Health of Singaporeans is paramount: Lawrence Wong, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Health of Singaporeans is paramount: Lawrence Wong

This article is more than 12 months old

National Development Minister says tough measures will affect lives and livelihoods but can be eased if Singaporeans cooperate

Tough decisions are being taken - and some of these are affecting the economy - but National Development Minister Lawrence Wong feels that Singapore will just have to "manage it".

Right now, only one thing is paramount: The health and safety of Singaporeans.

But down the road, if everyone plays their part, some of the tough measures that have cramped life on the island as it battles the Covid-19 outbreak can be eased, said Mr Wong, in an exclusive interview with The Straits Times.

On the flip side, the number of unlinked cases going up could play the spoiler. Or a super-spreader event could unleash a nightmare scenario.

"Our basis of making decisions has to be first and foremost from a public health perspective, doing what is right and necessary", said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force battling the Covid-19 outbreak in Singapore.

"That to me is the key priority."

As the outbreak spreads locally and globally, Singapore has steadily ramped up its defences - from tougher border control and travel restrictions, to curbs on public gatherings, shutting down of bars and entertainment outlets and encouraging working from home.

Mr Wong said: "There will be economic consequences from these public health measures but I think that we will have to just manage it... Rather than worry too much about the economic impact and because of that, choose not to take certain important public health measures."

The Covid-19 pandemic is here for the long haul and life will not go back to normal anytime soon, but some of these measures can be eased if everyone does his or her part, he said.

Speaking of his experience since he was made co-chair of the task force in January, Mr Wong said: "Every day we are discussing, thinking through potential scenarios of how the virus can unfold and then developing new measures, adjusting and updating our measures."

The decisions often have to be made quickly, without the benefit of complete data in a rapidly evolving situation.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong co-chairs the task force with Mr Wong.

The Government knows that its decisions have an impact on people's lives and livelihoods.

But not implementing the public health measures does not mean there will be zero economic impact, Mr Wong said.

As the virus spreads, people would stop travelling or going out, so the impact on the economy would still be there.

What he fears most, and the reason he does not "have peaceful sleep at night", is a super-spreader event.

He said: "You only need one event to be a super-spreader event that can cause a large uncontrollable outbreak and then it starts to accelerate.

"When it accelerates and it's out of control, it overwhelms your hospital system and then you start to see rising mortality rates, particularly among the more vulnerable groups."