The challenges of a virus on Singapore

FEBRUARY 16 — So, Covid-19 rages on. There have now been 67 cases in Singapore. And despite rapid government response — airport health screening, work place temperature screening, exhaustive contact tracing for each infected person — cases keep rising.  

This virus is clearly difficult to contain. Transmission in Singapore is now occurring from person to person — and not only among people who have been to Wuhan or been in close contact with those who have.   

The only good news is that there have been no fatalities. 

Again the hope has to be that overall mortality from the disease remains low. 

While in parts of Wuhan there are suggestions the mortality rate is approaching 3 per cent, in Singapore things don’t seem to be so serious.  

However, considerable damage has been done. With mainland Chinese visitors effectively barred from Singapore, tourists and visitors to our island have fallen drastically.  

Shops and restaurants are empty as even locals, fearing contagion, prefer to stay at home. 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last week he thinks the damage from Covid-19 will exceed that from SARS which killed 30 people in Singapore.  

A recession now — off the back of 2019 which saw growth fall to a decade low 0.7 per cent  — will have a real impact on Singaporean jobs, businesses, lives. 

If you own a restaurant or a shop there’s nothing you can do.  You have keep paying your staff and cover your costs — with far fewer customers — or go under. Few people have insurance against pandemics. 

The government has moved to try to help those immediately impacted with assistance for taxi drivers and relief for hotels, travel agents and tour guides.  

For example, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has said it will waive licence fees for hotels. 

But the impact may soon spread to other sectors — everything from finance to commodities to McDonalds.  

This is really the definition of force majeur — an unavoidable circumstance beyond our control.  

In these circumstances you have to focus on survival, tiding families, businesses and the country through what are going to be tough times. Ideas of growth, profit, raises even travel plans and weddings have to be called into question. 

To an extent, this is simply the price we pay for being Singaporean. 

We are well connected and open to the outside world. Our airports and ports are among the world’s busiest —-connectivity is our lifeblood.  

This has allowed us to achieve tremendous economic success but at this moment it’s a liabiltiy.   

While we have to stay calm, we also have to acknowledge this is really not business as usual. Forecasts made at the beginning of the year are already outdated. 

Even if the outbreak is resolved rapidly (hopefully) the economic damage will still be considerable.  

We will need to adapt and think very fast. In a country used to stable planning and a stable upward trajectory, this could be a real challenge. It will be a test for Singapore’s population and her policy makers to deal with something so unplanned for. 

I am optimistic. I know we are up to the challenge. Stay strong.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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