How is Singapore coping with COVID-19? Analysis & Outlook.
By Christopher McCann, CKG
How is Singapore coping with COVID-19? Analysis & Outlook.
Global Ranking and Analysis of Singapore’s Response from January to June 2020.
As reported in The Straits Times and Forbes during the past few days, some detailed data analysis has been produced which currently ranks Singapore as 4th best out of 200 countries and regions for safety against COVID-19.
However, even during the same week in March as Singapore received this global admiration, the science at home was becoming clearer. Cases were still increasing. Unlike SARS this virus is asymptomatic so people had it and passed it on before they got sick. It became obvious that more stringent measures were required. Singapore then moved decisively and quickly. It's focus; to protect first its citizens' and residents' health, and then the country's economy. Not everybody agreed with this order of priorities and some countries even now are still preferring to try a "herd immunity" approach.
The Circuit Breaker. Lives First. Economy Second.
Such is social and commercial dissatisfaction with lock-downs that on 4th May, far away in the USA, the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, facing similar complaints, had this to say:
“A human life is priceless, period. Our reopening plan doesn’t have a trade-off. Our reopening plan says you monitor the data; if it goes up, you have a quote-unquote ‘circuit breaker,’ you stop, you close the valve.”
Lives first. Economy second. A “Circuit Breaker” is what Singapore had already announced on 3rd April: collectively a stringent set of preventive measures including home lock-down which was intended to be applied from 7th April to 4th May. However, on 21st April, due to continued untraced transmission within the community and an alarming increase in cases within and across foreign worker dormitories hosting 300,000 mainly Bangladeshi and Indian construction workers, Singapore opted to keep the ‘valve’ closed until 1st June. Since then, transgressions of the spirit and letter of the new laws and regulations have been few, and where they have happened, enforcement has been swift and is likely to be firm: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/7-charged-with-breaching-circuit-breaker-rules-in-robertson-quay
Emergence from the Circuit Breaker
The first of 3 phases of emergence from the Circuit Breaker began last week on 2nd June. This enables a return to work for some industries, but includes continuance of mandatory mask wearing in public and in the office, enforced social distancing in offices and on transport. Safe management guidance is here: https://www.mom.gov.sg/covid-19/requirements-for-safe-management-measures and clear guidelines are presented such as this official poster.
All shopping malls, stores, retail outlets, commercial buildings and company offices must register, create and use a SafeEntry system: everybody must scan a QR code on entry to every building, store, food outlet or office. In Stage 1, restaurants and food centres are only able to sell take-away. Hotels, dine-in restaurants and bars remain closed.
Like Australia and New Zealand, because Singapore is an island, its strictly closed borders and enforced safety measures should reduce Covid-19 cases to zero. However, there is commercial pressure to open the borders as soon as possible to enable flows of vital trade, tourists and talent. Balancing these pressures will be key to keeping cases low whilst successfully re-opening the economy.
High degree of healthcare modernisation and technological sophistication.
Meritocratic, city-state government capable of rapidly implementing very wide-spread social policy mandates and emergency mobilisation of resources.
Strong monitoring and detection efforts, both in terms of testing as well as in real-time monitoring of infection spread.
Singapore’s economy highly depends on foreign workforce and supply chains.
The region has a large ageing population, which is the most at-risk demographic for infection, mortality and negative long-term health outcomes as a result of COVID-19.
Singapore currently has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.
Singapore has in recent years been investing heavily into AI, digitisation and technological innovation, both generally and as it applies to healthcare.
The region is in a position to optimise their testing and treatment capacities by creating specific mechanisms and incentives for technology transfer to utilise these innovations for COVID-19 treatment.
Singapore’s strengths in AI can also be utilized to further strengthen their monitoring and detection capacities.
Economy highly depends on foreign workforce and supply chains. As a result of lockdowns and border-closings, Singapore is at risk for economic decline as a result of the pandemic.
Singapore’s large aging population puts the region at risk for large infection resurgences and future healthcare resource incapacitation due to the rapid rate of transmission in elderly care facilities and nursing homes. Note: this section in the original document mistakenly refers to 'Japan’s' ageing population, which I have replaced with Singapore
Singapore’s high ranking in this DKG research is not a surprise nor is it a surprise that there is a risk that a longer term detrimental economic impact might reduce its score. As Forbes says, “Initially, countries that could react quickly to crises and had high levels of emergency preparedness ranked highest. Now countries with resilient economies are ranking higher.”
The threat of economic decline identified in the DKG research is real and sustained. On 26th May the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) revised its forecast of recession to be deeper than earlier predicted, with gross domestic product (GDP) projected to shrink by between 7 per cent and 4 per cent during 2020.
The bright-side is that due to prudent pan-generational stewardship of its finances during the past 55 years, Singapore has impressive cash reserves to weather a medium-term economic crash, and it has carefully released this financial support via its four 2020 budgets, namely Unity, Solidarity, Resilience and Fortitude, together providing cash to Singaporean businesses, households and citizens, and supporting the development of a resilient and adaptable workforce.
For the Singapore economy there will continue to be risks and big questions of fiscal and monetary policy, financial flows, SGD and USD liquidity, credit support and debt accumulation. These are well covered in this engaging Institute of International Finance interview with Ravi Menon, Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, in “COVID-19 Risks and Policy Responses”. It was published yesterday and is well worth a listen or a read:
A COVID-19 response ranking of number 4 out of 200 countries and regions does seem fair. Compared to most countries, Singapore has calmly and diligently managed the unprecedented volume and complexity of scientific, economic, commercial, social and diplomatic factors as they have arisen during this crisis. When it has made mistakes or oversights, it has been honest and openly corrected or re-calibrated. Social cohesion and public compliance have been maintained, transgressions and heated situations have mostly been kept to a minimum.
However, this positive analysis will not cause complacency. There is still a long way to go in protecting the nation’s health whilst re-launching the economy, building resilience into skills, talent pools and supply chains, and safely opening up the borders to visitors and trade. Economic predictions are looking at a minimum of 12-18 months before the economy returns to growth. It's going to be tough.
“What we have built as a nation – our solidarity, our resolve and our resilience – gives me confidence that we will overcome the current crisis and any future challenges, to build a stronger and better Singapore together,”
Singapore United will keep learning, and it seems many smart countries around the world will keep learning from Singapore.
For live statistics in respect of Singapore’s Covid-19 response and situation: