SINGAPORE, Aug 21 — Singapore’s “right and prudent” approach to managing the Covid-19 crisis has paid off, putting it in a “new position” compared with other top global cities that are still grappling with the virus, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday as he reiterated the country’s commitment to remain an open economy.
“If we had opened up recklessly, then we would not be Singapore anymore. Our experience of Covid-19 would have resembled New York’s or London’s.
“People would now be asking to leave Singapore, not asking to return,” Ong said. He was speaking at a dialogue session with members of the European Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.
Though Britain has one of the world’s highest Covid-19 death tolls and it is in the midst of a third wave of infections, its prime minister Boris Johnson had lifted almost all the social restrictions in England in July.
In the United States, New York and other cities are also seeing rising infections due to the highly contagious Delta variant, with the country reporting 1,820 new infections on a seven-day average as of Aug 16.
In his speech, Ong noted that the Government has been able to keep a lid on infections such that they have not overwhelmed hospitals here.
And in contrast to other cities and countries, Singapore has seen relatively few deaths as a result of the pandemic by adopting a “middle course” as it seeks to become a “Covid-19-resilient nation”. Singapore has recorded 46 deaths as on Thursday since the start of the pandemic.
While social and economic restrictions have caused inconveniences, Ong said that “by and large, life could carry on normally”, as schools, restaurants and attractions could stay open “most of the time”.
“We believe this approach was right and prudent. People value and love Singapore not because we adopt a freely willing, laissez-faire attitude about anything, let alone public health,” he said.
“People value us because the city is well-governed. Everything works, we are stable, secure, we are safe. And above all, because we take care of everyone in Singapore, even in a pandemic.
“There is no country or region in the world that has been both free of restrictions and safe from Covid-19. Singapore had to weigh carefully between preserving lives and livelihoods.”
Committed to staying open
On Thursday, the Government announced the easing of border restrictions, with people from Brunei, Germany, Hong Kong and Macau set to be among the first to be able to travel here.
In his speech, Ong also stressed that Singapore remains committed to keeping its economy open to foreign investments and foreign talent.
This is despite having to deal with disruptions to cross-border activities brought about by the pandemic, as well as the debate among Singaporeans — that predates Covid-19 — on whether bringing in foreign manpower and entering into trade deals with other countries harm the interests of citizens here.
Ong said that these conversations are not new, but he cautioned that attempts by some people to use such economic agreements to stir up anti-foreigner and xenophobic sentiments could see the rise of far-right anti-globalisation and populist politics in Singapore.
That is why he, along with Manpower Minister Tan See Leng, had delivered ministerial statements in Parliament last month to clarify untruths made about free trade agreements and in particular, the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement.
“The PAP (People’s Action Party) Government is prepared to confront this issue, because openness is a fundamental value for us,” Ong said.
“We are confident the great majority of Singaporeans understand the need for us to stay open However, we must and we will address the genuine concerns of some Singaporeans.”
Demonstrating how Singapore has tried various ways to remain open during the coronavirus outbreak, Ong raised examples of the nation’s response to several key incidents in the last 18 months.
This included the disruption to supply lines caused by Covid-19 early last year, as well as the nation’s efforts to provide accommodation for stranded Malaysian workers after Malaysia locked down its borders at short notice.
He also said that in the nation’s public health response to Covid-19, the Government has been fair to all living here.
All Singapore residents regardless of nationality have been given the best possible care at no cost, and foreigners living here were also offered Covid-19 vaccine shots after the national vaccination exercise kicked off early this year.
“We are a hub and a key node in the world. If people from different parts of the world cannot come here to do business, exchange ideas, collaborate, create sparks and make things happen, we are diminished,” Ong said.
“I can assure all our international partners that Singapore’s approach to running our economy has not and will not change.” — TODAY