Singaporeans scared of easing Covid restrictions

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Information Bulletin: The Road to Recovery

Protesters from the United States to Australia and across Europe spoke out against government interference and repressive Covid restrictions. But in Singapore, a large part of the population is demanding even greater state control.

A petition is circulating in the city-state to restore mandatory quarantine for all overseas travelers, despite the Delta variant already circulating widely, while a quarter of Singaporeans support a return to lockdown restrictions.

The Singapore government announced with great optimism in June that it would change its “zero-Covid” approach and instead learn to live with the virus.

Its strategy has been touted as a model for other countries looking for a safe way out of the pandemic. But as cases inevitably increased in August and September, panic set in.

Authorities responded this week by overriding residents’ freedoms despite having overtaken most advanced economies by fully vaccinating 82% of its population.

With more than 2,000 daily cases, homework has become the norm again as elementary students return to home learning. For next month, only two diners are allowed in restaurants and households can only accommodate two visitors.

The decision highlighted how many cities in Asia, most of which avoided the large number of deaths and cases that crippled the United States and Europe last year, still fear reopening their economies and borders.

Asian financial centers such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo have struggled to find the right balance between protecting their citizens and reviving their economies.

The fallout was illustrated in the latest Global Financial Centers Index from September 24, which showed both Singapore and Hong Kong down 25 points and Tokyo down 30 points. By comparison, New York lost just two points and London three.

Singapore’s economic attractiveness was also reflected this week by news that its population fell 4.1% to 5.45 million, one of the biggest year-over-year declines in the world. history of the country. The decline was led by a 10.7 percent drop in its non-resident population, which is largely foreign workers and students.

But tightly controlled Singapore, whose quasi-authoritarian government largely bans all demonstrations, was the largest of Asian cities in terms of openness.

The decision led to a rare event in the city-state: growing public dissent over government strategy.

“I have never in 20 years seen the academic or medical industry so disagree with the government about the treatment of asymptomatic cases,” said Jeremy Lim, of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University. . from Singapore.

Health professionals have criticized widespread population testing after the government sent test kits to every household, which has helped make residents nervous with little to no symptoms overwhelming hospitals.

According to the Department of Health, 98% – or 27,843 people – of the 28,375 cases recorded in the past 28 days had mild or no symptoms.

Condition Severity ('000) bar chart showing Singapore Covid cases over the past 28 days

“Many think it doesn’t make sense to screen for asymptomatic people,” Lim said. “The resulting high numbers cause a lot of anxiety and worry. People are flooding hospitals and general medicine clinics. This affects healthcare workers as staff are quarantined and services closed. “

A doctor who works at a large city hospital said he needed to reassure a vaccinated Singaporean woman in her 20s who had tested positive for Covid-19.

“People are really afraid of getting sick – many see it as some kind of personal failure,” he said. “This particular patient was asymptomatic but awaited her test result as if it were a diagnosis of cancer.”

People line up for rapid Covid-19 antigen tests in Singapore
Up to 98% of cases recorded in the past 28 days had mild or no symptoms © Edgar Su / Reuters

Almost a quarter of Singaporeans felt the latest restrictions were too lax, while more than half felt they were “fair,” according to market research firm Milieu Insight this week. A quarter felt they were too strict.

“What surprised me was how divided people were. There were a lot of people upset with the measures, but an equal amount were in favor of more restrictions, ”said Stephen Tracy, CEO of Milieu. “There is, however, a feeling that the latest rules are not in line with the strategy defined by the government.”

A petition calling for all returning travelers to quarantine for two weeks at designated hotels or government facilities garnered nearly 3,000 signatures on Thursday. Singapore exempts travelers from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brunei and Germany from quarantine. Passengers arriving from other countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, can self-isolate at home for seven days. Imported cases represent only a fraction of overall cases, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health.

However, some experts argue that Singapore should be applauded for attempting what no other country has achieved: a controlled exit from the pandemic.

“There is a lower tolerance for the number of deaths and cases seen in other countries because of how we avoided this during most of the pandemic,” said Dale Fisher, senior disease consultant infectious diseases at Singapore National University Hospital which also played a big role in the city’s response to Covid-19.

Governments should “avoid over-promising the removal of restrictions because things can change quickly,” especially with so many unvaccinated people in large parts of the world, Fisher added. ” We believe that [approach] is more secure.


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