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Why Singapore isn’t in a coronavirus lockdown — as told by a doctor of the country

Singapore has had 266 total cases with zero deaths, and its infection rate is much slower than the rest of the world. This is how we did it.

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Singapore’s response to the coronavirus has been held up by many around the world as a model. As of this week, the country has had 266 total cases (with zero deaths), and its infection rate is much slower than the rest of the world.

The first thing that helped with its response was it was ready before the outbreak even occurred because of the SARS outbreak of 2002-03.

It was aware then that its infrastructure wasn’t ready for an outbreak of this kind. So, in the years since, isolation hospitals were built, more negative pressure rooms were created and legislation was put in place.

Then, on December 31, when the world first became aware of coronavirus in China, Singapore started to get prepared. By the time the World Health Organisation declared a public health emergency at the end of January, it was ready.

In February, Singapore made it clear again this virus had the potential to have major health, social and economic consequences. We knew that because we saw what happened in China. The virus brought a country of 1.4 billion people basically to its knees.

The rest of Asia was clearly frightened and scampering to get ready, too – Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea. There was no confusion in the minds of these countries what this virus could do.

Yet, still other parts of the world weren’t preparing.

Keeping people who test positive in hospitals

Looking at what we do differently today, I think the biggest one is Singapore didn’t let positive patients back into the community.

China also didn’t do that. Wuhan created 50,000 hospital beds in two big temporary hospitals. These weren’t hospitals for sick people, these were all the mild cases that Australia, Europe and US sends home.

Home quarantine is not easy. You’re not supposed to mix with your family, you’re supposed to have your own toilet, you’re not supposed to have visitors. If you’re going to keep people at home, you need to be really sure they’re not transmitting it.

In Singapore, we think it’s better to hive those people off and look after them elsewhere until the virus is clear. People with mild cases are kept in hospitals – we have enough space to put all the positives together.

Also read: Coronavirus cases in India rise to 223, four dead

If you’re going to look after people at home, how do you know they are complying with self-isolation rules? Are you doing phone tracking? Are you doing random checks regularly enough? Are there harsh enough penalties to frighten people from disobeying?

Singapore has contact tracing teams, who identify all the contacts of an infected person and ring them up. Often these people have early symptoms and we’ll arrange for them to be picked up and tested.

Singapore is very liberal with our testing. Less than 1% of our tests are positive, so that reflects just how many tests we are doing.

If people don’t have symptoms, they’re put in home quarantine. And home quarantine is very strict. A couple times a day, you’ll get an SMS and you have to click on a link that will show where your phone is.

In case you cheat and leave your phone at home with someone else, the government has people knocking on doors now and then. The penalties are pretty harsh.

Consistent, regular communication

We have been very strong on community engagement. The messages we send are: if you are sick, stay home. If you are sick and have had contact with a COVID-19 patient, come in for a test. If you can’t stay home and you have to go out, wear a mask. If you cough, cough into your elbow. Avoid crowds, particularly indoors.

To everyone else, we say social distancing. For restaurant and bar owners, try and reduce the number of people in your businesses. People know what to do and they know if there’s a lockdown, they’re going to be closed. There’s a lot of business and revenue to be lost.

Everyone understands and adapts. You know what happens when people don’t adapt – we end up closing things down.

The messaging has also been very strategic. There’s a cross-ministerial task force – we regard this as a whole of government issue, not just a health issue. The prime minister comes on television every couple weeks, the chair of the task force is now a well-known face. Messaging is generally limited to a small number of authoritative people

There’s great transparency. There’s already great faith in government, so that helps quite a bit.

The messaging from the government is also consistent – they provide the latest numbers and say what’s happening in other countries and what might need to be done in Singapore.

We also created a public awareness campaign with cartoons. This is an alternative medium people might connect with. They are very popular, with over 1 million viewings online. The World Health Organisation is now translating them into other languages.

Why Singapore isn’t in lockdown

It’s pretty well-known that children are asymptomatic or only have mild disease, so there was no real reason to close schools. If you close schools, what’s the trigger to reopen them?

In Singapore, we want life to go on as normal. We want businesses, churches, restaurants and schools to stay open. This is what success looks like. Everything goes forward with modifications as needed, and you keep doing this until there’s a vaccine or a treatment.

Also read: Goa brewery offers free hand sanitiser refills to anyone who shows up with empty bottles

On testing, the threshold for getting a test is pretty low. For the first week, we tested only people from Wuhan or Hubei province, then we tested anyone who had been in China within the last 14 days.

By the end of January, all of our public hospitals could do tests. Then we moved to enhanced screening – we tested anyone coming to a hospital with a respiratory illness, anyone who had been in contact with a COVID-19 patient.

Now, it’s even become more liberal. If you’re a hospital staff member with a mild cold, we’ll give you a test.

But if you’re a normal person with no contacts with anybody and mild symptoms, we’d just send them home. You can get a medical certificate that allows you to stay home from work for five days. If you are a casual worker, there’s financial help with that, too.

Leadership needs to be organised

It’s nothing really fancy. We don’t have the magic answer here, we just do it well and efficiently.

It’s certainly more challenging to put these things in place in bigger countries with different political systems, but it just means people need to know their roles.

For instance, communicating to the nation should come from the national government, but the state level should talk about state-relevant things.

It’s really about leadership being organised enough to get the messaging right as a team. Then people will feel more comfortable and are much more likely to follow the rules.The Conversation

This is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Also read: Govt gives Rs 15,000-cr boost to API and devices industry to check shortage amid COVID-19


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  1. This isn’t true. I know people who travelled to Singapore and contracted the virus there., spread it when they got home. I know someone who was exposed to a COVID postive patient, he presented with symptoms of COVI D and went to see his doctor. in Singapore. The doctor did not require testing. and merely prescribed an anto-inflammatory. The patient was never tested and is free to move around and go to work. Singapore has great PR, but not a great plan to contain the virus.

  2. Amusing to see commentators trumpeting about enforced discipline in an authoritarian city state of Singapore and comparing it to a highly diverse, multi-ethnic, heterogeneous democracy of highly vibrant and subcontinental dimension such as India. Indian economy is still at the low middle income level and hence resources are limited when seen against its huge population. Health care is still modest operating with low ratios of 1 hospital bed for every 1800 patients and 1 doctor for every 11600 people. India will, therefore, tackle problems by working within its constraints.

  3. We can learn from Singapore on preparedness very well in advance. Unfortunately here, the govt didn’t even talk about Coronavirus except PM offered help to China as we were busy with election, toppling, Namaste Trump, Delhi riots etc. We woke up only before Holi. Our government has failed to be prepared. Other things comparing our size, we cannot compare with Singapore

  4. Quite a piece of misinformation here.. My meetings with Singapore client were cancelled in mid Feb as they stopped meeting people in the office. They even asked all employees to work from home 5 weeks back… In India, it started just last week… Hope that explains the reason.

  5. The article is self contradictory. It started with ‘we dont home quarantine’ and ended with ‘home quarantine is very strict’

  6. Honestly Singapore is fully dependent on the outside world country for their living. It created the good infra but if it lockdown there the problem comes of survival of people for basic needs.
    Also I think Singapore took this virus very casually. Look at the data max cases are imported. Also people are roaming around infecting others.
    Using new technologies are good good but understand how this virus spread and use your brain to avoid that.

    • Singapore takes Covid 19 casually?
      Apparently you don’t read the news at all!
      Don’t comment if you’re unaware of basic facts.
      Don’t be sore about how Singapore is handling the crisis if your own government is nowhere comparable.

  7. There are 2 deaths as of 21 March in Singapore which came from government WhatsApp channel. Check your facts before publishing.

  8. Singapore, don’t pat yourselves on the back and applaud yourselves yet.
    The fact is that no one knows enough of this new epidemic , everyone is learning and making mistakes and sharing day by day. Also , there may be a wave backlash . Who really knows ? Countries who were ok yesterday are not ok today.

  9. This article is a slap in the face. I have to go to work everyday in the crowded MRT. It is literally impossible to practice social distancing during rush hour. The situation here is unbelievably risky.
    You assume that going into lockdown is unnecessary; I say that we Singaporeans will soon regret our hubris. Even when people out there are at-risk and dying, they are still subordinated to the capitalist prerogative. Is the economy worth more to you than your own humanity? I have a feeling I already know the answer

  10. Singapore example doesn’t work everywhere.
    Even Taiwan, South Korea also.These are semi-authoritarian systems.Not full fledged Democratic.and also highly homogeneous or just few races.Singapore is a Small Island with just few kilometres.we can call it as a Island city rather than a country.India is highly diversed, multi cultural,multi language,with lot of different political sucha way that some section of people don’t feel it is their country.if u want to implement any good measure always opposing force acts.even for good things.foe Singapore u can’t even heard Azan.even if u live beside mosque u don’t know weather Mosque exists are not.In India such kind of things never happens.

    • India is making all out efforts to prevent spreading of Coronovirus. The rich in foreign countries where this Coronovirus is rampant are carrying it to India. Therefore, Govt of India has stopped all International flights. Coronovirus was reported in China in December 2019 itself. WHO didn’t alert the countries immediately. Rahul Gandhiji requested PM Modi on 12.2.2020 to prioritize health care measures to prevent spreading of Coronovirus. But he didn’t move immediately. It is spreading very fast. 15 Crores Indian don’t have house to live in. Another 20 Crores are living below poverty line. Daily earners & consumer based business will suffer more. Govt of India is doing it’s best with the co-operation of all State Govt.
      Masks, Sanitiser etc are used by the people.
      Why you have talked about Masjids & Azan?

    • but mob lynching merrily takes place in india… wher does your democracy go then?
      girls dressing is controlled by 1 section, if tthey refuse to follow ther are beaten out there on the street in broad day light, no ond dares to question the democracy then
      so many examples can be cited.
      in singapore you do not hear azaan as well you cannot find jgarata contunuing for whole night nor kanwaris going mindlessly hayware either

  11. Giving example of Singapore is inappropriate in this context. It is even smaller than Bangalore. It is already highly developed, with excellent infrastructure, strict discipline and above all authoritarian govt. Can’t compare with bigger countries.

    • Why every states like this keep .Because politicians not committed up to that level all corrupt fellows and citizens also no care about the country

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