Outbreak will continue for a year or longer: PM Lee

Situation under control and response level not being raised to red, he says

The Covid-19 outbreak will continue for some time - a year, and maybe longer - and more stringent measures may be needed as more imported cases are expected, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his second national address on the situation yesterday.

But if Singaporeans keep their guard up and take practical precautions, the country will be able to keep its economy going and people will be able to carry on with their daily lives, he said.

In a video address on his social media channels, PM Lee emphasised that the situation in Singapore remains under control.

The disease outbreak response level will not be stepped up to red, the highest level, he said. It is currently at orange.

"We are not locking down our city like the Chinese, South Koreans or Italians have done," he said.

"What we are doing now is to plan ahead for some of these more stringent measures, try them out, and prepare Singaporeans for when we actually need to implement them."

His statement, which he also delivered in Mandarin and Malay, comes on the heels of the World Health Organisation declaring the outbreak a pandemic.

It follows his first address on Feb 8 where, among other things, he said Singapore may have to reconsider its strategy if the virus became widespread.

Yesterday, PM Lee said he wanted to share what the country could expect down the road in terms of the medical, economic and psychological aspects of the pandemic.

On the medical front, while Singapore has taken the outbreak with the "utmost seriousness", it expects more imported cases.

"We have already imposed some travel restrictions, for example, for China, Iran, South Korea, Italy. We will have to tighten up further temporarily, though we cannot completely shut ourselves off from the world," he said.

 
 
 
 

There are also baseline factors that all Singaporeans must get used to, such as practising good personal hygiene, adopting new social norms, discouraging large gatherings and maintaining some physical distance from one another.

More could be done in other areas like at religious gatherings, which have seen outbreaks of Covid-19.

"The issue is, of course, not religion itself, but that the virus can spread quickly to many people in crowded settings, like religious gatherings and services," he said, adding that he hopes Singaporeans understand that during this period, religious services may need to be shortened and attendance reduced.

He also said that if there are very large numbers with the coronavirus, Singapore will not be able to hospitalise and isolate every case as it currently does. Also, 80 per cent of patients get only mild symptoms.

"The sensible thing will be to hospitalise only the more serious cases, and encourage those with mild symptoms to see their family GP and rest at home - isolate themselves," he said.

This will focus resources on the seriously ill, speed up response time and hopefully minimise the number of fatalities.

 

In the meantime, Singapore is freeing up intensive care units and hospital beds and facilities to create additional capacity to meet any surge.

"But rest assured, any Singaporean who needs urgent medical care, whether for Covid-19 or other illnesses, will be taken care of."

A spike in cases will also mean Singapore will have to implement temporary additional social distancing measures, such as suspending school, staggering work hours or compulsory telecommuting.

On the economic front, the Government is working on a second package of measures to help companies.

 
 

PM Lee also noted that Singapore's response has received international accolades and underlying this is the people's social and psychological resilience.

"What makes Singapore different from other countries is that we have confidence in each other, we feel that we are all in this together, and we do not leave anyone behind. This is SG United, we are SG United."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2020, with the headline 'Outbreak will continue for a year or longer: PM Lee'. Subscribe