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Transparency, accurate info key to allaying people's fears

Shoppers at a Sheng Siong supermarket in Canberra on Feb 8, 2020, the day after Singapore's alert level was raised to orange.
Shoppers at a Sheng Siong supermarket in Canberra on Feb 8, 2020, the day after Singapore's alert level was raised to orange.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Being transparent and putting out clear, accurate information are important to allay people's fears amid the Covid-19 outbreak, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on the panic buying of basic essentials by people around the world.

When people can be sure they are getting accurate information, they will have no reason to panic, he said in a radio interview on MoneyFM 89.3 yesterday, when asked how Singapore can better promote psychological resilience.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said: "First and foremost, we need to provide information as clearly as possible. Because when people trust the information that we put out is accurate, then there is no need for that panic.

"So, transparency is important in this regard, and building a high level of trust with our people."

When Singapore raised its disaster response alert level to "orange" on Feb 7, supermarket shelves were emptied of toilet paper, rice and instant noodles, among other items, as people rushed to stock up on supplies.

As the number of Covid-19 cases climbed around the world, the same scene played out in supermarkets in other countries, including the United States, Germany, Japan and Australia.

Mr Heng noted that panic buying happened "even in countries where we have such high respect for the resilience of the people".

He quipped: "It is a worldwide phenomenon, including panic buying of toilet paper, for some reason."

He added that it was a natural human instinct to be fearful when there is uncertainty, and this sometimes causes people to do things which are not in their best interests in the long run.


Also, in some of the places where people have rushed to stockpile essentials, there has been a lack of trust about whether the numbers of infections reported were accurate, he said.

In Singapore, government ministers and MPs took to social media and made announcements to assure people that there were adequate stockpiles of food and other essentials. The largest retailer, FairPrice, also opened up its warehouse to the media to allay people's fears.

Mr Heng urged people to support one another during this period. "If we can pull through together, support one another, we can deal with this. We just have to stay calm and carry on."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2020, with the headline 'Transparency, accurate info key to allaying people's fears'. Print Edition | Subscribe