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COVID-19 pandemic has taught Singapore valuable lessons, says PM Lee

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. File photo

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. File photo | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Covid-19 pandemic has taught Singapore valuable lessons "for which we have paid dearly", lessons that must not go to waste.

Speaking at an event on Sunday to mark 200 years since the establishment of Singapore General Hospital, Mr. Lee said Singapore "cannot thoughtlessly revert to the status quo ante" after the pandemic.

"We must make the most of the changes forced on us by the crisis to improve the way we do things," the Prime Minister said.

Mr. Lee credited Singapore's resilient healthcare system, an effective public health response and a high degree of public trust with making “a big difference” in weathering the pandemic.

But “while we count our blessings, we must prepare seriously for the next pandemic," said Mr. Lee.

‘More lethal pandemic possible in future’

“It is entirely possible that within the next few decades, another novel pathogen more lethal and infectious than Covid-19 will sweep the world,” the Channel News Asia quoted Mr. Lee as saying.

This means Singapore must keep its standards for medical excellence high, by investing in healthcare workers and good medical facilities and infrastructure, Mr. Lee said.

The country must also build up its scientific and biomedical capabilities to take advantage of the R&D expertise it has built up over the years, he added.

Singapore will also turn to developing public health expertise, which he described as “absolutely critical” in a pandemic.

“We need to be able to understand how a new disease is spreading, make sense of disease trends...and devise non-medical measures that can help bring the outbreak under control in our population,” he said.

The government will also shift its focus from hospital-centric care to patient-centred, preventive care by “tackling illness at its root, before it progresses to the point of needing treatment”, Mr. Lee said.

This will address the pressing needs of the ageing population and the burden of chronic diseases on the healthcare system, Mr. Lee explained.

Public trust

However, the most critical factor in Singapore's pandemic response, Mr. Lee said, is trust. This high degree of trust —between Singaporeans and the government, and in one another — has been built up over the years, he said.

“It is the fundamental reason why Singaporeans were able to come together during the pandemic, instead of working against each other,” he said, pointing to how the population abided by “burdensome” safe management measures and went for vaccinations and booster jabs.

Public trust in the healthcare system is based on the competency of commitment of healthcare workers, said Mr. Lee.

The transparency of the healthcare system, even when things fail to go as planned, has also played a part, he added.

He cited the example of the Ministry of Health regularly reporting statistics on serious adverse events following Covid-19 vaccination and proactively investigating any errors, such as when someone received the wrong dose.

"Some may be tempted to think that it would have been easier to keep things quiet...but it would have been very unwise," said the prime minister.

"Rumours will spread, people will gradually lose faith in the system and we will eventually pay a high price — the loss of public trust." An effective public health response also helped Singapore deal with the Covid-19 crisis, Mr. Lee said.

This refers to the use of public policies, including non-medical interventions, to manage the course of the pandemic and limit the spread of the virus.

Examples of such measures include isolating, contact tracing, safe management measures and cross-border restrictions.

Vaccination

Singapore's national vaccination programme also required many public health decisions, Mr. Lee noted.

For example, decisions were made about which groups to vaccinate first, how soon to administer booster shots, and how to differentiate between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

"Effectively integrating these public health tools and considerations with our resilient healthcare system made all the difference in this pandemic," said Mr. Lee.

Singapore is approaching its goal of living with Covid-19, Mr,. Lee said, in a speech that came two days after Singapore announced rolling back coronavirus restrictions.

"You can feel the city coming back to life," he said. "We are quietly confident of dealing with whatever may come, and continuing to progress towards the new normal." Mr. Lee credited Singapore's "strong and resilient" healthcare system with helping the country weather Covid-19.

Describing how Singapore has invested heavily in healthcare infrastructure, Mr. Lee pointed to the construction and expansion of eight hospitals since 2010. The number of polyclinics has also increased from 18 to 23 in the past five years.

When Covid-19 hit Singapore, hospitals built up stockpiles of essential medical supplies, ramped up intensive care unit capacity and reorganised and mobilised resources to support the emergency departments and Covid-19 wards, Mr. Lee noted.

"Most of all, our healthcare workers displayed professionalism and commitment, kept our healthcare system strong and resilient, and enabled Singapore to maintain a degree of normalcy in extraordinary times," he added, thanking healthcare workers for their "courage, perseverance, and commitment to the cause".

"Singapore is deeply grateful to all of you," the channel had Mr. Lee as saying.


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2022 3:15:22 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/covid-19-pandemic-has-taught-singapore-valuable-lessons-says-pm-lee/article65352858.ece