S'pore govt publishes White Paper on its response to Covid-19

The White Paper highlights its successes as well as outlining areas of improvement.

Julia Yee | March 08, 2023, 12:01 PM

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As Singapore transitions into a new endemic Covid-19 normal, the government has released the White Paper on Singapore's response to Covid-19, reflecting upon the successes of its nation-wide responses as well as outlining areas of improvement.

The White Paper draws on insights from an internal review by former Head of Civil Service Peter Ho and the findings from after-action reviews by government agencies.

What went well

In comparison to other countries, the White Paper noted that Singapore had done well in protecting its economy.

The loss of livelihoods was mitigated by an efficient healthcare system that successfully vaccinated the population, enabling business to stay afloat.

With support schemes for self-employed and displaced workers, the White Paper noted that a deeper economic crisis was averted.

Public and private sectors also worked together to provide mental and social support to those in need.

As for education, Singapore strove for an uninterrupted learning experience throughout the pandemic. Students did not face major disruptions to their learning, unlike those in other countries.

What needs to be done better

Highlighting areas where Singapore fell short, the White Paper first addressed the outbreak in the migrant worker dormitories during the early months of pandemic, stating that it "spiralled out of control and overwhelmed our healthcare system."

Next up was the efficient scaling of contact tracing campaigns.

The review said that TraceTogether (TT) was slow in being adopted at the start, not to mention subsequent revelations that its data could be used for criminal investigations.

The TT mobile app also faced multiple setbacks.

It left out those digitally-excluded such as seniors and young children, while IOS users bemoaned its reliability and battery consumption.

This prompted the introduction of TT tokens, and its nationwide distribution, starting with constituencies with higher concentrations of seniors.

However, many outside the target group of seniors and children collected them, resulting in token shortages.

The report also indicated that the government could been less definitive in issuing strict mask-wearing and safe management measures.

It stated that the constantly changing regulations were a source of frustration for businesses and individuals.

"The public viewed the change in mask-wearing policy as a U-turn contradicting the government's earlier position. This undoubtedly affected public trust and confidence in our handling of the crisis," the White Paper observed.

On border control, the government acknowledged that it could have tightened borders more aggressively upon witnessing overseas spread of the virus and opened it quicker once the threat of imported cases subsided.

Regarding this particular shortcoming, the review pointed to a failure in prioritising the right objective.

"We might have placed too much emphasis on livelihoods and been overly anxious about preserving the functioning of our economy and jobs," the paper stated.

Lessons learnt

Moving forward, the government identified several key takeaways that will inform a more successful response to future crises.

The White Paper highlighted the need to "better establish upfront which dimension to prioritise in each phase of dealing with the pandemic, and to adapt more quickly to the changing situation."

It noted that it was critical to find the right balance between precision and easy execution.

It further expressed the need for Singapore to forge strong economical connections and partnerships between the public and private.

This would facilitate Singapore's adaptability and leveraging of different strengths.

Regarding healthcare, the government aimed to expand capacity and public health capabilities.

Science and technology would also play an important role in crisis management and response.

The range of baseline scenarios for pandemic response will also be expanded upon, in order to enhance authorities' ability to manage and plan during times of crisis.

Communication between different stakeholders was also stressed.

"Throughout the pandemic, clear and transparent public communications kept citizens informed and reassured, and psychologically prepared for what lay ahead", the White Paper reported.

The government hopes to identify more ways in which public communication can be used to shape national psyche during changes in a crisis.

The government emphasised its gratitude to frontline workers and all who "went beyond the call of duty" to support those in need, as well as citizens who "displayed considerable fortitude in abiding by the measures imposed at different phases of the pandemic.

Top images via Sheryl Seah and Tai's Captures.