S'pore can learn from Japan's Tokyo 2020 experience in opening up: Tan Chuan-Jin

(From left) CNA senior correspondent Michiyo Ishida, The Straits Times Japan correspondent Walter Sim, Lianhe Zaobao Tokyo correspondent Foo Choo Wei and Mr Tan Chuan-Jin.
(From left) CNA senior correspondent Michiyo Ishida, The Straits Times Japan correspondent Walter Sim, Lianhe Zaobao Tokyo correspondent Foo Choo Wei and Mr Tan Chuan-Jin.PHOTO: EMBASSY OF SINGAPORE IN TOKYO

TOKYO - The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are Japan's "gift to the world", both through the power of sports to uplift spirits and the lessons learnt about Covid-19 risk management, Singapore's Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin said here on Wednesday (Aug 4).

The lessons are especially pertinent as the Republic seeks to open its borders to welcome foreign visitors.

"Managing Covid-19 is all about risk management and what degree of risk you are prepared to bear," Mr Tan said, adding that the Government has been "preparing, war-gaming, trying out different things, looking at how people are doing it".

"When the conditions are right, we have the confidence to execute some of these steps," he added. "If you want to have zero risk, you have very extreme measures, but nothing happens, you can't move. But too lax, and then you run the risk of spread."

Mr Tan was speaking to Tokyo-based Singapore media at the end of a three-day official visit in his capacity as Speaker of Parliament. This was book-ended by his duties as president of the Singapore National Olympic Council. He arrived on July 22 and will remain until the end of the week.

The Speaker stressed the importance of Singapore opening up, both in the gradual easing of domestic restrictions as well as border entry restrictions, but noted it was a difficult balancing act between lives and livelihoods.

"It's always a dilemma because a lot of people are affected - not just by the virus in terms of the health impact on them - but also how it impacts the economy, jobs and by extension salaries and so on," he said. "You can deal with it for a period but for a prolonged period it becomes challenging."

In this regard, as and when Singapore is ready to host a global event, it can tap Japan's experience in hosting the Tokyo 2020 Games. About 60,000 foreign visitors, including athletes and officials, have gathered for the event.

Maintaining a bubble is not easy, Mr Tan said, adding that he has been impressed by how Japan has organised the event. Among the rules is a need to be tested daily. There has been a total of 322 cases, including one cluster, out of more than 500,000 tests conducted since July 1.

"We're certainly observing what they do here in Japan. No arrangement will be perfect - just as our measures - because there will always be things that perhaps don't work quite as well," he said.

Among the considerations, he added, are the types of protocols to take.

"Do you apply them similarly to every country or differently? But I guess with an international event, you should try to be quite even-handed. Those are things that I think we'll be keen to observe," he said.

Mr Tan's visit coincides with the 55th year of bilateral relations between Japan and Singapore. He met politicians including Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima and State Minister of Defence Yasuhide Nakayama, among others.

While the countries were unable to properly mark the milestone because of Covid-19, he said, he was hopeful that ties will grow from strength to strength.

One of the issues he discussed with his Japanese counterparts was vaccine certification recognition.

Japan has started issuing "vaccine passports", though with very limited reach for just 12 countries and territories. Reciprocity is a major hurdle, domestic reports said, given that Japan is currently not offering the same quarantine exemptions as it has requested from other countries.

Singapore is likewise "not quite ready" to open up, Mr Tan said, adding that it was important to discuss this issue so that "once the conditions are suitable, we can run".

Ultimately, achieving widespread vaccination will be key to Singapore opening up sooner, as this has a bearing on risk assessment.

"It allows you to manage that risk, to be a bit more open and gives us the confidence to hold some of these events. But it doesn't mean that all the measures go away. There will still be some level of masking, safe distancing, hygiene measures - those things remain," he said.

"But with vaccination - you add this all up - I'm sure there's some way of calculating the level of risk. So we are tracking that closely, and there are good practices that we can learn here."