How did Singapore leaders handle Covid-19? ST's book, In This Together, brings you the inside story

Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong (front), Finance Minister Lawrence Wong (left) and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung (right) on their way to a press conference on Oct 23, 2021. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Before even the first case of Covid-19 was detected in Singapore, a multi-ministry task force was in place to steer the nation through the pandemic.

But this sometimes required a larger government approach, such as when dormitories had to be locked down.

And as the virus continued to evolve, strategies pinned to the hope of vaccination had to change, says a new book by Straits Times Press. ST delves into it and ponders what solidarity could look like in the future.

'Whatever we tell you is whatever we know': Gan Kim Yong on the Covid-19 task force's approach

He may come across as reserved and even media-shy at press conferences, but behind the scenes, Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong played a starring role in the formation of the multi-ministry task force (MTF) on Covid-19.

As health minister when a pandemic loomed, it was his idea to assemble a group which has become the face of Singapore's fight against the Covid-19 virus. It was also Mr Gan who nominated Finance Minister Lawrence Wong as someone he could work well with, to be his fellow co-chair.

Together, they helmed Singapore's pandemic response until May last year, when the new health minister, Mr Ong Ye Kung, came on board.

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Navigating the bumps in S'pore's road to living with Covid-19

A gradual realisation that too much confidence had been placed in the ability of vaccines to bring down infection numbers was one factor in Singapore's switch in approach from "zero-Covid" to "living with Covid-19".

At one low point last year amid this change of plans, the Government was also presented with a stark choice: Accept an uptick in infections as the country moved towards a situation in which the virus was endemic, or re-introduce restrictions to try to avoid a potential situation in which a number of elderly people would be hospitalised and dying of the virus.

The latter route was chosen - to "a collective national groan" - but Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the country's multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, believes it was the right call.

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How S'pore tamed a Covid-19 outbreak at workers' dorms, avoiding a 'major disaster'

When Covid-19 rampaged through migrant workers' dormitories in 2020, at no point did the authorities consider letting it burn through - not even when there was widespread sentiment that the situation in those living quarters was Singapore's Achilles heel in the early months of the pandemic.

A new book on the city state's Covid-19 fight reveals that the idea of allowing infections to occur naturally to gain herd immunity among the population of workers "goes against the notion of us wanting to make sure we do our best for everyone", said Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak in an interview for the book.

Released on Thursday, In This Together: Singapore's Covid-19 Story details, among other things, the Government's effort to bring the dorm outbreak under control and prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed.

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S'pore's Covid-19 story: In the same storm, in different boats, but going the right way?

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Wearing a mask does not just protect you from Covid-19 - it protects others from you if you have an asymptomatic infection.

In this vein, all safe distancing measures are "really about that sense of solidarity with others", says Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

He was explaining, in an interview for a new book, why Singapore's third fiscal package in 2020 - out of an unprecedented five, totalling $100 billion in pandemic support measures - was named the Solidarity Budget.

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The Straits Times releases In This Together, a behind-the-scenes look at Singapore's Covid-19 story

A new book released on Thursday (Jan 20) has chronicled the first two years of Singapore's fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, through the telling of pivotal behind-the-scenes moments and exclusive interviews.

In This Together: Singapore's Covid-19 Story contains 13 chapters written by journalists from The Straits Times newsroom who have been in the thick of covering the crisis. It is edited by executive editor Sumiko Tan.

The writers spoke to more than 300 people including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, President Halimah Yacob, Cabinet ministers, government officials, corporate leaders, front-line workers, volunteers, foreign workers and survivors of the disease.

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'I would rather overreact than underreact': PM Lee on thinking behind Covid-19 circuit breaker in ST book

On April 1, 2020, the Cabinet met and discussed whether to impose a circuit breaker, given the rising number of Covid-19 community cases.

There were differing views on whether to lock down the country or wait a little bit longer, recounted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an interview for a new book chronicling Singapore's fight against the coronavirus.

"My view looking at the numbers and just eyeballing it was that it was clearly heading in a bad direction and we should move. There was no point waiting," he said.

"It was a very big decision. So I told the ministers: We sleep on this, we meet again tomorrow... If I'm going to act, I would rather overreact than underreact."

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Man on mask mission, neighbour with kampung spirit: New book showcases unsung Covid-19 heroes

First he was told he had just three hours to catch a flight to India, where he would stay for nine days of work. Then he returned to Singapore, only to be asked to fly off again the very next day.

As a manager at ST Logistics who had not gone overseas in the 27 years prior, Mr Jayakumar Manickam was not your typical jet-setting employee. But "without a second thought", he was prepared to go where he was sent - to procure surgical face masks for Singapore at the start of 2020.

"I said, 'Okay, I'll do it because it's for the country'," Mr Jayakumar recounted in an interview for In This Together: Singapore's Covid-19 Story, a new book on the first two years of the country's pandemic fight.

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How healthcare workers have 'carried the can' in Singapore's Covid-19 battle

In a new book about Singapore's fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung turns to a popular sport to explain why he prefers to call healthcare workers "the last line of defence" rather than "front-liners".

"There are games where everybody just attacks and you're the only one left, and at every counter-attack, you feel overwhelmed. I thought that must be what a healthcare worker felt at that time," said Mr Ong in a chapter titled "Battle in the hospitals", where he talked about October last year when the Covid-19 Delta variant led to over 3,000 virus cases daily and the death toll climbed.

"The rest of the society wants to move on but they were carrying the can."

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'Till today, we have no closure': Trials of Covid-19 survivors, pain of bereaved captured in new book

To lie in hospital for nearly six months, medically die and come back to life, and still struggle with debilitating side effects over a year later. To be unable to hold the hand of your beloved grandmother in her final moments, or to have questions around your father's death remain unanswered.

The experiences of individuals who were either infected or bereaved by the Covid-19 disease are captured in a new book chronicling Singapore's fight against the pandemic. In This Together: Singapore's Covid-19 Story recounts some of the human toll it exacted, in addition to relating how the battle was fought on many fronts by policymakers, government agencies, health and front-line workers and businesses.

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Singapore's Covid-19 journey: 10 best photos capturing the pandemic

From fast-paced scenes in hospital corridors to poignant aerial images showing empty locales that teemed before the pandemic; from a migrant worker tearing up from a nasal swab to an only son stoic amid the loss of his mother, The Straits Times (ST) picture desk has documented the coronavirus and its impact on Singapore since it struck in January 2020.

Some of its work illustrates In This Together: Singapore's Covid-19 Story, a new book published by Straits Times Press that was released on Thursday (Jan 20), about Singapore's two-year fight against the pandemic.

The selections are accompanied by the reflections of the ST photographers behind them.

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