Singapore GE2020: Decisions in handling of Covid-19 crisis based on info at hand, WHO guidelines, says PAP

In recent days, the Government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has emerged as a point of contention this election. Yesterday, candidates from both the PAP and the opposition continued to fire their respective salvos on the issue.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said "we were mainly trying to protect Singaporeans". ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The People's Action Party (PAP) Government did the best it could in handling the Covid-19 crisis, based on the information at hand and guidelines from the World Health Organisation, candidates from the ruling party said yesterday.

They said that any evaluation of its performance has to be based on objective outcomes, noting that the Covid-19 fatality rate in Singapore is one of the lowest in the world.

"It is very easy for people to look back with hindsight and say, 'Oh, why didn't we do this, why didn't we do that?'," said Dr Tan See Leng, a candidate in Marine Parade GRC and a medical doctor by training.

"Given that our government has taken very active steps to aggressively do contact tracing, to go after and check every single case, rather than wait for the symptoms to develop, objectively we have done the best we could," he added.

Dr Tan, a former managing director and chief executive of IHH Healthcare, urged Singaporeans to look not just at the numbers that are infected, but also the number of those who died. "The opposition can say what they want to say, but we have kept the fatality rate one of the lowest in the world."

He was among a host of PAP candidates who defended the Government's management of the pandemic, following criticisms by opposition leaders, including Singapore Democratic Party chairman Paul Tambyah, an infectious disease expert. Among his criticisms was an advisory that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had issued in February, asking employers to not send healthy workers for testing.

Professor Tambyah, who is contesting in Bukit Panjang SMC, said the number of infected cases started to surge in March, which "was the time they started talking about a general election", and questioned if the task force lost its focus on public health because of an impending election.

Yesterday, PAP candidates hit back at the criticisms.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who is contesting in Jalan Besar GRC, said in Mandarin that when the ministry advisory was issued in February, "we were mainly trying to protect Singaporeans".

The worry was that swathes of healthy foreign workers going to hospitals would have an impact on Singaporeans who needed treatment, she said. "That would not be ideal. So, our considerations then were very clear. (The opposition) have twisted the situation around. We have never said that when you are sick, you can't come for tests."

A joint statement by MOM and the Ministry of Health yesterday said the advisory was to ensure that medical facilities and resources were focused on unwell individuals who needed medical treatment.

Today, said Mrs Teo, it is clear Singapore's testing of foreign workers "should be the highest in the world". "This is what everyone can see. I think it is not very good to distort the facts because of the election. I believe voters will be able to see the truth clearly."

Mr Ong Ye Kung, who is leading the PAP slate in Sembawang GRC, called for an assessment of the Government's performance based on objective outcomes. "Our healthcare system is not under pressure, unlike many countries in the world, and as a result, the fatality rate is one of the lowest in the world."

The Education Minister said it is "valid" to question the Government's handling of the pandemic, and this ought to be discussed in the remaining days of the election. Answering it requires a "comprehensive, objective evaluation".

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is leading the PAP team in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, said it is easy to be a backseat driver and make comments after the fact. "I think the 4G leaders have done very well. This is a difficult crisis. It is the most complex crisis I have seen in 40 years."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2020, with the headline Decisions in handling of Covid-19 crisis based on info at hand, WHO guidelines, says PAP. Subscribe