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?