Singapore: Singapore will have to change its urban plans as working from home, staggered office hours and other flexible arrangements become the norm following the coronavirus pandemic, said one of the city’s leaders.
Office and building designs will need to be modified to improve ventilation and air filtering given the risk of transmission is greater in enclosed spaces, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in a televised address on Tuesday. Features like automatic doors, stations for hand sanitizer and temperature monitoring should be standard practice, he said.
“Covid-19 has precipitated a shift toward more flexible work arrangements,” said Wong, who co-chairs a ministerial task force to tackle the virus. Singapore has “to change the way we live and work.”
With infections surging past 38,000, Singapore has one of the highest reported tallies in Asia. To contain the spread, the government has adopted a cautious reopening approach following a two-month lockdown, with more measures possibly eased later this month. At the same time, it’s spending S$93 billion ($66.7 billion), or 20% of gross domestic product, to cushion the economic impact.
Wong’s address is among a string of speeches delivered and planned by the nation’s leaders amid an impending general election. On Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned that Singapore will have to prepare for a future unlike the one before the pandemic.
Singapore is banking on aggressive testing and contact tracing to curb the virus. Having scaled up from 2,000 tests a day to about 13,000 now, the government is using serology tests, procuring more kits and building laboratory capacity. The nation is on track to conduct 40,000 tests a day in the coming months, Wong said.
The first batch of portable contact tracing devices are expected to be delivered to people in the latter half of this month. Military and police have also been roped in as authorities expand contact tracing teams.
Among other detection measures, authorities are extracting waste water from manholes to test for viral fragments. The method may indicate if a specific group, such as those living in a dormitory, has infected people among them, Wong said.
A vaccine is an important part of a long-term solution, with Singapore joining a global effort to develop one, Wong said. The government is discussing with pharmaceutical companies to manufacture vaccines in the country.
“If and when a vaccine becomes available, we will make sure that every Singaporean who needs it gets it, and at an affordable price,” he said. It will take a long time for a vaccine to be ready and available for mass distribution, he cautioned.
“We have to be realistic and gird ourselves for more challenging times. It is not likely that the virus will go away,” Wong said. “Our population will be vulnerable for a long time, in a world where Covid-19 is all around us.” – Bloomberg