Coronavirus outbreak

Singapore not ruling out lockdown to tackle virus crisis

But option not on the cards for now, given current raft of measures: Lawrence Wong

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that if the multiple lines of defences that the Government has put in place can be tightened, then Singapore need not reach a situation where the entire city has to be locked down. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Singapore will not rule out a lockdown to tackle the growing threat of the coronavirus outbreak, but it is not an option currently on the cards, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

"We have always said that we need to consider a whole range of measures and not rule anything out," he told a news conference at the Ministry of Communications and Information.

"So, something as stringent, we are not planning for it - so Singaporeans should not think of us as planning for it. It is certainly a very extreme measure, and we don't think we need to get there if we do all the things we have been doing, we have been advocating, and we do them well."

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force set up to deal with the coronavirus situation, was responding to a question on whether Singapore would consider a measure such as that taken by Malaysia.

Malaysia announced it will not allow its citizens to travel overseas for two weeks starting today as part of measures to arrest the spread of the coronavirus.

All schools, universities and businesses will be shut, and all public gatherings banned during this period, although essential services would continue, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said.

Mr Wong said that if the multiple lines of defence put in place by the Government, such as border controls, contact tracing and social distancing, can be tightened, then Singapore need not reach a situation where the entire city has to be locked down.

"We could potentially do, for example... a major circuit breaker that doesn't entail a lockdown, but entails school closures, workplace closures, and doing it on a temporary basis over a period of two to three weeks, just as the Malaysians have done.

"So, there is a whole range of measures that we have in our toolkit, and we constantly monitor the environment, the risk situation, and then we will adjust our measures," he added.

However, he said the land crossing with Malaysia was something that needed special consideration, given the high volume of people and goods passing through. "We have been discussing this matter bilaterally, but in recent days, the Malaysians, seeing the seriousness of the matter within their own country... decided that they needed a swift and urgent response."

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who was also at the news conference, said the Government was helping companies that employ Malaysian workers, especially those providing essential services, to find temporary accommodations in Singapore.

Mr Wong noted that if and when these measures are lifted by Malaysia, things cannot go back to "business as usual". Extra precautions must be taken at the border, depending on discussions with Malaysia.

One could be to differentiate between daily commuters and tourists. "And then you have got to find some ways to do that without causing too much congestion, some kind of a differentiated approach."

While the current measures posed inconvenience to everyone, Mr Wong said, Singapore should take them in its stride. "Importantly... the measures that the Malaysians put in place will help to control the transmission of the virus not just within Malaysia, but also across the border."

Asked if travel restrictions would also be imposed on the United States, from which a number of cases have been imported in recent days, Mr Wong said Singapore's approach was dynamic. "We have always said this is not static, every day, we are looking at the risks and we are looking at the infection rate in different countries, as well as the risk of importation to Singapore."

He added that possible updated measures could be either tightened or relaxed. "If there are countries where the situation has stabilised, we might adjust it the other way around."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2020, with the headline Singapore not ruling out lockdown to tackle virus crisis. Subscribe