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Singapore's upcoming leaders tested as COVID wave rattles public

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Twincharged

https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Coronavirus/Singapore-s-upcoming-leaders-tested-as-COVID-wave-rattles-public?utm_campaign=GL_coronavirus_latest&utm_medium=email&utm_source=NA_newsletter&utm_content=article_link&del_type=10&pub_date=20211011150000&seq_num=7&si=44594

Singapore's upcoming leaders tested as COVID wave rattles public
PM hopefuls in tight spot between virus containment and vow to unchain economy

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A sign encourages social distancing in Singapore in late September, as coronavirus cases rise.   © Reuters
DYLAN LOH, Nikkei staff writerOctober 11, 2021 13:05 JST

SINGAPORE -- The Singaporean government is fighting a relentless wave of COVID-19 infections, with daily cases topping 3,700 for the first time on Saturday despite a full vaccination rate above 80%. The crisis has ensnarled key ministers tipped as potential leadership candidates in a battle to manage public fears and expectations.

The city-state's long-term plan is to "live with" the coronavirus as an endemic disease like the flu, backed by widespread jabs. The vaccines are largely working as advertised, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday stressed that Singapore "must press on" with the strategy while taking precautions.

"Singapore cannot stay locked down and closed off indefinitely," Lee said in a televised address, as the city-state revealed plans to reopen its borders further. "It would not work, and it would be very costly."

But as the case numbers rise and the death toll creeps above 160, there are signs of public uncertainty and unease. For the government ministers tasked with guiding the way -- including prime minister hopefuls -- the pressure of balancing safety and economic considerations is growing as online petitions criticize their performance. For the rest of the world, Singapore is becoming a case study in communication and the challenges of preparing a population to coexist with COVID.

Eugene Tan, a 37-year-old researcher, is one resident struggling to shake worries about the virus despite living in one of the world's most vaccinated countries. As cases climbed, he pulled his three children out of preschool.

Part of his concern was that the children, all under 5, are in an age group that has not yet been approved for shots. Their grandparents, among the most vulnerable to breakthrough infections, care for the kids on a daily basis. But Tan also feels the government's evolving strategy has left the public unsure.

He recalled how last year officials would "go hard on the brakes" on social activity whenever there was an outbreak. This time, they have stopped short: In late September they reintroduced limits on gatherings and dining out to two people, explaining they needed to buy time to scale up health care capacity. But they have not reimposed sweeping restrictions, avoiding the "zero tolerance" policies still seen in some parts of Asia, such as mainland China.

"While the government has tried to prepare Singaporeans for an increase in cases and justify its rationale for opening up, I think it has misjudged how the public would accept the trade-off of increased death rates and critical illness," Tan said. "With the current wave, the tweaking of its own policies suggest that the government seems to be playing catch-up on the worsening COVID situation, while still wanting to capitalize on opening up."

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The researcher is not alone in harboring doubts. Pockets of Singaporeans are calling out the coronavirus task force led by Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong. The first two are rising leaders in the ruling People's Action Party and considered potential candidates to succeed Prime Minister Lee.

"As Singapore has agreed to choose ... living with COVID, it does not mean that you should just leave everything and allow this situation to blow up," reads a petition on the website change.org, calling for Ong to resign over the infection surge. It had gathered over 8,000 signatures as of Monday morning.

Another petition called for Wong and Gan to quit -- but for the opposite reason. It charged that they lacked the "will" to follow through on living with endemic COVID. This petition, however, gained little traction, managing well below 100 signatures.

Many, like Singaporean financial adviser Michelle Ngiam, recognize the tight spot the ministers are in. "They are doing what they can to the best of their ability," Ngiam said. "They are also limited by certain factors like manpower and available resources so we can't expect them to be perfect."

But experts do see the situation testing the upcoming leaders' standing in the eyes of the public. "With zigzagging policymaking, they risk losing [the] favor of the electorates that prefer more certainty, which is one of the features the government once had," Yu Liuqing, country analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit told Nikkei Asia.

Yu argued Wong and Ong should still be seen as good policymakers and technocrats, with their calibrated approach to containing COVID. But he said public trust "is expected to have deteriorated a little amid the oscillation of policy approach between 'containment' and 'freedom.'"

He also suggested public guidance on the changing strategy may have been "inadequate" -- "failing to manage the expectation of this wave of COVID-19 and [to] fully destigmatize COVID-19."

Put another way, Singapore wants to live with the virus, but the public may not be primed to accept what that means.

Official statistics over the past month or so show 98% of cases had no or mild symptoms, indicating the Pfizer and Moderna jabs Singapore has used are working to prevent severe infections. To allocate resources to those most in need, the authorities are letting fully vaccinated people with nonserious cases recover at home. "With vaccinations, COVID-19 has become a treatable, mild disease for most of us," Lee said on Saturday.

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Singaporean Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and other coronavirus task force ministers are in the spotlight over the government's "living with COVID" strategy.   © AP

Yet with the government urging the public to regularly self-test for COVID -- kits are available from vending machines -- medical helplines and facilities have been inundated with inquiries from alarmed residents who tested positive. This has put extra, some might say unnecessary, stress on the health system.

"We are still very afraid of the virus despite the low numbers of serious infections reported every day," observed Paul Tambyah, president of the Asia-Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection in Singapore.

At the same time, Tambyah noted that around 1,500 COVID patients have ended up in hospital wards in recent weeks. That, he said, is equivalent to "about one and a half general hospitals, which is quite a significant impact."

"I think that people have a lot of questions and it would be good to have these answered in a frank and open way," Tambyah said.

Health Minister Ong, who has stressed that the delta variant "doesn't follow our script," has pledged to work out kinks in the government's response. He acknowledged in parliament recently that the home recovery initiative was not ready to deal with the surge in COVID-19 patients. He has also warned that the country should brace itself for a possible scenario with 5,000 cases reported a day.

Ong's colleague Wong, on the other hand, has tried to assure Singaporeans they need not be alarmed, since severe cases are likely to remain limited. He has also sought to "destigmatize" the virus, as the EIU's Yu suggested. "There's nothing to be embarrassed about if you catch COVID," Wong said earlier this month. "Sooner or later, many of us will end up catching the virus, but we will have zero or mild symptoms."

Lee on Saturday appeared determined to set the record straight and calm a worried public. He acknowledged that "many have found it difficult to keep up with new policies and changes to measures," and that "'living with COVID-19' has not been a smooth and easy journey."

He warned the government "may have to tap on the brakes again if cases again grow too fast." But he called for a change in mindset.

"We should respect COVID-19," Lee said, "but we must not be paralyzed by fear."
 

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Twincharged

LOL....Nikkei?? One of their SG ex-writers too busy facing sex-related offence charges?

 

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Hypersonic

Chey I thought really lead by example tested positive 

 

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Hypersonic

I though ministers being tested for covid... 

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Supercharged
1 hour ago, Mustank said:

Chey I thought really lead by example tested positive 

 

When I first read, I also thot they got people test positive. Sigh, I tired about scolding ah kun liao

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5th Gear

It is most difficult part for policy makers. i think if LKY is still around, he too face with options with on clear cuts. On one hand , if the government do a a lockdown, many will be worst off. On the other, if you open you have this problem we are facing now. So I think the best is to strike a balance. And the balance is like walking on a tight rope, which one can fall anytime. Sigh. Is really a tough decision for all countries.

The next question, is what is the long term health implications for those that recover? That is yet to be understand. Only time will tell.  

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Supercharged
34 minutes ago, HP_Lee said:

It is most difficult part for policy makers. i think if LKY is still around, he too face with options with on clear cuts. On one hand , if the government do a a lockdown, many will be worst off. On the other, if you open you have this problem we are facing now. So I think the best is to strike a balance. And the balance is like walking on a tight rope, which one can fall anytime. Sigh. Is really a tough decision for all countries.

The next question, is what is the long term health implications for those that recover? That is yet to be understand. Only time will tell.  

I mentioned before, they know the unvaccinated and old are going to get the hit. Why didn't they do a CB for these people and yes, they did not allow those unvaccinated but they can also dis allow the old. Do it with explanation. Catch them but not punish them too hard behind. Ask for support. I think it will be a better way to handle. You see how the China drives it. I always laugh at them, but they work it out

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Supersonic
2 minutes ago, Arogab said:

I mentioned before, they know the unvaccinated and old are going to get the hit. Why didn't they do a CB for these people and yes, they did not allow those unvaccinated but they can also dis allow the old. Do it with explanation. Catch them but not punish them too hard behind. Ask for support. I think it will be a better way to handle. You see how the China drives it. I always laugh at them, but they work it out

Old folks very ti ki one..... 

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Supercharged
4 minutes ago, Volvobrick said:

Old folks very ti ki one..... 

There's  a will, there's a way lah. Then CB time, all old folks come out meh? At least cut it down right from the start. I just don't agree to let it go just like this. Where is the responsibilities? 

Same like my case, if my bosses did not see my so called "Hard work to keep it low".....How to justify? At least show some hard work, I really do not see it. Not humble at all

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We are such a small country with so many scholars and we cant do it well?  

Then how about the big big countries with tens to hundreds of millions of people? Do they have the best team to lead them?  Jialat liao…..sigh….
 

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5 hours ago, Arogab said:

I mentioned before, they know the unvaccinated and old are going to get the hit. Why didn't they do a CB for these people and yes, they did not allow those unvaccinated but they can also dis allow the old. Do it with explanation. Catch them but not punish them too hard behind. Ask for support. I think it will be a better way to handle. You see how the China drives it. I always laugh at them, but they work it out

Honestly, we don't have enough ppl to do policing.  It is made worse with police who are afraid to shoot tasers.

To do what you said, it is likely to need to call back all reservists.  Who is going to do their work?

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@Volvobrick 

22 hours ago, Volvobrick said:

Old folks very ti ki one..... 

Indeed, this is very true. It could due the mostly educated bunch, and naive. Doesn't understand what is health crises. While jogging along the connector park, always see quite a number of seniors gather and doesn't know how to wear mask properly. Some even talking loudly, trying to tell others they are heros. Like the Chinese saying, only when one sees coffin will cry hard.     

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Turbocharged (edited)
23 hours ago, Volvobrick said:

Old folks very ti ki one..... 

The pioneer generation creation myth has made many in what is frankly the least educated and scientifically ignorant group feel people owe them something thus they can do anything without consideration... they are the original:" limpeh la li kong generation.."

when it was just all a vote buying exercise.  Any other generation would get fxxk upside down. 

Edited by Playtime
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Supercharged
18 hours ago, inlinesix said:

Honestly, we don't have enough ppl to do policing.  It is made worse with police who are afraid to shoot tasers.

To do what you said, it is likely to need to call back all reservists.  Who is going to do their work?

Haha, I was in meeting full day for yesterday. I see liao also feel "Heart Sour" lah. 

Actually it's not too much of my problem, my work life is outside of SG, worse than SG's condition. My Brother takes care of everything and I no need to worry too much. 

But I honestly have to say, I grow up and educated in SG, I see the world and of cos I want the country I love to do well. In the sense that we are a nation well taken care of with good lives. But It seems like at certain point. We ownselves take care of ownselves. Haha. I want to be constructive. But at times, I think I cannot do much but just bitch on it

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1 hour ago, Arogab said:

Haha, I was in meeting full day for yesterday. I see liao also feel "Heart Sour" lah. 

Actually it's not too much of my problem, my work life is outside of SG, worse than SG's condition. My Brother takes care of everything and I no need to worry too much. 

But I honestly have to say, I grow up and educated in SG, I see the world and of cos I want the country I love to do well. In the sense that we are a nation well taken care of with good lives. But It seems like at certain point. We ownselves take care of ownselves. Haha. I want to be constructive. But at times, I think I cannot do much but just bitch on it

You have been out for more than a decade, right? 
you are effetively no longer Singaporean lah….🤣

 

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2 hours ago, Arogab said:

Haha, I was in meeting full day for yesterday. I see liao also feel "Heart Sour" lah. 

Actually it's not too much of my problem, my work life is outside of SG, worse than SG's condition. My Brother takes care of everything and I no need to worry too much. 

But I honestly have to say, I grow up and educated in SG, I see the world and of cos I want the country I love to do well. In the sense that we are a nation well taken care of with good lives. But It seems like at certain point. We ownselves take care of ownselves. Haha. I want to be constructive. But at times, I think I cannot do much but just bitch on it

I was bitching a lot about how backward Sg is as compared to China.

After a while, I gave up.

Keep your family in Sg safe and healthy.

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Supercharged
On 10/21/2021 at 10:02 AM, Throttle2 said:

You have been out for more than a decade, right? 
you are effetively no longer Singaporean lah….🤣

 

I come back all the time. I have everything here😁

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