Lim Jialiang: Government’s failure to provide “accountability-adverse stance” towards COVID-19 makes it hard for public to accept multiple lockdowns imposed

Beer distributor and former chocolatier, Lim Jialiang, took to Facebook on Thursday (22 July) to express that the people of Singapore are finding it hard to accept the imposition of multiple lockdowns here due to the Government’s failure to provide accountability-adverse stance towards COVID-19.

“The problem with the Singapore government and the Multi-task Force, is not, as Bloomberg and foreign press charge, their risk-adverse stance towards COVID-19. It’s their accountability-adverse stance towards it that makes it difficult for people to buy in to the succeeding waves of lockdowns that we now face,” the regular social commentator said.

Just two days ago (20 July), the Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) announced that it will rollback the country’s control measures to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) due to the growing number of COVID-19 community cases.

Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) kick starts from Thursday (22 July) through 18 August 2021 and will supersede those that were introduced on 19 July 2021.

In an attempt to explain how the Government is moving back and forth in its COVID-19 measures, Mr Lim started off by spelling out how contagious and virulent is the Delta variant.

He stated that the variant was first detected in India and became prominent in the country as it began spreading furiously and swiftly, adding that most of the cases reported in neighbouring countries are the result of this notorious variant.

“It is pretty clear at this stage that the Delta variant’s transmissibility, virulence, are something that will be a game-changer and will make zero-COVID pursuits a pipe dream, even in a country like Singapore,” he said.

He added, “Some of its features include increased transmissibility. When the original virus will probably infect about 2 to 2.5 people, the delta variant is easily a 3 to 6, a bit like an IP Man 我要打十个 kind of version.”

Additionally, he also pointed out that people also tend to have a high viral load when infected with this particular variant, resulting in them becoming ill quicker and transmitting the virus at a much faster pace to others, especially those who have not been vaccinated.

However, the good news is that most vaccines, particularly mRNA ones, are still able to fight off the Delta variant, said the beer distributor.

But, the vaccines only work if an individuals have received both doses, adding that inactivated virus vaccines like Sinovac and Sinopharm are not looking promising in real life tests.

“Thailand is giving mRNA booster shots to its healthcare workers and looking to mix vaccines, Indonesia is looking at doing the same and recently secured about 50mil BioNTech doses. Malaysia is completely scrapping the rollout of Sinovac after they finish their current 16 million doses, and is looking to purchase more mRNA vaccines,” he elaborated.

Sadly, these vaccines are the ones that most countries have, Mr Lim said.

“But the main point here is that vaccine rollouts in an epidemic is not really to eradicate the virus completely, but rather to reduce adverse outcomes like serious illness and death”, he said.

“It means that Singapore, whilst in a much better condition that most other places, will need to apply vigilance at any point of entry.”

Blindsided by Jurong Fish Port and KTV clusters

While Singapore was doing relatively well in its fight against COVID-19, but it got “blindsided” in its handling of the fish port, said the former chocolatier.

The Jurong Fishery Port has been declared as the largest active cluster in the country now, with 454 cases recorded as of Wednesday (21 July).

According to him, the current surge of COVID-19 positive cases in Indonesia was due to the Delta variant, and the country doesn’t have the luxury to do sequencing for all its cases. However, for the scant little that has been sequenced in Indonesia, almost 90 percent of it are from Delta variant.

As such, Mr Lim noted that fishermen who were at the port may be asymptomatic or suffering from mild symptoms, and they could have infected Singapore fishery port workers when the goods are being transferred.

“So knowing what we know, in an labour-intensive, loose mask regulation environment, with boats manned by fishermen that are probably young and either suffering from asymptomatic or mild illnesses, that means that the interactions there meant that some of the fishery port workers were definitely infected as a result of this input,” he said.

He added that Singapore showed some level of vigilance in importing goods from Malaysia as most lorry drivers as well as labourers entering the country’s borders were required to be either vaccinated or have to do an entry ART test.

However, Mr Lim opined that this is a “cock-up” as there need to be more clarity on why the Jurong Fishery Port has become a cluster in Singapore.

“I hope that someone asks about the procedures in our fishery ports and what kind of measures will be taken to prevent another outbreak like this in the future,” he said.

Mr Lim went on to stress that the KTV cluster is the consequence of the fishery ports, and not the cause of it.

“I am heartened to seeing Ong Ye Kung come out to say as much. It’s really good content, but I think people should start to wind down the accusations that horny men caused this.

“Whilst pithy and funny, it will not allow us to make the right policy interventions. Accountability needs to be made on the loose control of our fishery ports. It being “difficult” to manage is not a sufficient response policy-wise,” he said.

As of Wednesday, there are 215 cases linked to the KTV cluster, making it the second largest active cluster in the country after Jurong Fishery Port.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung has also clarified that Singapore’s return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) was due to the growing cluster at Jurong Fishery Port, and not the KTV cluster.

He explained that given the gravity of the Jurong Fishery Port cluster, the Government felt that it is not the “time to risk it all now” as “we are at risk of an uncontrollable rise in cases”.

“Like everyone, I am upset with the irresponsible behaviour of people in the KTV cluster, but it is not the reason for the reversion to Phase 2 (HA),” he said.

He continued, “Unfortunately, while our fishmongers and stall assistants were going about earning an honest living, they got infected at the Port.”

“As they went to work at various markets around the island, many more cases in the community were seeded.”

“The selling of a lockdown is a political project, more than a public health one”

Mr Lim noted that returning back to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) is a good call by Mr Ong and MTF as not doing so will burden the country’s healthcare system.

But Singapore’s inability to look at the issue squarely and admit there is an oversight is resulting in a problem where everyone looks to “scapegoating” or sharing out the blame on vulnerable communities.

“There are multiple layers of failure – on regulation, on border control. Is it necessarily their fault? No lah, of course not. But leadership is not about accepting mistakes are made, admitting them, and then creating a space for moving forward and fixing the problems we see,” he said.

Pointing to this, Mr Lim said this is where one can see “the failure of the political imaginations of the 4G leadership” as the “selling of a lockdown is a political project, more than a public health one”.

“Once we reach the 80% vaccination threshold, that this lockdown is buying time for, the 4G will have to start thinking about what an endemic COVID-19 will entail, so that Singaporeans can start to accept what it truly means to live with the Delta Variant. I hope they can sell that political project better than what we see now,” he concluded.

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