Singapore

Tide yet to turn for coronavirus crisis in Singapore: PM Lee

He tells Australian newspaper that Singapore continues to watch Covid-19 situation very carefully

While Singapore has been praised for its handling of the coronavirus situation, the Government is under no illusion that the problem is over, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

The Government has done its best to tackle the virus - on the medical front, through social measures and with public reassurance - while it balances keeping Singapore's borders safe with maintaining essential trade and cooperation with other countries, Mr Lee said in an interview with The Australian newspaper last Friday.

"If I made an analogy, it is not that the tide has turned, it is that we put the dykes up," Mr Lee said.

"We are watching very carefully to see where water may leak in, and if you take your eyes off it for a moment, suddenly I have an outbreak, like what happened in South Korea, and I will be in a perilous situation.

"It can happen to us at any time," he added.

People should expect the virus to persist for "quite some time" based on current evidence, said Mr Lee.

The coronavirus "is going to catch fire in many countries, and is going to take a long time to burn out", said Mr Lee.

"What you can hope for is that you control the spread of the disease, you hold the position, and hope and pray that the scientists come up with either a treatment or a vaccine within a year or two," he told the newspaper, ahead of a video call with his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison today.

Like Singapore, each country has to find its own balance to prevent "the doomsday scenario, namely that the disease goes through the whole population".

"Either it is going to leave you with huge casualties or it is going to take forever, and to lock down forever," he said.

Asked about Singapore being considered the most successful country in dealing with the coronavirus, Mr Lee said the Republic has been reasonably successful at hindering the transmission of Covid-19, despite being a densely populated island, because of good social trust, ample medical capacity and extensive contact tracing.

The country has worked very hard to trace contacts once it detects a case, and to put immediate contacts either on notice or on quarantine depending on whether they displayed symptoms. To date, several thousand people have been contact-traced, he noted.

While social capital and trust in the Government have been key, these assets have to be built upon during a crisis or they will erode very quickly, he added.

PREPARE PEOPLE

This is why Singapore has a multi-ministry task force and almost-daily press conferences "to bring people up to date and to prepare people when something particularly significant or surprising happens", he said.

PM Lee will speak to Mr Morrison today via video link, and the two countries will sign a slew of agreements to deepen the bilateral relationship.

Among these are a treaty to strengthen defence cooperation and enhance the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland.

Agreements on digital economy cooperation and scientific cooperation on research of the virus that causes the Covid-19 disease are among others to be inked.

COURT & CRIME