Singapore to establish dedicated public health centre to better prepare for future pandemics: DPM Wong

A forward planning team will also be set up to prepare for future pandemics, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong in Parliament.

A dedicated centre for public health and a team that will be set up to better prepare Singapore for the next pandemic, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Monday (20 March) in Parliament.
A dedicated centre for public health and a team that will be set up to better prepare Singapore for the next pandemic, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Monday in Parliament. (PHOTO: MCI/YouTube)

SINGAPORE — To better prepare for the next pandemic, a dedicated centre for public health will be set up in Singapore to consolidate the country's disease control and pandemic management capabilities and expertise.

There will also be a forward planning team to ensure Singapore prepares to fight future pandemics as effectively as possible, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong revealed in Parliament on Monday (20 March).

The centre for public health is expected to contribute to the nation's growth in public health. At the same time, the forward planning team will assist the country in better anticipating the next bound, developing the next course of action, and pivoting more effectively as circumstances change, Wong said.

The announcement comes after the release of a white paper on Singapore's response to the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this month, which examined how to build on Singapore's successes and avoid future pandemic errors.

"Today, we have fully transitioned to living with Covid-19 as an endemic disease. The virus is still among us, and no one can tell how it will continue to evolve," Wong told the House.

"But for now, the evolution seems to be plodding, with minor tweaks to its genetic code rather than major changes that require another Greek-letter name. So it is timely to take stock of our response, so we can start preparing for the next battle, whenever it comes."

No 'perfect response' in a crisis like COVID

Wong pointed out that the nature of dealing with a crisis meant that Singapore would always be faced with incomplete information.

The DPM stressed how there would never be a "perfect response" in a crisis that is as complex, unpredictable and fast-moving as COVID-19.

"We have to judge what is the best way forward, based on what we know and respond quickly, rather than wait for all the facts to come in, by which time it might be too late to act," Wong said.

Wong emphasised three key lessons gleaned from the pandemic — fortifying the public health system, enhancing forward planning capabilities, and strengthening Singapore's resilience.

Wong also said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung would provide more information on plans for the dedicated public health centre, similar to what has been done in many other countries to set up centres for disease control.

Singapore already has some of these public capabilities, particularly in the area of communicable disease control and management, which was strengthened after severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) hit in 2003.

However, these currently reside in various parts of the country's healthcare system, Wong said, such as the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, the National Public Health Laboratory, and within the Ministry of Health itself.

MPs gave a standing ovation lasting almost half a minute to a contingent of frontliners in Parliament.
MPs gave a standing ovation lasting almost half a minute to a contingent of frontliners in Parliament. (PHOTO: MCI/YouTube)

Standing ovation for front-line workers

During Monday's debate on Singapore's response to COVID, Wong opened the debate with a standing ovation for front-liners who were involved in the fight.

MPs applauded and thumped their seats in approval as 100 front-line workers were at the public gallery in Parliament, followed by an almost half-minute standing ovation to honour their hard work.

Nursing, doctors, educators, social workers, transport workers, supermarket managers, ambassadors for safe distancing, Singapore Armed Forces officers, and staff from both the public and private sectors who ran critical backroom operations were among those present in the chamber.

Wong noted that Singapore's policies and actions had distinguished it from other countries as it dealt with the pandemic. Air and sea ports were kept open, ensuring critical supplies were delivered uninterrupted.

"We enhanced our reputation as a trusted node that can be relied upon, even when other parts of the world shut down," he said.

Mr Wong also pointed out that Singapore stood out because its citizens had rallied together during this crisis.

"Through all the trials and tribulations, we held together as a society, and pulled through as one united people. We kept faith with our fellow Singaporeans, took care of the non-Singaporeans in our midst, and everyone did our part in the interest of the common good," he added.

Taking this opportunity to express appreciation for all who contributed to the COVID-19 fight, Wong noted that workers and unions, along with tripartite partners who marshalled resources and provided support, helped countless businesses and individuals cope with difficult times.

In a Facebook post on the same day, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore's healthcare workers and front-line workers "led the fight and bore the brunt of the global crisis".

"Many other essential personnel worked throughout our society. Despite the uncertainty and fear, they swung into action and went beyond the call of duty. All worked tirelessly and made sacrifices to keep Singapore going. They are a huge reason why we emerged from the pandemic stronger and more united," Lee wrote on his page.

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