Responding to Coronavirus from a Singapore Perspective

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It’s day 5 of my official “work-from-home” arrangements with my current employer. Amidst the discussions with my Australian colleagues due to the scarcity of basic needs (read: toilet paper) and other health-related goods, as well as how people in Hong Kong will give you that unforgiving sharp stare even when you slightly clearing your throat on public transport, I’ve begun to contemplate on what lessons can we take from this debacle and how I can better prepare to be a contributing member of Singapore society as well as how can I advise my Indonesian friends and relative on how to curb this catastrophe.

A quick google search on the COVID-19 news showed a variety of responses from the strict, directive government response such as Singapore and Malaysia, to the almost-made-me-cry response of the people of my hometown, Solo, through unsupervised fleeing of locals from mandatory quarantine, causing the deployment of the local armed forces to “lock” her down.

White concrete building with lights - courtesy of pikrepo.com
White concrete building with lights – courtesy of pikrepo.com

While I personally feel that being cautious and well-prepared certainly needed, I believe that we should strive to continue steadily pushing forward rationally and do not let our thoughts in our way because “We do not know how this pandemic will pan out, but we can control our thoughts and choices today.” – as June Yong cleverly stated in a Channel News Asia interview.

With that being said, I will lay out my thoughts on what happened, which model that I found interesting, and how can the rest of the world move forward.

What on the Red Dot happened – Singapore updates on COVID-19

As of the date of writing, March 22nd, Singapore had faced unprecedented challenges to its trade-dependent economy. Despite the swift government directive and Singapore’s citizen’s orderly response to proper sanitizing and social distancing, Singapore faced the inevitable fate of accepting the fact that it could not prevent casualties in this battle of fighting the coronavirus. On Saturday morning, March 21st, a 64-year-old Indonesian man and 75-year-old female Singaporean were the first two confirmed fatalities.

Despite the numerous, now-debunked rumors circulating among Singapore’s communities, such as those stating that two men infected with COVID-19 broke Quarantine Order and ran away from a hospital, Singapore’s citizens – contrary to how Indonesian responded to the crisis – remained calm and realized that this battle will be won “not by relying on the back of masks or sanitizers, but one’s level of responsibility and personal hygiene”, as once told by a well-known Singaporean doctor.

A SIA stewardess passing by - courtesy of How Hwee Young from Shutterstock
A SIA stewardess passing by – courtesy of How Hwee Young from Shutterstock

As the case grew further, with 47 more confirmed infections as of the week of 22nd March, Singapore’s government deployed its new directive of applying new rules that result in short-term visitors will no longer be allowed to enter or transit through Singapore, while semi-skilled workers on “work-passes” will not be allowed to return to the island unless their job is in sectors that provide essential services such as healthcare and transport.

While isolation might flatten the curve, Korea’s model might be the most macroeconomically-friendly way to handle coronavirus

Even though Singapore has not deployed its “nuclear option” of full-fledged lockdown to its economy, I began to feel that the government’s sound decision-making framework leans towards “maximizing protection” instead of “minimizing disruption”.

IMCovid

South Korea’s response, on the contrary, offers a unique yet less dramatic approach compared with that used by its fellow Asian neighbors, including China. The land of the morning calm’s response has been a testing program of up to 15,000 tests per day, which could be conducted for free for anyone referred by a doctor or displaying symptoms after recent contact with a confirmed case or travel to China. This laudable approach has enabled South Koreans to continue to work and “minimize disruption” while enabling researchers and authorities to collect vast amounts of data to develop proper responses and deploy adequate resources.

I believe that both Global Developed and Emerging Economies, such as Singapore and Indonesia, respectively, should gradually shift their approach from cautious-defensive to cautious-offensive to avoid the meltdown of global economies, as J.P. Morgan Analysts expect: the knock-on effect of the outbreak to be the lowering economic growth, which could lead to dire consequences.

What I’ve learned and my personal recommendations for the rest of the world

Learning from Singapore’s response to SARS years ago, I reckon that the key to winning this crisis, in the long run, is resiliency – those that are resilient during this tough time can utilize this opportunity to regroup and strategize ahead.

I recently found McKinsey’s thoughts on tackling coronavirus –  Discover, Decide, Design, and Deliver – provides an interesting shift in paradigm for individuals, albeit targeted for corporate executives. My take on this ‘4Ds’ are:

  • Discover: enable swift symptoms detection

The common themes that we see across the world revolve around the inability to detect the symptoms, due to lack of proper infrastructure and tools, as well as unwillingness to report, due to fear of economic repercussion of quarantine. Governments and citizens must be aware of the importance of early detection as failure to report will result in inaccurate assessments, at which point, much valuable time and resources would have been wasted.

  • Decide: base daily decisions on well-informed facts

Throughout many global crises, the poorly handed ones are exacerbated by poor decision making. Bad decisions, in turn, can result from acting on incomplete or misleading information. It is alarming to see how many false rumors circulated throughout social media, both in Singapore and Indonesia (and yes, my dad is guilty of this too). In this time of purposeful social distancing, we must stay informed on the latest factual developments about COVID-19, by avoiding false rumors and following instead the advice given by your healthcare provider, as well as the public health authority, or your employer on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

  • Design: support the deployment of proper control measures

As the spread of coronavirus increases, people must not allow themselves to be constrained by poor or inadequate control measures. Organizations, both big and small, must take immediate precautions and arrangements to curb the spread, through work from home arrangements and the promotion of personal hygiene. Individuals in turn, however, must take responsibility in abiding by the set rules through community isolation measures that keep the daily number of disease cases at a manageable level for medical providers – commonly known as “flatten the curve”. However, strict measures must not strain people’s mental well-being, as self-isolating or working from home could deprive individuals of getting the basic human interactions that we all need – proper balance is the key.

  • Deliver: act rationally, carefully and faithfully, knowing that there will be light at the end of the tunnel

Albeit the exponential growth of the pandemic, we’re likely to see the end of the tunnel as cases in Wuhan, the area where the virus originally discovered, has observed plummeting number of new cases. We must remain calm, and be considerate to others, and avoid unnecessary activities, such as unfruitful mass protests and supermarket hoarding, that could lead to chaotic conditions which will unnecessarily cause disruptions that would render the “flattening the curve” efforts to be in vain.

 

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Ignatius Aditya
Aditya is a Graduate Analyst at JPMorgan at the firm's Corporate and Investment Banking arm in Singapore. Aditya was a former columnist and content director for Asia, Middle East, and Africa for Indonesia Mengglobal since 2017. He brings a wealth of experience in Asian higher education system, global executive professional education, as well as distance-based learning, for both STEM and Business areas. He's a proud alumnus of Nanyang Technological University Singapore, a recipient Harvard Business School of Credential of Readiness and a CFA Candidate. Aditya was born and raised in Solo and is now a resident of Semarang.