Coronavirus News Asia

Cracks show in Singapore’s model Covid-19 response

SINGAPORE – Singapore’s battle against the Covid-19 pandemic entered a restrictive new phase today (April 7), with the city-state enforcing tough new measures including school and work place closures to curb a recent spike in locally transmitted infections. Authorities say the “circuit breaker” measures will remain in place until at least May 5.

The island nation was among the worst hit during the initial stages of the global outbreak, though it managed to contain the disease’s spread through testing and travel restrictions, aggressive contact tracing and a strict quarantine regime that earned accolades from the World Health Organization (WHO) and others for its model response.

Schools, malls and most businesses across the island nation remained open with specific social distancing guidelines enforced, instilling a semblance of normalcy even as Covid-19 case numbers increased on a smaller-scale than elsewhere. But with community spread now on the rise, the city-state’s lauded containment efforts have come into question.

“We have decided that instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now, to pre-empt escalating infections,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong upon announcing the new measures on April 3.

For the next month, only essential services such as markets, supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and banking services will remain open. Residents have been urged to stay home and limit contact with others as much as possible. Authorities say the strict new measures could be extended further if the situation does not improve.

“The latest ‘circuit breaker’ is a restriction on businesses and schools, very much applied to institutions rather than on individuals,” Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, told Asia Times.

“This differed from the usual ‘lockdowns’ that we see employed in Italy, Hubei (China), and parts of South Korea, where the restriction is on individuals’ movement. If it is clear that the present restrictive measures on institutions are not sufficient to curb people’s movements, then I believe the government will not hesitate to enforce stronger measures,” he said.

Singapores central business district on April 7, 2020 as the country ordered the closure of all businesses deemed non-essential. Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman

Singapore’s Covid-19 caseload jumped from around 100 at the beginning of March to 1,000 by month’s end, a surge that experts describe as a “second wave” of cases linked to residents returning from contagion-hit countries such as the United States and Britain, as well as community transmissions with no known links to confirmed patients.

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