COVID-19: My 'sole preoccupation' is fighting the virus, not GE, says Lawrence Wong

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s general election is not at the top of National Development Minister Lawrence Wong’s mind amid the country’s efforts to tackle the COVID-19 situation.

“My sole preoccupation is tackling the virus,” he said during a media doorstop on Sunday (15 March). Wong is also the co-chair of the Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

“We don’t hold back on what we think is necessary to protect Singaporeans”, said Wong with regard to recent measures to curb the spread of the virus, which include the cancellation of ticketed events with over 250 participants.

Following the release of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee’s report on Friday, a number of opposition parties have called on the People’s Action Party-led government not to hold a general election (GE) amid the pandemic.

Progress Singapore Party leader Tan Cheng Bock, for example, raised concerns about 2.6 million eligible voters being potentially exposed to infection via election rallies and other group activities.

On whether the GE will be called soon and how it will be conducted, Wong said that this was an issue for “other parties to worry about”.

When it comes to the organising of events, such as election rallies, organisers will have to “take guidance from the advisories we have put out, or adjust their event formats in line with the advisories, in order to ensure that they are safe”.

“If the prime minister decides (to hold an election), given the prevailing guidance on events, advisories and social distancing, then I’m sure (event) organisers will have to make adjustments accordingly,” he said.

At an MTF press conference on Friday, Wong said some flexibility would be applied with regard to the crowd limit for events. For instance, those held at larger venues where participants can be more spread out may be allowed a bigger audience.

As for private events, organisers have been advised to also limit their number of participants to 250 or under, where possible.

Other precautions suggested include ensuring that participants do not crowd; improving ventilation by seating guests at least 1m apart; conducting health screening measures; and taking steps to facilitate contact tracing, such as obtaining attendees’ contact details.

New wave of infections

At the doorstop, Wong was asked when the Singapore authorities were expecting the number of COVID-19 cases to “peak”.

“When is the peak in Singapore? This is a question I ask our experts all the time. And, frankly, no one can give a definitive answer at this stage,” he replied.

He noted that from looking at the epidemic curve data, another wave of cases is emerging from countries outside of China.

“The worrying thing is that some of these countries have already given up on containment,” said Wong, who cited the United Kingdom as an example.

“The next peak that comes may well be higher that what we have faced in the initial wave, when the virus was from just one epidemic centre. Now we’re facing multiple epidemic centres,” he added.

Given these factors, the Singapore authorities are concerned that the country will see a new wave of infections that is “potentially larger” than what was previously seen, said Wong.

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