COVID-19: Lockdown 'very extreme measure', but Singapore cannot rule it out – Lawrence Wong

National Development Minister and COVID-19 taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong speaking at a press conference on 15 March, 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)
National Development Minister and COVID-19 taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong speaking at a press conference on 15 March, 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — While Singapore is not planning for the extreme scenario of locking down the entire country, such a possibility cannot be ruled out, said Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the multi-ministry taskforce on the coronavirus, on Tuesday (17 March).

Addressing reporters during a briefing by the taskforce, Wong said the scenario would depend on the global and local situation. “We have always said that we need to consider a whole range of measures and not rule anything out. We are not planning for it, so Singapore should not think of us as planning for it, but it is certainly a very extreme measure, and we don't think we need to get there.”

Wong, who is also National Development Minister, was responding to a question on whether the Republic would consider a lockdown, given that multiple countries have barred all visitor arrivals and shut down all but essential services. taskforce co-chair Gan Kim Yong, who is the Health Minister, had previously said Singapore cannot lock itself away from the world.

The minister noted that Singapore’s three-pronged strategy - border controls, contact tracing, and social distancing - is currently working well. If all three levels are properly executed, said Wong, Singapore will not get to a point where a lockdown is necessary.

Instead, authorities may consider the possibility of implementing a “major circuit breaker” through a major suspension of activities. For example, closure of schools and workplaces over a period of two to three weeks, similar to what Malaysia has done.

Separately, Wong reiterated the government’s plea for Singaporeans to defer all non-essential travel for now. "There is really no need to travel; please don’t travel if there is no need to during this period. It puts everyone at risk – you put yourself at risk, you put your family members and people around you at risk. We ask Singaporeans, residents to think through before you make any travel plans.”

He added, “We are not locking our borders, shutting our borders, stopping people from travelling, but please encourage and urge people to defer all travel at this particular juncture."

Wong noted that Singapore authorities are ”very concerned” about the increase in imported cases in recent days, as the majority of such cases are returning Singaporeans, permanent residents, long-term pass holders who have been infected overseas.

To date, Singapore has 266 confirmed cases of the virus, of which over 100 are imported.

“They have been responsible – when they are sick, they report to the doctor, so they have not been mingling around within the community. The minute they come back, we have been able to pick them up, so we have been able to contain these cases,” said Wong.

“But it only takes one or two cases to go out of the containment, in order for this to spread widely.”

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