Singapore must be ready for disease worse than Covid-19: PM Lee
Singapore has done well and will emerge stronger from the Covid-19 crisis, says PM Lee, but it is vital that the people remain vigilant
While it has been a disaster for the world, Covid-19 will not be Singapore's last public health crisis and it is only a matter of time that a worse disease, one that is highly infectious, deadly, and mutates easily, hits mankind, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
Warning of what scientists have called "Disease X", Mr Lee said it is imperative Singapore learn from dealing with this pandemic, build up resilience, instincts and preparation, and be ready.
While he acknowledged the Government's Covid-19 response was not without shortcomings, he said Singapore has done well so far to keep its fatality rate to one of the lowest in the world and bring the number of new community infections down with fewer than 100 patients remaining in hospital.
Speaking in Parliament during the debate on the President's Address, Mr Lee said no country has been perfect and rough edges have been inevitable given the scale and complexity of the operations here.
But with the situation now stable, he exhorted Singaporeans not to let their guards down.
"The irony is that the more successful we are in keeping cases low, the more people wonder whether all these painful measures are necessary...
"The Covid-19 virus remains as infectious and potent as it was before. This has not changed.
"What has changed is that we have taken measures and we have built up our capabilities to contain it. If we relax these measures now because the numbers have come down, we will have a resurgence," he added.
With hindsight, Mr Lee admitted that some things could have been done differently.
Had the authorities known earlier that asymptomatic patients were infectious, Singaporeans who were brought back home in March would have all been quarantined earlier and tested.
The Government would also have recommended the wearing of face masks much sooner and acted more aggressively on the migrant worker dormitories.
"All this is wisdom after the fact. We must learn from these errors, and do better the next time," Mr Lee added.
Looking beyond Covid-19, Mr Lee said more needs to be done to strengthen social support for Singaporeans.
The Government now spends thrice as much on social programmes as it did 15 years ago, and had to dip into the reserves to fund multiple emergency measures in the wake of Covid-19.
But these emergency measures cannot continue indefinitely, Mr Lee said, and Singapore needs to start thinking about the level of social support it will return to, post-Covid-19.
"We are ready to do more," he said. "The question is what more will we need to do and what is the best way to do it?"
Mr Lee said the Government was not ideologically opposed to any solution, but said they had to be pragmatic, make a sustainable difference and not create new problems in the process.
On unemployment insurance, which has been mooted by some, including the Workers' Party, Mr Lee said it would give older workers transient relief at best.
"The best unemployment insurance is in fact the assurance of another job," he added.
"We should take some time to assess the landscape after Covid-19 to see how things unfold and what specific problems develop... It is not just floating ideas like minimum wage or unemployment insurance but assessing their impact carefully. Who wins and who loses within the workforce? How will our SMEs or the public be affected?"
Ending on an optimistic note, Mr Lee said Singapore will emerge from Covid-19 stronger.
Visibly emotional, he concluded to applause from the House: "Do not doubt. Do not fear. Jewel will shine again. Changi will thrive again. SIA will be a great way to fly once more. Our economy will prosper anew. Our children and our grandchildren will continue marching forward to build a fairer, ever more just and equal society."