Statement by Red Dot United
Just five and a half months after making steady progress to move to Phase 3 of our gradual reopening, we are again staring at another very restrictive set of movement control measures. This is very disappointing, especially since the majority of those that live and work in Singapore have cooperated with every directive of the Government’s Multi-Ministry Task Force (MTF), despite its high pressures on our social lives and personal comforts.
QUICK TO REOPEN BORDERS
With the announcement of moving to Phase 3 in October last year, the MTF quickly recommended to reopen borders arguing that “as a key international and travel hub, Singapore cannot keep our borders closed and needs to gradually allow more travel to resume safely.”[i] And as the MTF took its “calculated risk-based approach”[ii] in opening up our borders and keeping it opened even for travelers from higher-risk regions, a pattern of local unlinked cases emerged and persisted, leading to Singapore having to slide back to Phase 2 of the Circuit Breaker from 16 May.
We have to ask if those that live and work here could have been better protected if the MTF had better calibrated its border opening.
CHANGI AIRPORT THE LARGEST COVID-19 CLUSTER
Changi Airport has now become the largest COVID-19 cluster with 46 confirmed cases as at 14 May. Most of those infected are airport workers (or their household contacts), and these workers had mainly been working in one zone that had received travellers from higher-risk regions.
The outgoing Transport Minister said yesterday that the more virulent mutant virus ‘broke through’ Changi Airport’s defence. He added, “From that zone (which received travellers from higher-risk regions), workers go (to) have their meals at the Terminal 3 Basement 2 commercial area and food court, and we suspect that, from there, it transmitted to members of the public who visited the place.”
He said of these airport workers in his Facebook, “They know they are in harm’s way. But I see in them resilience, sense of duty, and pride.”[iii]
But who put them in harm’s way in the first place?
HIGHER RISK APPETITE HAS CONSEQUENCES FOR SOCIETY
In January and February this year, when concerned people were pointing out that imported cases were several times higher than local ones[iv] and were asking if there is a possibility of another surge in cases if these imported cases cross-contaminate with locals[v], the MTF insisted that closing borders, even to higher-risk regions, will impact the economy.
When the same issue of closing borders to higher-risk regions was raised in Parliament, the Government responded that “international connectivity is critical to our economy and survival, (and that) Singapore can ill afford to close ourselves off fully from the rest of the world.”[vi]
There is a wide spectrum between freely opening up our borders and closing ourselves completely from the world by stopping all flights or ships from coming to Singapore. It appears that in its “calculated risk-based approach”, the MTF had a higher risk appetite than necessary and that its needle was pointing more towards the economy than the well-being of its people.
WHAT IS THE MATRIX OF MTF’s RISK-BASED APPROACH?
Going forward, Red Dot United (RDU) calls on the MTF to be more transparent to the people of Singapore about its “calculated risk-based approach”. Tell us plainly how the risk is calculated. Give us a list of criteria and the weightage of each criterion that are in this approach adopted by the MTF.
Mr Ravi Philemon, secretary-general of RDU, said: “While other countries with very low or zero cases, like Australia, were being reluctant in opening up their borders for fear of their capacities to manage imported cases and were acting in a very risk averse manner, the MTF seemed less concerned about uncontrolled transmission from imported cases.”
“Is the risk of looser border restrictions, even with higher-risk regions, worth the economic benefits it brought?” he asked.
At the end of the day, it is the people and the local businesses that will have to needlessly suffer because of another movement control measure which will last for about a month, at least until June 13.
DO MORE FOR THE PEOPLE AND FOR OUR LOCAL BUSINESSES
There are many small businesses which started operations after Phase 3 was announced. Gymnasiums that opened-up, new F&B outlets and retail shops; how can they cope with the loss of income?
Lockdowns are especially difficult for the elderly and for the people with disabilities. We have heard many stories of how these groups of people suffered mental anguish the most when the Circuit Breaker was abruptly announced last year. We hope better arrangements have been made for these more vulnerable groups of people in this lockdown season.
Last year during the Circuit Breaker period, the Government rolled out COVID cash relief schemes and the Job Support Scheme to cushion the blow of lockdown measures. Now that we are entering lockdown-lite, we hope that the Government will roll out sufficient support for people and local businesses who are grappling with the restrictions.