In the early stage of the COVID-19 outbreak, there were two schools of thought on how the virus should be dealt with. As Singapore moves closer towards Phase 3, let’s have a quick recap on what worked around the world.
Imposing a lockdown
One approach would be to impose a lockdown to contain the virus and stem its spread. The downside to this approach would be – damage to the economy and loss of jobs.
China is perhaps one of the best examples of a country that took a drastic step of complete lockdown. It was incredibly successful and managed to control the virus after two months. China implemented an effective contact tracing system by utilising the help of service and telecom providers to provide data on citizens’ movements. Its economy swiftly recovered and is doing well as it boasts a large domestic market.
Developing herd immunity?
The second approach would be to allow the virus to spread and let the population develop a herd immunity against it. This means overwhelmed hospitals and many people will die for want of treatment.
Most countries adopted a version of the first approach but did not impose a complete lockdown. There were attempts to ‘flatten the curve” and control the spread of the virus while still keeping the country semi-open. Most countries that took this approach were not able to eradicate the virus even after 10 months. The UK and US are seeing a resurgence of the virus and experiencing their second or third wave after easing restrictions.
Sweden is perhaps the only country that had minimal restrictions and hoped for the community to develop herd immunity. Initially, that approach appeared to have worked, but all signs now point to it as a disaster. Sweden has gone on to impose more severe restrictions. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said:
“The situation is going to get worse. Public gatherings will have a limit of eight. It is a clear and sharp signal to every person in our country as to what applies in the future. Don’t go to the gym, don’t go to the library, don’t have dinner out, don’t have parties –cancel!”
Singapore and moving towards Phase 3
In Singapore, we have managed to keep community cases low and controlled the spread in the dormitories. Over the past week, there were no local cases detected and Singaporeans are eagerly looking forward to Phase 3.
Nevertheless, let’s not forget that Singapore can only open up if we do the following:
- Maintain good personal hygiene, by washing our hands and sanitising them frequently
- Wear a mask whenever we step out of our homes
- Carry the TraceTogether token or use the app
- Avoid large gatherings
We have to remember that no one is safe until everyone is safe.
Developing quick contact tracing capability
To ensure everyone’s safety as Singapore moves towards Phase 3, we have to implement efficient contact tracing. We could have followed the footsteps of China, which required the telecom companies to provide movement details of individuals. This, however, will be an invasion of privacy. Instead, we have the TraceTogether token and app. It allows the quick tracing of contacts once a confirmed Covid case occurs.
Singapore may wish to test “super-spreaders” (people who come into contact with large numbers of the public) regularly. Examples would be people like bus captains, taxi drivers, hawkers and teachers.
Vaccines before Phase 3?
Many countries are racing to develop the vaccine. However, we should not be overly optimistic that the vaccine will be introduced to us in the near future. Not only will it take time to develop the vaccine, but we also need to wait for it to be tested and proven before it is even rolled out and introduced to the world. After it is successfully rolled out, it will again take some time for society to receive the immunisation.
The new normal
The truth is, most of us would have to learn to live in a different manner. In addition, the Government has said that Phase 3 could be as long as a year for Singapore. Let’s not be hasty and take the necessary precautions to ensure that all can enjoy the freedom that comes with Phase 3.