Singapore needs to make the most of the changes forced on it by the coronavirus pandemic to improve the way it does things even as it shifts to a strategy of living with Covid-19 from the early days of a zero-Covid strategy. The trials and tribulations of the past two years have provided lessons in resilience and survival that need to be kept in mind so the country is prepared for the arrival of Disease X, an unknown new pathogen that is highly transmissible, highly lethal and mutates easily. Covid-19 was bad enough, testing the sinews of every society around the globe. The new disease could raise the stakes even higher in what would be another major epidemiological assault on societies that have already faced casualties over time from the Spanish flu in the 20th century, the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak this century, and Covid-19 most recently. Living with Covid-19 means taking a realistic view of a future in which sudden pandemics will challenge the ingenuity of medical science and the capacity for coherence of society at large.
Singapore must prepare for that day now. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's recent remarks at the Singapore General Hospital Lecture suggest the way forward. A key insight is that Singapore would have to keep investing in public health as in healthcare. Healthcare focuses on providing the best possible medical treatment for individual patients, whereas public health focuses on the state of health of the overall population. During a pandemic, public health draws on the entire panoply of public policies, including non-medical intervention, to manage and limit the spread of a devastating disease.