Coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus: Singapore mindful of need to calibrate social distancing measures, says Lawrence Wong

Minister Lawrence Wong noted that as the virus spreads worldwide, Singapore's approach must shift. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Even as Singapore intensifies social distancing measures to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, it is mindful that this has to be done in a calibrated manner, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

Social activities organised by government agencies for seniors have been suspended for 14 days.

The authorities could ramp up such measures over time, said Mr Wong.

He noted that as the virus spreads worldwide, Singapore's approach must shift - maintaining basic surveillance at borders but doubling down on measures within the country, including social distancing.

"Increasingly, this is spreading everywhere in the world, and the possibility of shutting ourselves out is, I think, not something we want to contemplate, so border controls will become less relevant and effective," he noted, adding that the focus would be what to do within Singapore.

More extensive measures could also be implemented for public events, community activities and schools, for instance, and could include staggered hours or telecommuting.

"We have a range of social distancing measures that we are continuing to study, and whether they apply to events, to gatherings, to cruises... we will look at what's appropriate as the situation evolves, and whether or not we should apply tighter measures along the way," said Mr Wong.

He likened the measures to "circuit breakers" where Singapore tries to "stop the transmission chain and flatten the epidemic curve".

"We are very mindful that these measures can be very disruptive to the lives of Singaporeans.

"If we were to do all of them at one time, we will literally have to shut down our city and everything will grind to a halt."

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong stressed that the coronavirus situation remains unpredictable, given the rapid developments globally and experts saying the outbreak could last till the end of the year.

Singapore needs to be prepared for the long haul, he said, adding that the heightened hygiene measures that have been introduced are good for society, regardless of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Mr Wong said that the Government "will provide lead time" for social distancing measures that will have significant impact on Singaporeans, such as school closures.

The Government is constantly reviewing measures, including the current advisory on large-scale events, and the downstream implications that the tightening of these measures would have on future events such as the National Day Parade, said Mr Wong.

Mr Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministerial task force on Covid-19 with Mr Wong, emphasised the importance of responsible behaviour to limit the spread of the virus in Singapore.

Noting that several confirmed cases had continued to engage in social activities even after developing respiratory symptoms, Mr Gan said that their irresponsible behaviour poses a risk to all Singaporeans.

"Measures we've implemented will only work if individuals operate and behave in a socially responsible manner," he said.

His comments were echoed by the Health Ministry's director of medical services Kenneth Mak, who said that maintaining social responsibility is key and stressed that those who are ill should follow doctors' advice to stay home and prevent further spread of the virus.

Ring-fencing close contacts remains an important strategy for Singapore, he added.

"We will continue to be safe in the community if we continue to maintain good personal hygiene," said Associate Professor Mak.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Singapore mindful of need to calibrate social distancing measures, says Lawrence Wong. Subscribe