Since the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak, there has been an enormous amount of debate about which country is controlling the spread most effectively.
Arguably one of the most praised in the battle against the disease is Singapore. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it is “very impressed” with the country’s approach, which involves a strict regime of surveillance and quarantine – all the while avoiding a full lockdown. Like South Korea, it has been enormously efficient at mass testing.
Resultantly, cases of the Coronavirus appeared to deplete in the country, and flattering articles followed. Overall, there seemed an overarching consensus that Singapore had the best approach – that it had beaten the virus, even – and should be a model for everyone else.
Unfortunately, recent developments suggest that it’s much more complicated than that. Yesterday, 120 new cases of the Coronavirus were confirmed in Singapore, the highest daily rise for the country so far (a 60 percent increase from Saturday’s rate of 75 people).
One hundred and sixteen of these were locally transmitted and many were linked to two dormitories that housed migrant workers. The government quickly opted for a lockdown approach, and told 20,000 foreign workers to stay in their accommodation for 14 days. They will be paid and have three meals a day, but face huge fines and jail time if they ignore the rules.
Additionally, on Friday, Singapore’s government announced a so-called “circuit-breaker” policy, similar to the policies seen in many other countries. It means that schools and non-essential businesses are set to close this week, with citizens encouraged to stay at home.
Though Singapore has been consistently praised, its Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has always been reluctant to claim he knows best, telling CNN: “I hesitate to talk about success because we are right in the midst of a battle, which is intensifying. I am under no illusions that we have won.”
Perhaps his words, not Singapore’s mass testing, is the real lesson everyone needs to pay attention to. In Britain, at least, it does seem that journalists have been rather quick to decide which country has got it right, with those opting for mass testing being highly praised, whereas Sweden – with its herd immunity trial – is considered controversial and dangerous. But in the former case, it only takes for one carrier of the virus to set everything off again.
The truth is that we’re only going to find out whose plan works the hard way. Yes, there are modelling experts to carve out the predictions, but they are just that – predictions. Fundamentally, it is impossible to totally compare countries, anyway, as they have so many individual variations. Even how liberal a society is – and whether it can tolerate lockdown – influences the delivery of government strategies. So it is all going to be a horrible learning curve.
In essence, let Singapore be a reminder: we are a long way from knowing who’s right.