19 March 2020

Did Singapore do everything right in the coronavirus epidemic?

Even in the developing global Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, the nation state of Singapore punches above its weight when the main action takes place in China, South Korea, Japan, then Iran and mainland Europe. Singapore—or some facsimile of it—is summoned, bound and fashioned by the intersection of medicine and politics.

Depending on the narrative, Singapore is a nigh impossible to imitate exemplar of epidemic containment, a non-dysfunctional authoritarian-technocratic polity poised to seduce the democratic West and its allies in its hour of crisis, an embarrassing failure because panic buying did break out in its otherwise well-behaved, obedient, and acquiescent population, or an embarrassing failure because it was for several weeks, the country with the highest incidents of coronavirus infections outside China. Then there is the  Global Health Security Index, whose inaugural October 2019 edition considered Singapore's pandemic preparedness far behind the developed West and even its neighbours in Southeast Asia.

Did Singapore really do everything right? How could it have done everything right if it wasn't expected to do everything right? Can Singapore's pandemic response be considered a success despite its populace succumbing to multiple bouts of panic buying?

Plague in London, 1625
Title artwork from Thomas Dekker's pamphlet "A Rod for Run-awayes"