases are concentrated in overcrowded migrant worker dormitories.
Just two days ago (4 May), National Development Minister Lawrence Wong re-emphasised that Singapore will review its response to the pandemic, exactly like what it did with other pandemics including SARS.
He said this as a reply to suggestions put forward by Nominated Members of Parliament Walter Theseira and Anthea Ong. They asked for an inquiry to review the reason of the outbreak at migrant worker dormitories.
However, Mr Wong said that the priority right now is to bring the outbreak under control within the local community and dormitories, emphasising that the Government is “now still in the heat of battle”.
“At the right time, we will comprehensively review this pandemic and our responses — not just the outbreak in the dormitories, but the entire crisis from start to end and our overall response, and we will seek to learn and improve,” he remarked.
He continued, “I have no doubt that we will find many things where we could have done better, and many changes that we should make to be better prepared the next time.”
New Zealand won the war against COVID-19
Although most countries are scrambling frantically to bring the number of COVID-19 infection among its citizens down, New Zealand managed to reach its goal of eliminating the virus after recording zero new cases for two consecutive days today.
In fact, a survey by Stickybeak for the public relations industry news site Provoke revealed that New Zealand, among other countries, was picked to have the most impressive response to the virus. It received slightly over 20 per cent of votes among 289 respondents in the PR industry, much ahead of Germany with 16.5 per cent and Singapore with 9 per cent.
The former regional boss of PR giant Edelman and co-founder of the survey company Stickybeak, David Brain, highlighted that communications was the fundamental part to effective national responses to the pandemic.
“Having the right policy is a great first step of course, but if you cannot carry the country and get understanding and compliance it just won’t work,” he stated.
“Much of that is to do with Jacinda Ardern’s personal style and empathy and the calm and rational presentations of Dr Ashley Bloomfield, but it also takes a great communications team. The daily detailed briefings were exactly the right thing to do,” he added.
If that’s not all, Mr Brain also said the alert level system has also proved to be a crucial part of the strategy.
“The early setting out of the four alert levels, linked to the progress of the virus and the restrictions that each level would entail, set expectations at the beginning and have given people a framework for thinking about how their futures might look and feel. Very few countries have done that, which is one of the reasons why other governments have found it so much harder to manage expectations and get and maintain compliance to restrictions,” he noted.
“She has speechwriters who have helped her find the right tone and simplicity of message and strategists who have tested the best ways to present the dilemma we face and the joint actions that are required to combat it. That is advanced leadership and government,” he added.
Correction on 6 May: The death toll mentioned in the article has been corrected to the right figure.