Coronavirus: Task force constantly adjusts, updates measures

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong admits that with hindsight, some measures may not even have been necessary.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong admits that with hindsight, some measures may not even have been necessary.PHOTO: MCI

Since the multi-ministry task force for Covid-19 was set up in January, its members have been meeting every day - at least virtually - to see what needs to be done in the ever-changing situation.

Its co-chairman, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, said: "Every day, we are discussing, thinking through potential scenarios of how the virus can unfold and then developing new measures, adjusting and updating our measures."

Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, Mr Wong said the whole-of-government system has been effective as it allows coordination and integration across different agencies and lets them "put in place decisions and measures in a very decisive and swift manner".

He admits that with hindsight, some measures may not even have been necessary.

On the other hand, he said: "I remember when we first started, people were just wondering, you know, was there a need for a task force, were we overreacting?

"But now, we are in a completely different world, not just in Singapore, but everywhere in the world."

The 10-member multi-ministry team includes the majority of the fourth-generation leadership.

"We are always looking day by day how the situation unfolds. Looking ahead at potential risks and what we can do to mitigate some of these risks," Mr Wong said.

The decisions on measures to be implemented sometimes entail quite a bit of discussion.

Mr Wong said: "We want our measures to be based on science and evidence, and to be able to move quickly in response to a very rapidly changing situation."

Unfortunately, there is no definitive information to base some of the decisions on, and even experts are divided.

DAILY DISCUSSIONS

Every day, we are discussing, thinking through potential scenarios of how the virus can unfold and then developing new measures, adjusting and updating our measures.

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT MINISTER LAWRENCE WONG

"You have to make decisions, and consequential decisions, in this sort of uncertainty," Mr Wong said.

The team debates and then tries to arrive at a decision, often in a very short time.

"And these are important decisions that have impact on people's lives and livelihoods," said Mr Wong.

But the decisions are made as a team, with Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat acting as adviser.

"He comes to attend our meetings quite regularly. He provides useful guidance, especially for major decisions that have to be made. But it's really a team effort," said Mr Wong.

Referring to tougher measures on safe distancing introduced last week, he said: "These are very painful for people running businesses and I fully understand."

He said the team is living through anxiety and stress all the time now. "These past two months have been fraught with difficult decisions."

Salma Khalik

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2020, with the headline 'Task force constantly adjusts, updates measures'. Subscribe