By Mason Quah
IN discussions around coronavirus policy, there are many different opinions on who best to emulate in our response.
In the US, Donald Trump began by denying the Covid-19 threat and was only slowly brought about to declaring a crisis and intervening with state power.
Current projections of our case numbers put the UK, meanwhile, in line to be hit harder than Italy.
It is easy however, to make comparisons to the worst case responses that failed to contain the outbreak. Some nations have done a stellar job.
Singapore was struck hard and fast by the outbreak: the first case was identified on January 23.
Within a week, the government had taken control of several government housing blocks as designated quarantine facilities, isolating not only the people directly infected but all those who had been in close contact to them.
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People who were thought to have been exposed were placed on compulsory leave of absence and subjected to regular health monitoring.
Two weeks after the first case appeared large public events were cancelled. This prophylactic approach to quarantine minimised the risk posed by the outbreak.
Singapore’s approach utilised large amounts of network tracing, following the interactions and social groupings of known infections to identify communities at high risk of having caught it.
Despite the Singaporean people’s willingness to follow these measures they received harsh criticism for what was seen at the time as a heavy handed and draconian response. Now, with quarantine imposed on the UK, such critiques are difficult to take seriously.
Singapore’s economic response, has included economic compensation not only to businesses but to the self-employed.
This was rolled out in February, within a month of the first cases appearing. The inclusion of self employed workers in this compensation plan demonstrates that the goal here was not simply the preservation of the economy but the citizens.
It is the working people in high risk industries that are receiving the greatest amount of government support. Singapore’s budget commitment to fighting the coronavirus outbreak was already greater than the spending they dedicated towards the Global Financial Crisis.
This is an impressive change in approach for a government that rarely commits to deficit spending.
Redaction Politics reached out to Danny Quah, Dean of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy for comment.
When asked about the financial prospects of a long term economic shutdown Professor Quah suggested that the full scale lockdown is unviable in the long term but “the US and UK can still go a long way at better protecting their people with thoughtful measures that better safeguard health and public wellbeing, even shy of a total economic shutdown.
“It’s a false dichotomy to suggest we can have only one or the other: keep people safe or keep the economy going. It is, however, a question of priorities.”
One viable program the Professor sees paying dividends would be greater support schemes around jobs.
This would include measures such as state intervention to co-pay wages, and funding for retraining workers made redundant by the outbreak.
Such a program might also provide government co-finance on investments and startups that promise long term pay-offs after the outbreak declines. Several of these have been implemented already in Singapore.
Professor Quah’s full thoughts on the outbreak, alongside the observations of other leading economists have been made public in a report published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, under the title “Mitigating the COVID economic Crisis: Act Fast and Do Whatever it Takes.”
In Singapore’s commitment to do whatever it takes, an expanded economic plan has been unveiled today, commiting Singapore to spend an additional SGD44 billion towards their long term coronavirus response, a 12 fold increase on an already unprecedented amount of public spending.Singapore is a city state.
Singapore is a small, trading based economy. Singapore’s economy benefits greatly from engaging with China. By all economic logic they should be impacted most heavily by a large scale shutdown of Chinese industry and trade.
Despite this they have demonstrated a willingness to accept this economic harm in full if it means the preservation of their citizens.
This is in direct contrast to the UK’s now discarded Herd Immunity strategy and the current half-measure quarantine, which neglects the safety of blue collar workers in construction and retail. If a city-state positioned to bear the greatest economic fallout from a coronavirus shutdown is willing to bite that bullet and invest in a centralised response unit, there is no justification to why the United Kingdom failed to respond with a matching fervour.
The quarantine came too late. The economic stimulus package is not enough. The medical infrastructure is insufficient. We need a stronger response and we needed it last month. When all other nations were working from the same playbook it was singularly the UK that failed to follow suit.
If a post Brexit-UK is to strike our own path we need to be able to co-opt and adapt the successful strategies of other successful nations.
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