by Yeoh Lam Keong
While caught up in the unnecessary immediate distraction of a poorly timed General Election, we should not take our eyes off the more important medium term ball of the COVID-19 pandemic management.
This is especially important to reconsider now as much of the unemployment, bankruptcies, and prolonged stagnation is slow to replace external demand as well as dangers of infection resurgence from re-opening the economy still lies ahead of us in the coming critical months.
I’m no infectious disease expert but the following are my broad personal thoughts on how we can better navigate the tricky balance between public health and the economy in the post lockdown world, given where we are today.
First, on overall COVID-19 management, I think we should learn from Taiwan how they managed to reduce infection incidence and prevent resurgence with minimal disruption to the economy largely through strict mask use, social distancing, and contact tracing.
We should be humble enough to really closely examine how they made it work, including asking them for help and advice. This is especially useful as we attempt to open the economy and control any likely resurgence while remaining open.
Second, we need to focus on how to control the infection in the foreign worker and low-wage worker community both inside and outside the dorms.
The former is a huge transient community living in close proximity and vital to the economy. We cannot really control community spread or recover fully without solving this problem. This is not being sufficiently thought through.
We also need to give more serious and compassionate consideration on how we give continued support to the absolute poor many of whom live in crowded rental housing and particularly susceptible to infection due to nature of essential service jobs and living conditions.
Here, urgently raising the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) and Silver Support Scheme (SSS) cash payout rates significantly by $500-600 a month as well as introducing a basic unemployment protection system – especially for the poor – will be very important to alleviate widespread suffering in the period immediately ahead and beyond.
Third, we need to be more focused on helping our smaller SMEs who employ half our workforce survive this prolonged period of weak demand. I have written an article on Academia.SG together with Donald Low, Manu Bhaskaran, and Tan Kim Song that goes into this in more detail.
Finally, we should give a good epidemiologist or infectious disease expert like Dr Paul Tambyah greater say and control of our overall anti-COVID-19 policy and measures, including the timing of mass events that clearly pose a public health risk like General Election.