26 April 2020

Was Singapore just unlucky in its coronavirus fight?

For want of a nail?

Singapore's coronavirus response has been lauded as a golden standard for the international community, an oasis of technocratic competence. In as little as 3 months since the virus arrived in Singapore, a massive outbreak has hit its guest worker community and its sterling reputation.

The media narrative paints a compelling story: Singapore is a poster child that merely got unlucky. Its technocrats had the situation in hand by following the protocols it developed from its encounter with SARS 2 decades ago. They had just an unfortunate, single blind spot in an area no one could predict. To use Benjamin Franklin's retelling of the proverb of the nail, "a little neglect" of Singapore's overcrowded and unsanitary dormitories led to the failure of Singapore's battle against coronavirus.

Wallace Tripp, 1973 illustration from
A Great Big Ugly Man Came up and Tied his Horse to Me: A Book of Nonsense Verse

08 April 2020

Can Singapore's politicians listen to the experts?

We established in our previous post that panic buying is a human response to crisis. Panic is fed by the trio of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.  In Singapore itself, the government dithered and delayed before the politicians put the technocrats in charge to deal with the global pandemic. Before that, various departments issued directives that were at cross-purposes with each other. These public failures of judgement and coordination fed the fear, uncertainty, and doubt in Singapore, which exploded into an wave of panic buying across the island when the authorities raised the national disease outbreak alert to Orange on 9 February 2020.

Trade minister Chan Chun Sing, a ministerial member of the multi-named task force, reacted with a furious, dismissive, and insulting rant some time later, to a group of businessmen at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He ridiculed the panic buyers, insulted them, and accused them of undermining Singapore's national standing and survival.

Sure, minister Chan might not be a psychologist, sociologist, or a communications expert but was what he said that wrong? Didn't he say what everyone else was thinking? Wasn't this what we'd expect from a straight-talking former career general? Wasn't this highly strategic and forward thinking befitting a former Chief of the Army and a former front-runner for Singapore's next prime minister?

Playing chess with Death during the plague