18 May 2021

Who should we blame for Singapore's second Covid lockdown?

Ship of fools, woodcut, 1494 Basel

Singapore returned to a state of lockdown on 8 May 2021. With all indoor sports, indoor dining, mandatory work from home, and social gathering severely restricted (and with all schools switching to home-based learning), this is a mere quarter-turn of the screw away from the complete lockdown ("Circuit Breaker") from April 2020.

Much has been made about the quality of decision-making of Singapore's Interministerial Covid Task Force in this matter.  Once again like the initial dithering and delays that led to travellers from Wuhan colonising Singapore with the Covid virus, our leaders dithered for a month while India reported its worst Covid spikes in a year. Just like in the Wuhan case, Singapore's leaders sat on their hands long after India announced the lockdown of its capital. Singapore's leaders allowed travellers from India into the country, in increasing numbers, even after the Indian government blamed the outbreak not on the record crowds at the Kumbh Mela river festival but on the "India variant" of the Covid virus.

It was only when the UK declared its travel restrictions on India that Singapore followed suit, on the same day. Yet why do Singapore's leaders blame Singaporeans for its own India variant Covid clusters and the subsequent lockdown?

13 January 2021

Can we live together with TraceTogether?

Why is trust in TraceTogether at an all-time low?

Singaporeans should be celebrating. After nearly a year of lockdown, Singapore has entered the elusive "Phase 3" despite the inter-ministerial covid task force tripping itself over and over again with poor communication skills and crisis management and a tendency to allow PR agendas to trump medical-scientific expertise and set policy. By refusing to hold daily televised coronavirus briefings during the initial darkest months, this team failed to reassure, educate, guide, and rally the public and to shore up the government credibility and authority during the pandemic. Yes, it's time to talk about TraceTogether fiasco, where this credibility and authority is finally found wanting by the public.

05 July 2020

Can the PAP run on its Covid-19 performance and plans in a Covid-19 election?

What should this year's elections be about?

Singapore's general election campaign seasons tend to follow a general pattern: An initial period of free-for-all debates between the parties on all issues before the ruling People's Action Party leaders announce at the mid-point what issue or message the general election should hinge on. This is the main issue its challengers should engage them on, and the lens through which Singapore's responsible mainstream newspapers should refract and colour their daily election reporting and analysis. Strange as it sounds, this is how elections work in Singapore.

This year, the PAP appears to have made Covid-19 the central issue for the rest of the campaign period, challenging opposition parties to unveil their plans for the Covid-19 recovery. Is this a blunder that could snatch a PAP defeat from the jaws of victory, as opposed to the brilliant message that snatched a PAP victory from the jaws of defeat in 2015?

"Not all the statesman's power or art
could turn aside Death's certain dart"
Illustration by Thomas Rowlandson, in The English Dance of Death, 1816

03 July 2020

Modelling the 2020 Singapore General Election

Will this be a game of chess, or a game of twister?
Choose wisely when you play with Death!

When its prime minister Lee Hsien Loong called for parliament to be dissolved on 23 June 2020 for snap polls, Singapore joined an exclusive club of nations holding national elections during the global pandemic. South Korea's ruling Minjoo Party won its snap polls easily and even extended its majority in parliament. Taiwan's Tsai Ing-wen was handily reelected in its presidential polls. Will Singapore's People's Action Party do the same? Is it checkmate and a total wipeout for Singapore's opposition, which held just 6 seats out of 89 after the 2015 election?

08 June 2020

Where was Singapore's Prime Minister during the Covid-19 crisis?

On 7 June 2020, Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong made a national broadcast. In his half hour address to the nation, the prime minister set out Singapore's position in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, outlined the potential long-term problems in a post-coronavirus world and hinted at the wide-ranging reforms his cabinet team would propose and unveil in further broadcasts.

In his typical Deus Absconditus style, Lee set up and delegated the coronavirus response to a "Multi-Ministry Covid-19 Taskforce", vanished from the public eye almost completely, and let them run the show entirely. This team has since shown itself to be marred by poor communication skills and crisis management and a tendency to allow PR agendas to trump medical-scientific expertise and set policy. By refusing to have daily coronavirus briefings, this team failed to reassure, educate, guide, and rally the public and to shore up the government credibility and authority during the pandemic.

Credibility and authority need to be replenished because when dealing with a novel virus, governments and health agencies around the world are more than likely to stumble, reverse course, and refine their approaches as more is learned about the virus. It is also likely that institutional blind spots lead to massive outbreaks such as the one that is still continuing in Singapore's guest worker dormitories.

Does the prime minister's address to the nation now make up for these missteps and failures?

Can Minilee pull an FDR?

19 May 2020

What can Singapore learn from other countries on Covid-19?

Does Singapore still have an advantage in the lockdown era?

On 3 April 2020, Singapore became one of the last major economies of the world to enter a lockdown. Singapore's lockdown came 2 weeks to a month too late, after the pattern of case doubling had already been observed in early March. The international media has used the massive outbreak in Singapore's guest worker dormitories to write off Singapore as a role model for the pandemic.

To be fair, Singapore's SARS textbook response is a mitigation model aimed at containing the spread of a virus and eradicating it over time. Once community spread and outbreaks occur, Singapore as much as the rest of the world is in uncharted territory. Singapore's mitigation model will become relevant to the world again after nations emerge from their suppression model lockdowns. As for being 2 weeks to a month late to the global lockdown party, Singapore's leaders can fashion its own lockdown policy and implementation from mistakes and successes from the rest of the world.

05 May 2020

What can Singapore do about its dormitory population?

Are guest workers a hidden and permanent underclass in Singapore?

"S11", a dormitory or worker camp in Singapore
Photographer: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images
The segregation of COVID-19 numbers in Singapore's daily reporting is a misguided attempt to boost domestic morale through window dressing and impression management. Don't panic at these high numbers; guest workers living in dormitories are not part of the community, they're not local, they're not permanent residents! This intrusion of politics into technocratic competency in Singapore's effort to manage the coronavirus pandemic is now affecting key policy. The minister heading the coronavirus task force announced yesterday in parliament that our goal is to end the lockdown when new daily community cases are at low single digits. One can only infer this will be achieved by simultaneously discounting new daily numbers in the ongoing outbreak in the dormitories.

This attempt to handwave away more than 90% of SARS-COv-2 infections in Singapore is not supported by medical science. From an epidemiology standpoint, what's happening in Singapore's guest worker dormitories is a classic community outbreak. Contact tracing has established early on that guest workers living in dormitories were infected through a cluster at Mustafa Centre, a megamall popular with Singaporeans, permanent residents, guest workers, as well as tourists from all over the world.