When I left for Singapore in April due to a family emergency, I was leaving a country reeling from a devastating second wave of covid. That month India experienced a massive oxygen shortage, panicked social media appeals for help, and a terrifying lack of political direction. In contrast, life had returned to normal for Singaporeans: shopping malls, street vendors and offices were open and Singapore’s handling of the pandemic was praised; reflecting some of the lowest death tolls in the world and the scale of the number of cases per capita.
Singapore’s prime minister last month said covid would become endemic, much like influenza or dengue, while stressing the importance of building resilience and adjusting to a new normal. This televised statement came at a time when the country had an average of just under 30 cases per day and had administered vaccines to more than a third of its population, testifying to the attitude and foresight of the remarkable recovery of Singapore. Meanwhile, even as Indian states have started to reopen, the majority of the population is still unvaccinated. With discussions about approaching a third wave (and health being a state topic), I couldn’t help but think about the lessons Indian state governments could potentially learn from the “little dot”. Red “.
Building on the four pillars of Testing, Tracing, Isolation and Vaccination, Singapore has moved quickly to implement user-centric solutions using technology in each of these areas, coupled with a fast communication and application. I got a first glimpse of this strategy when I disembarked the Vande Bharat flight from Bangalore to Singapore, which surprisingly had only 20 other passengers. Considering that most of the new cases here are imported from India and Indonesia, I was not surprised to see more staff at the airport than passengers. Three days later, I received a call from the Department of Health asking me to take a free covid test because someone on my flight had tested positive for covid.
There is no denying the effectiveness of Singapore’s measures; there have been less than 30 out of quarantine cases over the past week and a total death toll of 35 due to covid so far. When you factor in population density, this lends itself to one of the lowest death rates in the world. However, complacency did not set in. Even with nearly half of the population vaccinated, the pandemic continues to make its presence felt in daily life thanks to strict and swift government action. Whether or not this is an excess, one thing is certain: the government is mobilizing and deploying data-driven resources.
It wasn’t the first time they had faced an invisible killer. Singapore’s experience with the Sars outbreak in 2003 and H1N1 in 2009 had taught them valuable lessons about preparing for a future pandemic, giving rise to the DORSCON framework that guided their response to covid. Perhaps this explains why they were among the first to detect and mitigate covid at a time when the influx of Lunar New Year travel could have resulted in disaster. This iterative mindset and willingness to learn from their past is further exemplified by their recent efforts to test migrant workers, given that the first wave of the epidemic occurred in workers’ dormitories where Variant B .1.617.2 has been found. While such solutions are expensive for a country like India, the economic activity lost due to the second wave is worse.
As countries grapple with the trade-off between saving lives and protecting the economy, Singapore has implemented innovative win-win solutions. For example, the SHN (Stay-at-Home Notification) requires all inbound travelers to quarantine for 14 days, most often in hotels, for a subsidized fee. By isolating passengers, Singapore was able to prevent the spread of new variants while supporting the hard-hit hospitality industry. Over 2,300 workers were employed last year to welcome 160,000 guests to SHN’s service. Cabin crew have also been deployed as safe distance ambassadors to ensure social distancing. As the Indian hospitality industry suffers, public-private partnerships like this could give it a much needed boost while improving the employability of the workforce. Travelers from high-risk countries can be quarantined in low-cost OYOs or high-end hotels with strict enforcement of quarantine rules. Isolation of imported cases is essential for India to prevent the spread of new variants of the virus.
Singapore’s journey with the pandemic was not without its problems. Singapore’s contact tracing app, TraceTogether, launched early last year. From small grocery stores to large offices, citizens were forced to scan a QR code at every entrance (elderly people without a smartphone could use a contactless token). Earlier this year, it was revealed that data from TraceTogether users could be obtained by Singaporean law enforcement agencies as part of criminal investigations. The ensuing outcry led the government to take full responsibility, admit its mistake and pass legislation restricting such use. Arogya Setu, the Indian version of such an app, is plagued by citizens’ concerns about data protection and privacy, thus affecting its use. Ensuring transparency with the Arogya Setu app could do wonders in increasing its usage.
In many ways, my visit to Singapore opened my eyes. A week before my arrival, I was arrested and fined for driving without a mask in Bangalore. By paying the fine, I tried to reason with the policeman that being vaccinated and driving alone in a car with the windows up (allowed in Singapore!) Wouldn’t affect anyone. He replied, “There are thousands of cases, we have to do all we can! “. Asked about the many crowded bars that were still open, the officer responded defensively, exclaiming how these establishments were owned and run by politicians and therefore were untouchable. rules that do not apply to everyone in the same way. In Singapore, it seems no one is above the law. Those media that break the rules here are named and humiliated in the local media and subjected to heavy fines. This approach has allowed the Singapore government to channel more of its energies to meet the challenges of the pandemic.
When I asked a taxi driver how Singaporeans are experiencing this new normal, he said, “It’s simple. We just follow the rules. We are all doing our part. ”Singapore’s approach is not easily replicable and the country has undoubtedly benefited from a strong economy and a small but disciplined population. Yet Singapore’s effective governance is a star. North for all countries, including India, especially as we take stock of the broken systems that emerged during the covid crisis.
These are the personal opinions of the author.
Shubhojit Ghose holds a degree in Economics from Erasmus University and is a Schwarzman Fellow from Tsinghua University. Twitter: @ShubhojitGhose
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