[LIFE] COVID-19 in Singapore

Many people have reached out to me asking about the coronavirus situation in Singapore (thank you for your concern) so I thought I would write a post to share my perspective on how it is being handled locally. I cannot stress enough that I am not a medical professional so this post is purely about my own experience living and working in Singapore as the country grapples with the virus.

When the virus first took hold, Singapore was topping global lists as having the highest number of cases outside of China. However, according to a Harvard study, Singapore’s place on the list might have initially been because of Singapore’s “gold standard” in contact tracing. The researchers estimated that the “global tally would be 2.8 times higher if all nations had same detection capacity”. (I wasn’t able to find any statistics on the total number of tests that have been conducted, as this would be an interesting metric to compare different countries).

So what is contact tracing? When a case is identified, the Singapore government interviews the patient to retract movements over the past two weeks and identify others that might have been contacted. Once identified, they conduct an interview to determine the closeness of this connection and determine whether quarantine (or hospitalization) is required. By some reports, there are 100+ people currently working as “contact tracers” to complete this process and 3,600 people who are under or have completed a quarantine period. Some public buildings (such as museums) ask you to fill in a form to facilitate contact tracing (if say a person who later contracted the virus had visited in the past 14 days). I have filled out a few of these forms around Singapore, but thankfully haven’t been contacted. The rules for quarantine are strict. Those under quarantine are contacted daily. 3 people face criminal action (including loss of permanent residency status, six months in jail, $10,000 fine) for breaching quarantine restrictions or providing false information.

In addition to contact tracing, Singapore determines a Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level, which triggers other actions. Each level (green, yellow, orange and red) represent different levels of outbreak severity and have different associated actions. We are currently at DORSCON Orange, meaning the disease is severe, but contained. The government and various companies have measures in place to correspond with the different levels. For example, at DORSCON Red, schools would be closed, but at DORSCON Orange, schools are open with some restrictions (i.e. no intra-mural sports leagues). Companies have taken different approaches to work during DORSCON Orange. Some of my friends are on mandatory work from home, others are working from home every other day. Our office is still open, with screening measures (I get my temperature taken at least four times per day… each time I enter the building and twice a day at Accenture) and crowd control measures (meetings of more than 20 people physically together are restricted).

The government has been highly transparent about efforts and next steps. As an example, I’m linking to a recent press release (similar versions available daily), where they provide (anonymized) information about individual cases, including age, travel history, medical history, and link to other cases. Officials have been active in the media, seeking to reassure Singaporeans and promoting consistent messaging. This 9 minute video from the Prime Minister (released when the DORSCON status changed from Yellow to Orange, and there was some panic buying of essentials) is worth watching.

The combination of these measures has slowed the growth of cases. As of writing (10 March), Singapore has had 150 cases, but only 60 are active as 90 have been discharged. Fortunately, and with many thanks to Singapore’s medical professionals, there have been no fatalities connected to the virus. 15 other countries are now reporting more cases than Singapore.

The local response makes me feel confident that the government is in control and has emergency plans in place to address the rapidly changing situation. There is much to learn from Singapore’s response, but unlikely that it could be replicated entirely elsewhere (geographically isolated, small population, aggressive measures from government from the beginning).

Singaporeans, what did I miss? Global friends, what other questions do you have?

Let us stay united and resolute in this new coronavirus outbreak. Take sensible precautions. Help one another. Stay calm and carry on with our lives.

-Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
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