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Covid-19 situation remains under control in Singapore, with Govt planning ahead for more stringent measures: PM Lee

SINGAPORE — While Singapore will remain in the current “high-risk state for some time to come”, as the Covid-19 pandemic worsens around the world, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has stressed that the situation here “remains under control”.

Covid-19 situation remains under control in Singapore, with Govt planning ahead for more stringent measures: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the recording of his remarks on the Covid-19 outbreak.

SINGAPORE — While Singapore will remain in the current “high-risk state for some time to come”, as the Covid-19 pandemic worsens around the world, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has stressed that the situation here “remains under control”.

“We are not going to Dorscon Red. We are not locking down our city like the Chinese, South Koreans or Italians have done,” he said, referring to the Singapore authorities’ risk assessment alert level which now stands at Orange.

Speaking in a recorded message on Thursday (March 12), Mr Lee said that the Government is planning ahead for more stringent measures which will be tried out in preparation for actual implementation when necessary.

These include temporary “additional social distancing measures” such as suspending school, staggering work hours, or compulsory telecommuting.

“They will be extra ‘brakes’, to be implemented when we see a spike in cases. The extra brakes will slow down transmission of the virus, prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed, and help bring the numbers back down,” he said. “After the situation improves, we can ease off and go back to the baseline precautions.”

Mr Lee was giving an update on the Covid-19 outbreak in Singapore, following the World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic

This was the second update by Mr Lee on the coronavirus situation.

The first was a recorded message which was televised on Feb 8, a day after Singapore raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) alert level to Orange.

In the earlier message, Mr Lee said, among other things, that if the number of cases keeps growing and the fatality rate remains low as it does for influenza, Singapore will have to reconsider its strategy at some point to allow hospitals to focus on the most vulnerable patients. 

On Thursday, Mr Lee noted that “much has happened since” his first update five weeks ago. “So it is timely to update you again and share with you what we can expect down the road,” he said.

On the medical front, the authorities continue to see new cases here.

“Most either have travelled overseas, or can be traced to imported cases. Each time we have been able to isolate them, do contact tracing, and quarantine the close contacts,” Mr Lee said. “So our numbers have not blown up. But neither have we been able to eradicate the virus, despite our best efforts.”

At the same time, the number of cases around the world is rising rapidly. Mr Lee noted that China’s situation is stabilising but new cases are emerging all over the world — in Europe, America and the Middle East.

“Globally, the number of cases is doubling every five to seven days. Hence today, the WHO declared Covid-19 to be a pandemic,” Mr Lee said.

He said that WHO’s assessment was that many countries will see full-blown outbreaks, with sustained community transmission, “like what has happened in South Korea and Italy”.

“And unlike Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome), this outbreak will continue for some time — a year, and maybe longer,” Mr Lee said.

He pointed out that WHO has highlighted the “alarming levels of inaction” by many countries as a key reason for the rapid spread of Covid-19.

“Here in Singapore, we have all along taken Covid-19 with the utmost seriousness. In fact, WHO praised our efforts and held Singapore up as an example to emulate,” Mr Lee said.

At the same time, Singapore faces a serious situation as well, he reiterated.

“We expect more imported cases, and therefore new clusters and new waves of infection, this time coming from many countries rather than one or two,” he said.

“We have already imposed some travel restrictions, for example, for China, Iran, South Korea, Italy. We will have to tighten up further temporarily, though we cannot completely shut ourselves off from the world.”

WHAT ELSE SINGAPORE NEEDS TO DO

On what else Singapore needs to do, Mr Lee said that since Covid-19 “will be with us for a long time, there are baseline things that we must get used to”.

These include “practising good personal hygiene, adopting new social norms and discouraging large gatherings, and generally, maintaining some physical distance from one another”.

The authorities have already scaled down community activities, especially for the seniors.

He added: “We can do more in other areas. For example, at religious gatherings. In South Korea, the cases spread through the Shincheonji church group. In Singapore, two of our big clusters happened in church groups. And several Singaporeans who attended a big international religious gathering, a tabligh gathering, in Kuala Lumpur recently have caught the virus.

“The issue is, of course, not religion itself, but that the virus can spread quickly to many people in crowded settings, like religious gatherings and services. That is why Saudi Arabia temporarily stopped umrah pilgrimages; and the Pope livestreamed his sermons to avoid crowds on Saint Peter’s Square (in Vatican City). I hope Singaporeans understand that during this period, we may need to shorten religious services or reduce our attendance at such gatherings.”

Mr Lee also said that Singapore needs to plan for a possible spike in Covid-19 cases.

“With very large numbers, if it happens, we will not be able to hospitalise and isolate every case like we do now.”

Given that 80 per cent of patients experience just mild symptoms, those who are most at risk are the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure or lung problems, he said.

“So with larger numbers, the sensible thing will be to hospitalise only the more serious cases, and encourage those with mild symptoms to see their family general practitioner and rest at home – isolate themselves,” he added.

“This way, we focus resources on the seriously ill, speed up our response time and, hopefully, minimise the number of fatalities.”

In the meantime, the Government is freeing up intensive care units and hospital beds and facilities, to create a larger capacity to meet any surge in infections.

“But rest assured, any Singaporean who needs urgent medical care, whether for Covid-19 or other illnesses, will be taken care of,” Mr Lee said.

Turning to the economy, Mr Lee said that this was a major concern for the Government.

“Our economy is taking a big hit. That is why we did the S$4 billion Support and Stabilisation Package in the Budget last month to help businesses, workers and households tide over the immediate period.” 

While this has helped, the Government knew it may have to do more. So, it is working on a second package of measures. “We will help our companies with their costs and cash flow, to keep them afloat through the storm,” he said.

“We will help our workers keep their jobs, and retrain during their downtime, so that when things return to normal, our workers will be the first out of the gate and immediately productive.

"And we will give those who are retrenched and unemployed, as well as their families, an extra helping hand to see through this difficult period.”

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Lee Hsien Loong Covid-19 coronavirus

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