It could be years before virus runs its course: PM Lee, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

It could be years before virus runs its course: PM Lee

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PM Lee also calls on US and China to work together to combat pandemic

It could take several years for the coronavirus to go around the world and run its course, unless something happens to abort that process, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, adding that the world will have to brace itself for a long battle ahead.

In an interview yesterday with CNN's Fareed Zakaria about Singapore's much-lauded response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Lee said he hesitates to call it a "success story" as it is still in the midst of an intensifying battle.

He does not see the pandemic going away in a couple of months and expects it to spread to other parts of the world such as India, Africa and Latin America.

Mr Fareed also asked about the role of the United States in the pandemic, noting that President Donald Trump did not seem interested in taking the lead.

To this, Mr Lee said the world has greatly benefited from American leadership in such crises for decades. "If America is in a different mode, well, we will get by and I think other configurations will eventually work out, but it would be a loss."

The US, he added, has the resources, science, influence, soft power and track record of dealing with these problems convincingly and successfully.

"It is a pity not to put those resources to work now, to deal with this very grave challenge to mankind."

He called upon the US and China - which have been pointing fingers at each other for the outbreak - to work together to combat the pandemic.

"It is a most unfortunate situation to be in. I mean, US-China relations have been complicated even before this. But if we are going to deal with this virus, you have got to get all the countries to be working together, in particular, the US and China.


"Under the best of circumstances, it is going to be a very difficult challenge for mankind. But if the US and the Chinese are swapping insults and blaming one another for inventing the virus and letting it loose on the world, I do not think that that is going to help us solve the problem sooner."

To tackle the virus through herd immunity, a controversial strategy to allow a community to be infected and build immunity to the virus would be very painful, Mr Lee said, as a large proportion of the population would have to be infected.

The other way is to flatten the curve, which will take a long time.

"You have got to hope for an off ramp to get off that path, and the only visible way to get an off ramp is to have either a treatment or an effective vaccine," he said.

"That is some distance down the road, but many very smart people are working very hard at it. I can only hope and pray that they will make some progress soon."

Asked if Singapore had been able to contain the virus because of its "paternalistic system", Mr Lee said the Government had not exercised "extraordinary powers". Instead, he said, in the battle against the virus, trust and transparency are key.

"We put a lot of effort into explaining to (the public) what is happening, speaking to them, and I have done it a few times directly on television, so people know that we are level and we tell it straight.

"We are transparent - if there is bad news, we tell you. If there are things which need to be done, we also tell you.

"I think that you have to maintain that trust because if people do not trust you, even if you have the right measures, it is going to be very hard to get it implemented."