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Asia Pacific> Global Weekly> Content
Monday, March 02, 2020, 14:16
Singapore rises to the challenge
By Prime Sarmiento in Hong Kong
Monday, March 02, 2020, 14:16 By Prime Sarmiento in Hong Kong

Resilient healthcare system benefits from timely information shared by China in battling COVID-19

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 has tested and shown the resilience of Singapore’s public healthcare system, a senior World Health Organization official said.

Jacqueline Lo Ying-Ru, head of mission and WHO representative to Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Singapore, said that Singapore’s strong surveillance and diagnostic capability also benefited from timely information shared by China.

“Singapore’s health authorities are very capable as demonstrated by how they responded to the COVID-19 outbreak,” Lo told China Daily. 

Singapore has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia, with 91 as of Feb 25, according to the country’s Ministry of Health. The ministry’s data also showed that Singapore’s caseload is easing as seen in the rising number of discharged cases. It had 58 discharged cases as of Feb 25.

Lo said that the city-state learned from its experience of tackling the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. Singapore is also willing to work with — and learn from — the international community in managing COVID-19.

For instance, Lo said one of the key lessons that Singapore learned from China is better diagnosing of cases.

“China has shared the genome sequence of the COVID-19 virus to the world. Singapore has used this to develop a testing kit and diagnostic protocol,” she said.

Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research and Tan Tock Seng Hospital have developed of a diagnostic test kit which helps in screening people infected with the coronavirus. These kits are now being used in the country’s public hospitals.

Singapore has likewise sent diagnostic test kits, medical supplies and personal protective equipment to China. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this reflects the cooperation between the two countries.

“Our shared experience fighting SARS in 2003 taught us that countries have to work with one another to deal with a global public health crisis,” Lee said in a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Lee added that Singapore is also keen to work with China in developing a vaccine and an effective treatment for the virus. 

He said that the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on COVID-19 was “a positive sign of regional solidarity”. The meeting between China and member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was held in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, on Feb 20.

Despite its relatively high number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, the WHO and experts have praised Singapore’s efforts. 

At a press briefing on Feb 18, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “very impressed” with Singapore’s efforts “to find every case, follow up with contacts, and stop transmission”.

Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Singapore is aiming to “strike a careful balance between effective COVID-19 prevention and control measures and the rise of unnecessary panic”.

“The Singaporean government has worked closely with international partners, neighbors in the region, and (local community) society in combating COVID-19,” said Zi Yang, senior analyst with the China Program at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

He said this is an “appropriate response” given the transboundary nature of COVID-19.

Apart from cooperating with China, Singapore is also working closely with Malaysia as the two countries share a border. They agreed to align health screening protocols and to exchange information on clinical management of patients and surveillance data.

Zi believes that Singapore will overcome this challenge in the long run, noting that it has the resources and medical/research capability to mitigate the impact of the virus outbreak.

“The effects of COVID-19 will be felt for the entirety of 2020, which means Singapore is in for a long fight,” he said.


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