Transparency key to allaying people's fears during Covid-19 outbreak, says DPM Heng

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

SINGAPORE - Being transparent and putting out clear, accurate information are important to allay people's fears amid the coronavirus outbreak, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, 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 added.

He made the remarks during a radio interview on Money FM 89.3 on Wednesday (March 11), when he was asked how Singapore can better promote psychological resilience in its people.

DPM Heng 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's no need for that panic.

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

When the Health Ministry raised Singapore's Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) alert level from yellow to orange on Feb 7, supermarket shelves were cleaned out of toilet paper, rice and instant noodles, among other things, 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.

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

He quipped: "It's 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 had taken to social media and made announcements to assure people that there were adequate stockpiles of food and other essentials.

Supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice had also opened up its warehouse to the press to allay people's fears.

DPM 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."

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