Singapore, home to less than 6 million people, is being praised for its efforts to fight the new coronavirus.
Observers say East Asia’s experience with the disease SARS in 2003 helped the city-state prepare for the current outbreak.
Singapore’s first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, was confirmed on January 23. The patient was a man from Wuhan, China, where the disease was first identified in December.
By the middle of February, the number of recovering patients in Singapore was greater than the number of new cases. Then, health officials discovered a link between 47 cases and a dinner gathering on February 15.
Singapore has been praised for its efforts to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. The city-state has had few cases of COVID-19. But measures that work in rich Singapore might not work in other places.
As new infections increased, the government tightened quarantine controls. By Wednesday, Singapore had about 266 confirmed cases and no deaths from the virus.
Other areas that experienced SARS also have reported limited cases of COVID-19. The term SARS is short for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
The island of Taiwan, in the South China Sea, has about 100 confirmed coronavirus cases and one death. The most recent cases there were people who had returned from travel overseas.
Hong Kong has reported about 167 cases and four deaths. On Tuesday, the city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lamb warned against all travel out of the territory. She announced that anyone arriving from mainland China would face a 14-day home quarantine or medical observation.
In addition to Taiwan and Hong Kong, the island of Macao has had about 15 cases. Macao is world famous for its gaming industry. The casinos there have been closed for weeks in an effort to keep the virus from spreading.
Cambodia and Thailand also have not reported large numbers of cases. In addition, few cases have been reported in geographically separated countries such as New Zealand, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Mongolia. Other nations, like Russia, Indonesia and Vietnam have been slow to test for the coronavirus.
For Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the experience of fighting the 2003 SARS outbreak was important. The virus, which also is a kind of coronavirus, infected 8,000 people and caused nearly 800 deaths. Experts say that experience made people take the risks seriously.
“Almost everyone played ball and followed accordingly,” said Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital in Singapore.
SARS infected 238 people and was linked to the deaths of 33 people in Singapore. As a result, the city developed plans for containing outbreaks. It set up “fever centers” to isolate suspected cases and spent money on equipment and improved training. So when the first case of COVID-19 appeared, Singapore was ready to act, Leong said.
Tikki Pangestu is a visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. Pangestu said that, once the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed, the government ordered workers arriving from overseas to stay home. Religious services were suspended and ‘livestreamed’ instead on the internet. Schools suspended large gatherings and limited the time students could spend outside of class on school days. Currently, about 5,700 people have been quarantined.
Efforts to slow the spread of the virus have had mixed results in other countries.
In Thailand, an official with the Disease Control Department of the Health Ministry said that public health workers have gone door-to-door to keep records of contacts. The effort is generally working.
Outside of Southeast Asia, Germany was thought to have done well against the coronavirus, but recently the number of infections jumped to over 9,000.
In South Korea, more than 270,000 people have been tested for the virus. New cases are dropping sharply.
It is unclear if measures used in an authoritarian society like Singapore can work in bigger countries, where people expect greater personal freedom. Some of the city-state’s measures appear to be good ideas.
Pangestu points out that people in Singapore have a strong level of trust in government. It also is a rich, high-technology country with a strong health care system.
“Many other countries, especially developing ones, do not have these capacities…,” Pangestu said.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been praised for using a calming, clear message since the start of the outbreak.
Singaporeans “feel we are all in this together,” Lee said, “and we don’t leave anyone behind.”
I’m Jill Robbins.
Words in This Story
outbreak – n. the sudden or violent start of something unwelcome, such as the spread of disease
quarantine – n. a time in which people or animals are kept separate from others
geographically – adj. In terms of land or physical qualities of a territory
play ball – v. to cooperate, to do what others want you to do
accordingly – adv. as a result, in a way that meets the needs of the situation
isolate – v. to keep apart from others
staggered – adj. organized in a way that parts of a group do something at different times instead of than having the group do something at the same time
track – v. to follow and observe or gain information
authoritarian – adj. expecting people to obey rules without considering personal freedoms
capacity – n. the ability to do something