by Cheang Kok Ming
Singapore reported 741 new COVID-19 cases at noon on Thursday (7 May), taking the country’s total to 20,939.
The vast majority of the new cases are work permit holders residing in foreign worker (FW) dormitories, said the Ministry of Health in its daily update of preliminary figures.
It is obvious that the public reporting is trying to divert attention of the seriousness of the rising infections to the FWs. Are infections in the FW dormitories different from local community infections?
It should be clear that the 10-member Multi-Ministry Taskforce has failed Singapore in not being able to stem the spread of the Coronavirus in the city state of 5.7m people from late Jan till today. They owe all Singaporeans and residents an apology.
With no medical doctor with infectious diseases specialization in the Taskforce, why didn’t the two co-chairman Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and National Development Minister think of mobilizing qualified infectious diseases specialists from the public and private Medical Service sector to help them to put up appropriate measures to contain the virus spread at an early stage? The local medical community is not short of such expertise.
Probably, the Taskforce was meant to be a showcase of 4G leaders put in charge to handle a national crisis with the advantage of the SARS experience and prepare them for the coming Election.
Straits Times (ST) reports back in January about political observers saying that how Singapore’s fourth-generation (4G) leaders handle the Wuhan virus could prove to be the first major test of their teamwork.
So why the need to share the glory of success with others outside the closed circle?
While the People’s Action Party (PAP) politicians in the Taskforce are quick to accept any accolades bestowed on Singapore in the early days of the pandemic, they are slow in admitting their failure in the task. Also, don’t expect them to say “sorry” as it is not their political culture.
So the deployment of medial experts came very late. It was only on 22 April that the infectious diseases medical specialists were brought into action through a panel discussion hosted by ST.
For the first time, we heard their views about COVID-19:
Prof Dale Fisher, Senior infectious diseases expert at National University Hospital (NUH):
“I’m learning that this virus is really smart.”
“It can find our blind spots, it can find vulnerable people, it can find areas where there’s high transmission, despite our efforts.”
Prof Leo Yee Sin, executive director of NCID in Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH):
“While SG learnt from dealing with SARS in 2003, no two outbreaks were alike.”
“This is very, very different from SARS,” she said, pointing to differences in terms of the scale of infections and the way the disease manifested in patients.
“This is a very smart virus, it will find ways to remain in the human population. So it’s not a simple virus for us to deal with. There is human-to-human transmission, it can transmit when we are not aware.”
Prof Tan Chorh Chuan, Ministry of Health’s Chief Health Scientist who led the public health response to the SARS outbreak in 2003, was interviewed by ST on 30 Apr and he said “this Coronavirus is trickier to deal with than SARS.” Why wasn’t he allowed to speak up earlier?
Are the Taskforce politicians aware that the Coronavirus is a very smart virus in Feb or Mar? Has this virus out-smarted them and hence they were slow and late in implementing its form of a lockdown — also known to us as the Circuit Breaker (CB), even later than Malaysia?
Now, Malaysia requires entry permit for their own citizens to return home from Singapore, limiting only 400 per day.
Weak leaders don’t know their own inadequacies and lack of expertise in handling this virus pandemic to keep the people safe? They believe too much in themselves.
Frankly, I am still puzzled how the entire Taskforce comprising PAP politicians and in particular, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, could all miss the “ Elephant in the Room”, particularly on the fact that over 300,000 FWs lives in 43 purpose-built dormitories and over 1000 other accommodations throughout Singapore, in crowded and congested environments and in not the most hygienic conditions, a perfect breeding ground for any infectious disease?
Are they weak leaders as they seem to miss even the most obvious in front of their eyes?
How did other countries, with bigger populations like China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong (and Macau), Vietnam and even New Zealand manage to contain the virus spread and now gradually re-opening their workplaces, schools and industries and loosening up social distancing measures so that their countries can soon return to normalcy?
Is it because of their leaders such as President Moon Jae-in of South Korea whose stunning election victory was an endorsement of his firm leadership in handling COVID-19 and New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Arden who “declares victory against spread of virus” and also ordered a 20 per cent pay cut for all her ministers and herself for the next six months?
The COVID-19 pandemic exposes the social divisions within local families and their school-going children. Education Minister Ong Ye Kung must have his reasons for resisting the closure of all schools and institutes of higher learning until after a one-day trial run of Home-based Learning that he dared to order the closure on 8 Apr to 4 May.
“With schools closed and online learning in full swing, fault lines in the digital space have begun to emerge in the harsh light of the pandemic,” highlighted in an article, “How home-based learning shows up inequality in Singapore-a look at three homes,”.
According to Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah, “schools have loaned more than 20,000 computing devices and 1,600 internet enabling devices to date.” Much has been said of the help given to the lower 10-20 per cent of Singapore’s society but we know the the real issues of social inequality are not solidly addressed over the last few decades resulting in social divides in the student population.
This points back to the weak leadership of PAP politicians entrusted with the responsibilities of uplifting society and making sure that “no one is left behind”, a nice sounding narrative that is hollow to the less endowed families and their children. Stronger leaders would have fixed this social problem long ago.
The PAP politicians in the Taskforce must be thinking long and hard on how and when to dismantle the CB and resume all the economic activities as many other countries which imposed strict lockdown measures have started to open-up and return to normal gradually.
I really hope these PAP politicians won’t follow suit so quickly because Singapore was one of the last countries to go into any form of restrictions and I doubt they can really manage the pandemic if there is a sudden flare-up from the dormitories to the local community.
Don’t forget, “the spaces they now live in are within our communities: HDB blocks in Jurong and Bukit Merah, Northshore Primary School in Punggol, as well as the former Anderson Junior College hostel in Ang Mo Kio.”
With the passing of the Parliamentary Elections (COVID-19 Special Arrangements) bill into law, we should expect the PAP politicians to be going into Election mode. If “political opportunism” matters more than public health and an Election will indeed be called soon, COIVD-19 could well be their “Waterloo.”
This is the opinion of a Pioneer Citizen.