Singapore

Govt made tough calls in ‘fog of war’ to fight virus: PM Lee

This article is more than 12 months old

In contrast, he says the opposition has shown no recognition Singapore is facing the 'crisis of a generation'

Without a team of capable ministers working closely together, Singapore would not have been able to implement all the measures it took to stop Covid-19 from spreading, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

The Government, he added, would have lost the confidence of Singaporeans.

"You've seen this happen many times elsewhere," said PM Lee in his online Fullerton rally at noon. "Political leaders fail to act competently; voters lose trust in them. They are confused and dismayed; their faith in the whole system is shaken. People suffer greatly, and many die unnecessarily."

Singapore has avoided this and is now in a better position than before the circuit breaker, PM Lee said.

But warning against complacency, he said the danger is very much alive.

"Keeping Covid-19 under control and our people safe, avoiding another lockdown, will take everything that we've got," PM Lee said.

"We will have to take many more difficult decisions, and find more creative, radical solutions to take care of our people."

The Covid-19 outbreak is a hot topic in this election, with the opposition parties criticising the Government's handling of the crisis.

In his speech, PM Lee outlined how Singapore had been preparing for such an outbreak since 2003, when it was hit by the severe acute respiratory syndrome. Even so, there was a scramble to deal with Covid-19 when the pandemic hit.

The Government rose to the challenge, secured supplies of face masks, ramped up testing, and mobilised resources to deal with infections in migrant worker dormitories, he said.

"All these extremely demanding tasks had to be performed in the fog of war. We had to decide and act urgently, based on incomplete information."

The healthcare system has held up well, Singapore's fatality rate is among the lowest in the world and the situation in migrant worker dormitories is being cleaned up, he added.

PM Lee said: "We have managed to get to this stage not by chance, but by dint of immense effort... Crucial decisions had to be made. It was the ministers who made these decisions and are accountable for them."

One major decision the Government had to make was implementing the eight-week circuit breaker in April and May.

This was not a straightforward decision, because doing so would impact jobs and businesses greatly. But it would also save lives, PM Lee said.

Looking back, the Government acted just in time, before infections shot up, he added.

"This was a political decision, not an administrative one. The ministers, and ultimately the PM and Cabinet, have responsibility," PM Lee said.

Everything the country has gone through so far this year has made clear just how important a good government is in fighting the virus, supporting the economy and getting out of this crisis intact, he added.

"This is what this election is about - whom do you trust to get you through the very difficult times ahead."

In contrast, he said, the opposition parties have not offered any suggestions on how to tackle the deadly scourge.

Instead, they are talking as if the crisis does not exist and Singapore can keep to its old ways.

This is a "moment of danger and alarm", but the opposition has shown no recognition that the country is facing the crisis of a generation, he said.

"They have been completely silent on how to tackle Covid-19 - in the last six months and in this election campaign.

"What contribution will they make in Parliament, adding 'contrast' to the discussions they say, if they get elected as MPs? What will happen to Singapore, if they form the government?"

On proposals by some opposition parties for a minimum wage or universal basic income, PM Lee said they are "fashionable peacetime slogans, not serious wartime plans".

"How will a minimum wage help somebody who is unemployed? It will just add to employers' cost, and pressure them to drop even more workers," he said.

"How will we pay for a universal basic income?" he asked, adding that increasing the goods and services tax, or GST, will not be enough for it.

"Do you really want to vote for parties who in a crisis come up with nothing better than old recycled manifestos?" - THE STRAITS TIMES

FOR MORE, READ THE STRAITS TIMES

GENERAL ELECTION 2020