National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Thursday (25 June) that Singapore will not lower its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) Orange level for some time as the “fight is far from over”.
Speaking at a virtual press conference on Thursday, Mr Wong – who chairs the multi-ministry taskforce in tackling the COVID-19 outbreak – noted that the virus has not been eradicated and people are still getting infected.
“We really need to understand, the fight is far from over. There is still a long way more to go,” he remarked.
Singapore raised its DORSCON level to Orange on 7 February, after several local COVID-19 cases reportedly had no links to previous cases or travel history to China – the epicentre of the virus then.
DORSCON is a colour-coded framework that shows the current disease situation, Orange indicates the disease is severe but it has not spread widely and is being contained.
Despite the country having commenced Phase Two of the post-circuit breaker period on 19 June and has resumed most activities, its DORSCON level has yet to be lowered.
“Of course it’s easy to get into this sense that we have just overcome a major wave of infection and the situation is stabilising, reopening is happening, dorms are being cleared, the sense of relief is quite palpable,” said Mr Wong.
Though such behaviour is understandable, the Minister cautioned that the virus is “still circulating” and requires “vigilance”.
“Something can flare up in a group, in an activity without our realising it until it’s down the road and many, many cases have formed. So that’s something that constantly worries us,” he added.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who was also present in the virtual press conference, reiterated the need to stay vigilant. He added that the relaxing measures under Phase Two do not mean things are safer now.
“It’s not an overall reduction of risk level and vigilance, but more a balancing approach by allowing more activities to resume but at the same time tightening our measures.
For example, the expansion of surveillance, our testing is actually in a way stepping up our vigilance in monitoring the situation. So we should not think about changing the DORSCON colour yet,” Mr Gan stated.
Singapore’s COVID-19 situation has met all the criteria for DORSCON Red, but Govt never raised it
When Singapore’s COVID-19 cases spiked to hundreds of cases per day and the Government imposed the circuit breaker measures to contain the virus, there were factors indicating that the nation was heading towards DORSCON Red.
Based on the DORSCON Alert Levels framework by the Ministry of Health (MOH), Red signifies the disease is severe and spreading widely. In this stage, major disruption will occur such as school closures, work from home orders, and the country will see a “significant” number of deaths.
On 31 March, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo had urged employers to allow their employees to work from home as far as reasonably practicable or risk being penalised.
This comes under the latest amendments to the Infectious Diseases Act – which was published in the Government Gazette on 2 April – stating that every company must provide facilities that are necessary for their employees to telecommute during the circuit breaker.
While on 3 April, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced all primary, secondary, junior college and Institutes of Higher Learning (IHL) students, as well as preschools, will be closed for a month. Schools shifted to fully home-based learning (HBL) until the end of the month.
Additionally, on 14 February, Mr Wong said that the COVID-19 crisis would have to be worse than the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis in 2003.
“When you look at the framework today, if you were to apply that framework in the SARS situation, it would have been an Orange during SARS. For it to be Red, it would have to be worse than SARS,” he asserted.
In comparison, Singapore has reported a higher number of COVID-19 cases with 42,736 total cases so far, and only reported 238 cases from the SARS outbreak.
In terms of death toll, the country recorded 33 deaths from the SARS outbreak, and 26 deaths from the COVID-19 outbreak at the time of writing.
All these indicate that the COVID-19 situation in Singapore has met all the criteria to call for DORSCON Red, but the Government never raised the DORSCON level.
In fact, Mr Gan had also clarified on 14 February that the country will not go to DORSCON Red.
“I want to say categorically that we have no plans to go to DORSCON red. So please help me stop these rumours going forward, so that we can focus our efforts on dealing with our patients, and support them,” he said.
Given that the Prime Minister has dissolved the Parliament in the midst of the pandemic, the intention of holding the general election (GE) now is most likely the reason why the Government held back from raising the DORSCON level to Red.