'Not a Chinese virus or an Indian variant, but a global pandemic': Lawrence Wong

Tighter border measures may have a "cascading effect" on the economy, said Wong.

Jason Fan | May 11, 2021, 02:42 PM

There is no place for discrimination or xenophobia in Singapore, said co-chair of the Multi-Ministry Taskforce Lawrence Wong, as the virus "does not respect ethnicity or nationality".

Wong, who is also Minister for Education, said that it is important for Singaporeans not to view Covid-19 through a xenophobic lens, as it is vital for Singaporeans to support one another in order to get through the crisis.

No evidence that new variants have longer incubation period

During his Ministerial Statement delivered in Parliament on Tuesday (May 11), Wong said that there is "still no medical evidence" that the new Covid-19 variants have a longer incubation period.

Previously, Singapore only applied the 21-day Stay-Home Notice (SHN) period for arrivals from the few countries where the Covid-19 variants have originated, such as the United Kingdom, South Africa and India.

However, Wong said that it has become increasingly difficult to target just countries where the strains originated from, given how the various strains have now circulated around the world.

Hence, in order to play safe, Singapore has increased the SHN period from 14 days to 21 days, for arrivals from all higher risk countries/regions which now include all countries/regions except Australia, Brunei, Mainland China, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao.

Wong said that the SHN programme will be continuously updated, in order to respond to the evolving health situation.

Border controls have consequences

In response to the view that Singapore should further tighten border measures, especially from the South Asian region, due to the recent spike in cases in India, Wong said that doing so would come at a cost for vital industries locally.

He said that the current measures, which have already been tightened, will cause Singaporean contractors to be especially hard-hit, leading to a delay in building projects.

Wong said that many new Build-to-Order (BTO) projects face a one-year delay due to the manpower crunch, and that private home buyers also face delays of varying lengths.

Likewise, companies in the marine and process sectors will also be badly affected, as they will encounter difficulties to deliver their existing projects on time, and a few may even have to forgo new opportunities.

Wong warned that the impact to these companies will have a "cascading effect" on the whole economy, given that the closure of such companies could lead to higher unemployment and job losses for Singaporeans.

Tighter border controls would also make it harder for Singaporeans to reunite with their families abroad, and families who need new foreign domestic workers to care for their children or elderly will also face further delays.

"These are the consequences of keeping our borders tight," said Wong.

Singapore is on the "knife's edge"

With the recent tightening of Covid-19 measures in Singapore, Wong acknowledged that these measures pose "considerable inconvenience" to all Singaporeans.

In particular, he said that such a move must be "very disappointing" for the Muslim community in Singapore, as they would have to adhere to stricter rules during Hari Raya Puasa, for the second year in a row.

Similarly, the Buddhist community would also have to abide by the tighter regulations during the Vesak Day celebrations.

Wong said that he seeks the public's understanding for why the latest measures are necessary, and asked for Singaporeans to not only abide by the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the rules.

He said that the next few weeks are a crucial time for Singapore, one that may decide whether the situation takes a turn for the worse or not.

"I think it's very important for us to understand that we are now on the knife's edge, and our community cases can go either way," he said.

Wong said Singapore has a chance of getting things under control by "the end of the month", but also emphasised that it only takes one lapse or an irresponsible action for an infection to spread.

Support frontline workers by adhering to Covid-19 guidelines

During his speech, Wong also brought up the need for the public to work together to support one another, in order to effectively suppress the spread of Covid-19 in the community.

In particular, he said that many, including healthcare professionals, contact tracing personnel, safe distancing ambassadors and enforcement officers, have been serving on the frontline against the virus for more than a year, and it is important to extend gratitude to these individuals.

"The best way to support our frontline workers is to take all the prevailing measures", said Wong.

This includes taking up vaccination whenever it is offered, and avoiding the spread of "falsehoods or unverified information", which can foster divisions and suspicions in Singapore's society.

Wong also emphasised that Singaporeans must not look at the Covid-19 virus through a xenophobic lens, as the virus has become a problem worldwide.

"Remember, the virus does not respect ethnicity or nationality. This is not a Chinese virus, or an Indian variant. This is a global pandemic; the virus and its variants are out there everywhere in the world. So there is no place for discrimination, racism or xenophobia here in Singapore.

We must continue to stand together, look out for each other, so that we can all get through this together."

Top image via MCI.