PM Lee praised by foreign media for helping to allay fears amid coronavirus outbreak

Experts said he got the message right.

Kayla Wong | February 11, 2020, 06:29 PM

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's response in the wake of a nationwide panic buying that ensued on Friday, Feb. 7, was commended by foreign media and public health experts.

Called for calm

In a video on Feb. 8, PM Lee said that fear can do more harm than the virus itself, and urged Singaporeans to stay calm in the face of the situation.

He urged Singaporeans not to panic as well, saying Singapore has raised the DORSCON level to Orange before in 2009 for the H1N1 swine flu, and that it is not locking down the city, nor confining people to their homes.

He also reassured Singaporeans that there is no need to stock up on essential supplies, as Singapore possesses ample supplies.

However, he also warned that if the situation worsens, Singapore may have to reconsider its strategy.

Speech praised by experts

PM Lee's response was praised by Bloomberg as having an "immediate impact", with the long queues at supermarkets seen on Friday night "returning to normal levels" two days later on Sunday.

The article also quoted Claire Hooker, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, as saying his speech was "a pretty outstanding example of very good risk communication".

Thomas Abraham, a risk communication consultant for the World Health Organisation, was also quoted as saying PM Lee did not hide any facts, nor hesitate to talk about how the situation might worsen.

Compounded by the "high level of trust Singaporeans have in the competence of the government", the speech had its desired effect in calming the people down, he said.

Compared PM Lee to other leaders

In addition, Bloomberg raised the case of Hong Kong as an example where the leader failed to get the message right, saying Chief Executive Carrie Lam's "mixed messages on wearing masks and shutting the border with mainland China has stirred mistrust".

It also mentioned Thailand as a negative example of what not to say in a crisis, citing Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul's apology for saying caucasian foreigners should be "kicked out of Thailand" for refusing to wear face masks.

Filipino media outlet ABS-CBN commended him as well, saying his message was a "sensible" and "comforting" one amid the nCoV outbreak.

It further said he was "a picture of eloquent, soothing calm" in his video message.

Singapore's total confirmed cases stand at 45 as of 4:00pm on Tuesday, Feb. 11.

Seven remain in critical condition in the intensive care unit (ICU), while seven patients have recovered, and have been discharged from hospital.

Top image adapted via Prime Minister's Office/YouTube, Bloomberg & ABS-CBN