The Ministry of Health (MOH) should not only report figures of new infections in its daily updates, but also include other markers, such as the Risk Index, to give members of the public a “more holistic view” of the current COVID-19 situation in Singapore, said The Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) for Aljunied GRC Gerald Giam.
Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday (27 July), Mr Giam noted that the index could weigh various factors including the vaccination rate, hospitalisation rate, positivity rate of testing, contact tracing efficiency, new infections per 100,000 people, and the infection risk in other countries, among others.
“This will require some calculations and intelligent assumptions by experts to produce a single daily number that the public can more easily digest. It should be a leading indicator, rather than a lagging one,” he argued.
Mr Giam said that he is not suggesting that the multi-ministry task force (MTF) should be bound by the Risk Index when deciding on policies.
“However, this Index can serve as a guide to both policymakers and the public to understand the current risk levels and adapt accordingly,” he explained.
Mr Giam went on to say that an “objective, science-based” COVID-19 Risk Index will provide assurance to the public that the safety management measures (SMMs) imposed by the Government are appropriate for the given risk levels.
“This would secure more buy-in from the public and result in greater voluntary compliance with SMMs,” he justified.
Voluntary compliance is key in our battle against the virus
In his speech, Mr Giam also asserted that “voluntary compliance” is key in the battle against the virus, as demonstrated by the KTV cluster outbreak, which he claimed was “most likely caused by a wilful disregard of social distancing regulations”.
“No amount of rules and fines will stop people from engaging in risky activities behind closed doors if they aren’t convinced of the risks,” he stressed.
According to Mr Giam, there are not many countries around the world that have come up with a COVID-19 Risk Index which is both accurate and widely understood by the public.
“Singapore has an opportunity to lead the way in this respect,” he remarked, adding that he hopes the Government will consider this proposal.
Vaccine hesitancy among small minority of population is rather worrying
The WP MP also brought up the issue of vaccine hesitancy among a small minority of Singapore’s population, saying that it is “rather worrying”.
“During my estate walkabouts and house visits, I make it a point to ask residents, especially the elderly, if they have gotten their vaccinations, and encourage those who haven’t, to do so soon for their own protection. Thankfully, most residents assure me that they have gotten their jabs.
“However, I find vaccine hesitancy among a small minority of the population rather worrying. Based on the reasons they articulate, it appears that a lot of their understanding about vaccinations is fuelled by confusing information they receive from friends through private messaging platforms. I myself receive a daily stream of such messages from friends and residents,” he shared.
Mr Giam stated that the situation is more complicated than just scientific arguments for or against vaccinations.
Instead of politicians fronting the public education campaign for vaccinations, he asserted that more can be done to “amplify the voice of independent medical experts” in order to lay out the facts and allay the public’s fears.
Other experts in business, international relations, and culture also have a role to play in addressing misinformation about vaccines, Mr Giam added.
“This must be done soon, before the window of opportunity to change minds closes. Once news about large COVID clusters fades from the headlines, the impetus to get vaccinated will decrease,” he concluded.