Singapore

SDP’s remarks on virus task force ‘baseless, false’: Lawrence Wong

This article is more than 12 months old

SDP chairman Paul Tambyah hits back by accusing the PAP of twisting his words

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong yesterday rejected as "baseless and false" the charge made by opposition politician Paul Tambyah that decisions regarding the Covid-19 outbreak were made by the ministerial committee without consulting experts in the field.

The multi-ministry task force that he co-chairs with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has always relied on scientific evidence and the advice of medical experts, he said.

"They are an integral part of the team, we involve them in all our deliberations, and every time Minister Gan Kim Yong and I hold the press conferences, we have the director of medical services (Associate Professor Kenneth Mak) with us," said Mr Wong, adding that this has been the case since the outbreak started.

Professor Tambyah, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chairman, had commented on the Government's handling of Covid-19 as a panellist at a National University of Singapore Society pre-general election forum last Friday.

Mr Wong also took issue with Prof Tambyah's suggestion that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had put out an advisory in February telling employers not to send their workers for testing, on threat of losing their employment privileges, and that the Ministry of Health (MOH) had been "blindsided".

Mr Wong said Prof Tambyah had "got his facts wrong" about the MOM advisory.

It was issued at the request of medical experts in the wake of the Seletar Aerospace Heights cluster, with employers trying to get doctors to certify their workers were free of Covid-19.

Doctors felt they were unable to issue such a memo as requested by employers and had turned to the MOH for help.

The MOH then worked with MOM to put out the advisory in response.

"I fully respect Prof Tambyah as a leading expert in his field, but it is very disappointing that he has deliberately chosen to distort the facts just to try and score some political points," said Mr Wong.

SINGLE NEGATIVE TEST

Last night, Prof Mak said MOH had assessed that a hospital would not be able to certify a person was free of Covid-19 infection based on a single negative test. It then worked with MOM to engage employers.

Reiterating the points made by Mr Wong, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo told reporters that the Government's aim in issuing the advisory was mainly to protect Singaporeans.

She said the concern in February was the impact on Singaporeans seeking healthcare if many healthy foreign workers went to hospitals to get tested.

"So our considerations then were very clear," she said.

The opposition has "twisted the situation around", she added. "We never said that when you're sick, you can't come for tests."

In response, Prof Tambyah accused the PAP of twisting his words - saying the way they have been spun was "just so bizarre".

"They're not willing to tackle us on the issues," he said, pointing to SDP proposals like a retrenchment insurance.

Prof Tambyah denied making the first statement and said he had been misrepresented on the second.

"That is something I never said," he said when asked whether he had claimed the task force did not rely on medical experts.

On the second statement, he said: "I did say that MOM issued the statement... It's just the way that it gets spun is just, it's just so bizarre.

"I said that MOM issued an advisory saying that if workers who are pre-symptomatic were sent for testing, that the employers would lose their workforce privileges, and that is a violation of public health 101."

Referring to Mr Wong's remarks that MOM had put out the advisory at the request of doctors and experts, he said: "I think MOM trying to shirk their responsibility on this is really not a good sign."

Prof Tambyah also said the PAP accusing him of politicising the crisis and using it to gain political points is "silly".

He said: "We're just pointing out a fact, MOM issued an advisory, which was mistaken, because it goes against the principles of public health.

"And I don't think that MOH or any of the doctors would have wanted that outcome."

He explained: "In public health, you want to test as many people as you can, and you don't want to discourage people from testing. And the last thing you want to do is to threaten people who send pre-symptomatic individuals for testing.

"I'm sure they consulted their own doctors, but ultimately the decision was not a medical decision."

The MOH and MOM said yesterday the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act Office was directed to issue five correction directions to the National University of Singapore Society, Channel News Asia, The Online Citizen Asia and New Naratif over Prof Tambyah's remarks. - THE STRAITS TIMES

GENERAL ELECTION 2020