SINGAPORE — Rather than using the colour-coded Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) framework, Singapore will switch to an intuitive approach to informing the masses about public health emergencies.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung announced the changes in Parliament on Tuesday (21 March), revealing that there are plans to make Singapore's Infectious Diseases Act (IDA) "less blunt" to deal with a wider range of situations.
Currently, the legislation that authorises the Ministry of Health to intervene in various public health actions for disease outbreaks specifies only two states, peacetime or emergency.
According to proposed plans, the amended IDA will have four tiers to determine public health situational alerts better, replacing the current colour-coded Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON).
The four tiers will address different public health situations
During the debate on the White Paper on Singapore's response to COVID-19, Ong said that the first tier reflects a peacetime state.
The second tier involves outbreak management, when a pathogen is detected and urgent measures must be taken to manage disease outbreaks.
To buy time for Singapore to understand the pathogen's characteristics, the authorities will use measures such as contact tracing and quarantine, testing, border controls, and masking.
The third tier is when there is a threat to public health, which requires more stringent, widespread, and long-term control measures, including circuit breaker-like curbs.
The final and most serious tier is a public health emergency, when very stringent measures such as curfews and the seizure of public health assets and personnel can be implemented.
According to Ong, it is more intuitive to tell the public that there is an outbreak, threat, or emergency, rather than using colours, and the law will also define what measures would take place in each state.
"Will this therefore prevent the panic buying that we saw during COVID-19 when we changed DORSCON to yellow and orange? Indeed, not on its own. If we just change colour to descriptors, there is no reason why panic will just disappear," Ong said.
"Whether people panic during a crisis depends a lot on the information they are getting, and whether they know what to do, to protect themselves and contribute towards societal resilience.
"If people listen to rumours, do not know what to do, they are likely to rush to the supermarkets and stock up on toilet paper and instant noodles," Ong added.
However, having experienced SARS, H1N1, and now COVID-19, Ong said he believed the government now knows much better what measures are necessary and appropriate, and the people of Singapore know much better what to do in a pandemic crisis.
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