Workers’ Party MPs highlight apparent lack of clarity on COVID-19 restrictions and regulations, call for Govt to reassess response to pandemic

The Government should reassess its response to the COVID-19 pandemic in light of the lack of clarity experienced by certain citizens and businesses regarding the temporary measures and restrictions, said Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh.

Mr Singh, who is a Member of Parliament (MP) for Aljunied GRC, told Parliament on Friday (5 June) that certain Singaporeans have perceived the Government’s handling of the public health crisis as being lacking in “clarity and decisiveness” — elements which are usually associated with the government.

Speaking during the second day of the debate on the supplementary Fortitude Budget, Mr Singh juxtaposed the two-person limit on visiting one’s parents and grandparents with the lifting of safe distancing rules on public transport, which are conveyed through “piecemeal announcements, U-turns and positions that did not gel intuitively”.

“This morning, The Straits Times carried a story on COVID-19 regulations. It compared hair treatments that can go on for hours contrasted with directives that prohibit certain beauty treatments that last more than 30 minutes.

“For some Singaporean businesses, at times it felt as if no one in government was taking ownership of how COVID-19 directives would be perceived, interpreted and understood on the ground,” Mr Singh added.

While he acknowledged that WP is of the view that politics should be placed aside in handling the COVID-19 situation in Singapore, Mr Singh said that the party’s “position as a constructive opposition requires us to communicate the feelings of Singaporeans on the ground in Parliament”.

Non-constituency MP Leon Perera, who is from the same party, similarly criticised the lack of clarity surrounding COVID-19 rules, stating that frequently changing regulations may result in “rules fatigue or cynicism towards rule compliance”.

“Would it not have been more efficient for the exceptions and caveats to rules to have been announced at the same time?” Mr Perera asked.

“On 21 April, when the tighter circuit breaker or TCB measures were announced, the press release said outlet-based confectionary operations had to be suspended from 2359 hours on 21 April. But those selling mainly bread could continue.

“What followed was some confusion as those selling mainly cakes tried to find out what they could do. It was clarified that they could sell their inventory of cakes but not bake new ones. Some bakeries, such as one making mainly croissants, had to clarify how the rules applied to them.

“In late April. it was announced that exercising and dog walking was not permitted within the common areas of condominiums. One letter writer to TODAY on 30 April mentioned that “to access public spaces, dogs would have to traverse the common condominium grounds, thus rendering the rule moot in practice”.

“Such a rule may have also had the effect of condo dog owners then crowding in adjacent pathways by the road, HDB or landed common areas or parks,” Mr Perera illustrated.

While he praised the intent behind such “finely calibrated and frequently revised rules was good”, Mr Perera said that “the technocratic zeal has been tempered by an appreciation that the capacity of society to adapt to so many frequently changing rules is not unlimited”.

Mr Perera questioned if the Government has considered an alternative approach, which is “to calibrate this a little less finely and with a broader brush” and “allowing most establishments to open, maybe with the exception of those which pose the most extreme risk”.

“But every establishment would be tasked to practise safe distancing, masking and other precautions,” he added.

Separately, Mr Perera noted that the availability of too many relief schemes may heighten the confusion among those eligible for such schemes, “leading to underutilisation or other side effects”.

“The more complex the whole system becomes, the more resources need to go into the work of explaining, sifting through and helping people or firms to apply for these schemes,” said Mr Perera.

Mr Perera proposed setting up a one-stop portal through which applicants could find information on the various schemes in one place. He added that instead of creating new schemes, existing schemes should be streamlined and enhanced.

Yesterday (4 June), Minister of National Development Lawrence Wong told Parliament that the Government will review its response to the pandemic, adding that the Government will continue accepting suggestions for improvement in managing crises such as COVID-19.

“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,” said Mr Wong.

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