SINGAPORE, Nov 29 — The Covid-19 pandemic is a test of the “sacred trust” between Singaporeans and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) government, which the country’s leaders had to draw on and must continue nurturing, said the party’s secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Speaking at the annual PAP convention for party activists, Lee, who is the Prime Minister, said Singapore’s measures against Covid-19 have worked because Singaporeans trust the PAP government to keep everyone safe and the Republic “in working order”.

“They know the PAP will never give up in a crisis, we won’t buckle, and we will always have your back,” he said.

As a result of this trust, Singaporeans complied with safe management measures, the repeated rounds of tightening and easing of measures, and came forward to get vaccinated without hesitation, he said.

Singapore has also avoided the “political divisions and deep distrust” that afflicted other countries, because the party had worked for decades to build social cohesion and trust before the crisis struck.

Nevertheless, the PAP government had faced many difficult and urgent decisions involving the safety measures needed, and which inevitably disappointed or affected certain groups of people no matter how hard it tried to cushion the blow, Lee said.

“Yet, the Government must exercise its judgement to the best of its ability and carry Singaporeans along,” he added.

Said Lee: “I told the ministers: In a crisis, leaders cannot afford to waver. It is not the time to worry about being popular, or looking good. You have been elected for one purpose, and you have to focus on your duty: To make the right decision, keep Singapore safe and see Singaporeans through this crisis. Concentrate on that, get the job done.

“This is why Singaporeans elected us. It is a sacred trust,” he added.

Test of trust

Hence, the PAP must build on that trust by dealing competently with problems along the way, explaining clearly its decisions and why it has picked a certain direction to head towards, said Lee.

To do this, the Government has held regular press conferences and national broadcasts so that “everyone understands our considerations and game plan, and is psychologically prepared for what is to come”.

Said Lee: “(We must) be open and transparent, share what we know, and admit what we do not know. We have to announce bad news as well as good, report what has gone right, but more importantly, also acknowledge what has gone wrong and will be put right.”

Singapore’s political leaders must also lead by example, he stressed.

“The same rules apply to everybody — safe distancing, mask wearing, testing and isolation requirements. Minister or MP (Member of Parliament), community leader or safe distancing ambassador — you abide by the same rules, whoever you may be,” said Lee, noting how leaders who abuse their positions elsewhere in the world had undermined this public trust.

“Covid-19 has been a searching test of public trust, for societies all around the world. Some societies are high-trust, others are low-trust — and it makes all the difference in a crisis. Singapore is and must always be a high-trust society,” he added.

Omicron may force Singapore to take a few steps back

In his speech, Lee noted the appearance of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus around the world.

The World Health Organisation on Friday declared it to be a variant of concern, highlighting the concerning number of mutations it possesses. Scientists around the world are still analysing what it means in terms of infectivity and whether it can defeat current vaccines.

Lee said: “We are tracking this very closely. We are not sure yet but we may well be forced to take a few steps back again, before we can take more steps forward.”

Despite this new threat, he expressed confidence that Singapore will find its way back to living with the virus.

“We are making all this effort because we want to get there safely, with as few casualties along the way (as possible),” he said. — TODAY