Taiwanese-based Singaporean activist and blogger Roy Ngerng Yi Ling took to his Facebook on Thursday (12 March) to criticise Singapore’s government for not taking into account people’s involvement in strategy-planning to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak.
In his lengthy post, he shared his opinion on how Singapore implemented its approach to contain the transmission of coronavirus in the country.
He wrote, “From the speeches of the ministers, it is clear they have planned in advance to deal with an outbreak such as COVID-19, and the measures currently being put in place are as a result of this.”
He then cited the panic-buying incident that happened in Singapore, where the behaviour of buyers was seen as “creating a smudge” in the government’s well-prepared strategy and how some infected patients were called “socially-irresponsible” as the numbers of infected cases would be lower if those patients had been more responsible.
“This is part of the reason why the Singapore ministers get angry when Singaporeans don’t go according to their plan, and of course not, Singaporeans were never informed of the grand strategy, and even if so, collective behavior cannot be planned for,” Mr Ngerng said.
At the same time, Mr Ngerng condemned the country’s policymakers as “business people” who only have business interests in their mind.
He wrote in his post, “Singapore is not just a company they run. While such an approach could be feasible in times of relative calm when there are enough resources to keep people in their place, during times of crises, there are multiple variables including uncertain human reaction.”
He added that the so-called business leaders should be more considerate and support the employees if they still want their employees to support their business or continue running their “company”.
Other than that, Mr Ngerng also pointed out that there are loopholes that exist in the current healthcare system, though it has significantly contributed to help the government in coping with the coronavirus crisis.
Under the healthcare system, those with respiratory symptoms will be given five days of medical leave, with the consultation given at low cost for local residents and citizens. If not, the patient would likely be sent to hospitals for coronavirus testing and inpatient treatment which is also free for locals, according to Mr Ngerng.
However, Mr Ngerng mentioned that this system did not include the people on short-term visits, such as those who might not like to be tested for coronavirus.
He also doubted whether the medical fees for other illnesses will be covered under this system if the patient was hospitalised for Covid-19.
In addition, he also said that the healthcare system of Singapore and other countries such as Taiwan and South Korea which “tied through” the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak has created a false sense of ease among other healthcare systems around the world.
As a result of levelling down measures, he said that the severity and transmissibility of coronavirus could have a global and local impact.
Notwithstanding the situation unfolding worldwide, Mr Ngerng said that Singapore would not and cannot seal its international border, otherwise it could impact their trade-reliant economy as well as spur fears among the citizens again.
“And this is why Singapore’s coronavirus strategy cannot be just a top-down approach that does not account for the feelings of people on the ground. It cannot be a do-what-I-say-because-I-have-everything-put-in-place approach. It doesn’t work that way because in times of crisis, people do react, whether in a rich or poor country, democracy or authoritarian. People are the same no matter how much you control them or if they run free,” he wrote in his post.
Noting that the government’s current approach which seems to “shame people and victim-blame” has resulted in a massive loophole, Mr Ngerng suggested the government should “overhaul” the social-psychological approach in order to engage the public and seek out their responses to the coronavirus containment strategy.
He said that the government should foresee the public’s response over the new measures or global occurrence before enacting new policies. This includes having a communication plan to respond to feedback in advance, much the same way as the government makes its economic plans.
“This also means putting in place budgetary plans to compensate people who lose their jobs, for example, because people who know that they can still ensure their livelihoods can be maintained will feel more secure and calm, which will strengthen Singapore’s coronavirus response,” wrote the blogger.
Mr Ngerng highlighted that it is important for Singapore to adopt a “whole-of-society approach” instead of a “whole-of-government approach” as the government’s policy in taking care of people will increase the people’s trust and prompt them to be involved in securing the country’s defenses against coronavirus.
“This is what it means when we talk about psychological defense. We cannot escape the reality of it,” he said.