Singapore's response to the COVID-19 outbreak has been praised around the world for its efficiency and is often cited as a model for other nations. Despite this, some netizens have raised questions about its sustainability, and even its effectiveness.
Mainly the containment of the dissemination of COVID-19 is attributed to the country's comprehensive health system. Widespread testing, a rapid location of those suspected of being infected with the coronavirus, medical treatment and hospitalization of people with serious symptoms, and an aggressive information campaign are among the steps taken in the nation's “government-wide approach” to deal with the crisis.
By March 134, Singapore had 178 cases of COVID-19 in a population of more than 5 million.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also been applauded for his public speeches that provide clear information about the virus and the disease and the steps taken by the government to deal with it. His televised speech on March 12 underlined the Government's early preparation in case the health situation deteriorates:
We are not locking down our city like the Chinese, South Koreans or Italians have done. What we are doing now is to plan ahead for some of these more stringent measures, try them out, and prepare Singaporeans for when we actually need to implement them.
We are not going to close our city like the Chinese, the South Koreans or the Italians have. What we are doing now is planning ahead for some of these stricter measures, testing them, and preparing Singaporeans for when we really need to implement them.
But some social media users commenting on press reports have raised questions about the government's approach.
For example, some netizens have rejected Vice Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's claim that the government has been completely transparent in dealing with the health crisis.
Furthermore, Commerce and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing has been criticized for some actions perceived as delayed or instinctive reactions that have almost undermined the campaign against the disease. It did not help that an audio recording of the minister insulting and mocking panicked buyers leaked to the public.
Terry Xu, editor of the independent news page The Online Citizen, commented on the initial confusion surrounding mask availability in the country:
If the government does not have enough masks for everyone to wear daily, then just be frank with it. It is simply irresponsible to be telling people that there is no need to wear a mask so as not to incite a situation where people would be clamoring to get masks.
If the government does not have enough masks for everyone to wear daily, then be frank. It is simply irresponsible to tell people that there is no need to wear a mask so as not to incite a situation where people would be clamoring for masks.
As more cases of COVID-19 are reported, the Government has attributed the increase to “socially irresponsible” people. For Roy Yi Ling Ngerng, a Singaporean activist and blogger living in Taiwan, this attitude reflects the government's tendency to “shame people and blame victims for conforming to (their) strategy” (in 2014, the Prime Minister of Singapore sued Roy for defamation.)
In his statements about the crisis, Roy acknowledged Singapore's excellent public health infrastructure, but warned of “gaps” in the system. He noted that “those who make short visits are not covered by the low-cost / free regimen for coronavirus, which means that some may not want to be tested and fall out of the system.”
As Roy wrote on Facebook:
Singapore's coronavirus strategy cannot be just a top-down approach that does not account for the feelings of people on the ground. It cannot be a do-what-I-say-because-I-have-everything-put-in-place approach. It doesn't work that way because in times of crisis, people do react, whether in a rich or poor country, democracy or authoritarian. People are the same no matter how much you control them or if they run free.
Singapore's coronavirus strategy cannot be just a top-down approach that doesn't take people's feelings into account. It cannot be a “do what I say because I have everything under control” approach. It does not work that way because in times of crisis, people react, whether in a rich or poor, democratic or authoritarian country. People are the same, no matter how much you control them or if they move freely.
In another Facebook post, Roy reminded officials of being sensitive to the reasons for the initial panic purchases in the country, and hinted that the country's political system also needs democratic reform:
It would require the government to take immediate steps to be transparent and to engage citizens in helping out in the management of the crisis. You need to trust citizens, instead of accuse them of being idiots, stupid or an embarrassment. When people are trusted, they will come together to support not only the government, but one another. The question is whether, the government, which has operated on a system that has denied Singapore's participation, would be able to do so, and change its approach.
The government needs to take immediate measures to be transparent and for citizens to commit themselves to help in managing the crisis. Citizens need to be trusted rather than accused of being stupid, stupid, or embarrassed. When people are trusted, they come together to support not only the government, but others as well. The question is whether the Government, which has operated with a system that has denied Singapore's participation, could do so and change its approach.
Overall, Singapore is succeeding in its efforts to contain COVID-19. But some alternative perspectives that are being expressed on social media also help to understand the complexity of addressing the COVID-19 outbreak at the state level.
Check out Global Voices' special coverage on the global impact of COVID-19.