PAP conference: Covid-19 also a political challenge, critical to maintain public trust in govt and its leaders, says PM Lee

The task facing Singapore now is to keep the situation stable and to get into a position where the country can safely and confidently open up further. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 pandemic is as much a political problem as it is a health problem, as it challenges global leaders to maintain public trust in the government and its leaders, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Reopening the economy and relaxing Covid-19 restrictions is a delicate balancing act, he noted, pointing to how many countries had tried but failed to get the balance right and seen infections rise again.

In those cases, the countries had relaxed and opened up with too few precautions after their Covid-19 cases fell.

Infections spiked again, and the countries had to lock down once more. But by then, people had become tired and cynical about the restrictions, causing them to turn against their governments and blame their leaders for bad outcomes.

This illustrates how it takes good political leadership to convince people about the need to keep safety measures in place, especially when case numbers are low, said PM Lee on Sunday (Nov 8).

"We must show people while we do all these things that we care for them, and we empathise with their difficulties. And we must maintain public trust in the government and its leaders," he added.

PM Lee, who is secretary-general of the ruling Peoples' Action Party (PAP), was speaking at the party's biennial conference, where cadre members voted to elect the party's top decision making body.

The Covid-19 situation in Singapore is under control, he said, after the country took "drastic but essential" steps to save lives, including the two-month circuit breaker period which caused the economy to nosedive.

The task facing the country now is to keep the situation stable and to get into a position where Singapore can safely and confidently open up further.

"We cannot simply relax the current restrictions, and hope that Covid-19 cases remain low. The more we open up and resume normal activities, the more likely it is that we will have new cases, including from overseas, either visitors or returning Singaporeans," he said.

To deal with new cases and minimise the danger of major outbreaks, Singapore has to improve its processes and safeguards to detect infections early and prevent big Covid-19 clusters, he noted.

This is why much work is being done to strengthen Singapore's testing and contact tracing capabilities, PM Lee said.

This includes deploying and developing rapid test kits as well as expanding the digital check-in system Safe Entry and the Bluetooth enabled contact tracing programme TraceTogether.

With these efforts in place, Singapore will be able to move on to phase three of its reopening without suffering big waves of infections, and get back to a more normal life where larger social gatherings are allowed and more international travel is permitted.

Public trust in the Government is key to the country's coronavirus response.

"So that if we have to implement new measures or policies, people will accept them, cooperate with them, and give them a chance to work. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for us to survive this crisis without further mishap," said PM Lee.

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