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The Dive: Lessons from The Covid-19 Storm

By April 18, 2020Current

TL;DR –  Look beyond the anxiety and you will find that the valuable takeaways from this crisis are aplenty.

The Dive is our new weekend feature where we bring you in-depth news, interesting insights and different perspectives on the latest trends or issues that matter.

The online world wields more power than we think

Fake news, half truths, and bogus sob stories have picked up pace in the past months. The jobs of authorities were made way tougher by online vigilantes and keyboard warriors. Motives for spreading fake news and misinformation are aplenty – self-promotion, political agenda, the desire for personal fame or people being plain boliao. As consumers of online information, don’t be dumb dumb lah, ownself check source before forwarding things on no matter how tempting it is to simply forward a ‘juicy’ piece of content.

Remember the case of the canteen vendors wrongly accused of being hoarders after their photos with a trolley piled with trays of eggs went viral and netizens condemned them for hoarding?

Or the photos of terrible meals served at the foreign workers’ dormitories? Because negativity riles people, and attracts more eyeballs!

Oh, but if there is one ‘secret’ that you must share, that will be Singapore’s Official Secrets Act (OSA). Under section 5(1)(e)(i) of the OSA, persons who have obtained confidential information while working for the Singapore Government can only communicate such information to authorised persons. It constitutes an offence if information is shared with unauthorised persons.

A couple was arrested under the Official Secrets Act earlier this month for leaking a draft media statement to the public on the Covid-19 school closures before its official release. Also, be warned that by circulating confidential information received, you may be also be liable under the Official Secrets Act.

As authorities in Asia crack down on fake news, people have been arrested for riding on the pandemic to share false information. The lesson? The online world is more powerful than we can imagine, and it is more crucial than ever to be discerning. If we are not careful, what started as a health crisis can fast become an ‘infodemic’ as the World Health Organisation calls it.

Resilience of our people matter

Our nation’s financial strength from the reserves that we have built up over the years allowed the Government to roll out three Budgets in merely 48 days. In April, about $9 billion were disbursed to businesses and households, to save jobs, to protect livelihoods and help businesses tide through the crisis. A Jobs Support Scheme was first announced by DPM Heng during the Budget 2020, and subsequently enhanced twice in supplementary budgets. National Trades Union Congress (NTUC)’s Secretary-General, Mr Ng Chee Meng, also announced the setting up of a Job Security Council (JSC) – creation of an ecosystem of companies that can take in skilled workers who are displaced from other firms. ICYMI, to keep you updated on the latest jobs, JSC has two Telegram channels to alert job seekers on the latest job vacancies.

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The Government is putting cash into citizens’ hands soon as they can, but all these can only be Band-Aids to provide quick relief.

We’re in a storm – there’s no doubt about it and there’s no pretty picture to be painted – at least for now. Along with the rest of the world, we will take a long time to recover. Can’t possibly sit back and wait for handouts every other month, can we? Yet, every crisis brings opportunities. The ones who can adapt the soonest win. Instead of sitting around and mulling, adopt a growth mindset. No better time than now to upskill or reskill! Did you even know that you can get paid to attend courses? Stay resilient, stay curious. Take advantage of the resources you have, and there are many, if you keep your eyes peeled, expand your network and stay informed!

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Confidence in the Government is key

Our Government’s strategy in keeping constant, open communication with Singaporeans is important amidst chaotic times as such. The nation’s crisis communication, open sharing of what citizens can expect in the months to come – medical, economic and psychological – has been highly praised by global authorities. Yet, the Government has never thought the work was done. In an interview with CNN, PM Lee reiterated that it is too early to talk about success, admitting that we are in the midst of an intensifying battle.

“I’m under no illusions that we have won. We are just going in, and there is a long battle ahead,” PM Lee, in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria

 

The number of Covid-19 cases has hit new highs the past week with increased testing for our foreign workers. The Ministry of Health’s director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, said in a virtual press conference on 15 April: “Our commitment to the foreign workers is that if they are infected, we want to find them, and we want to be very clear that we’re not intending to leave them alone, unattended.”

More than a month ago, PM Lee also prepared the nation for a possible spike in cases. “With very large numbers, if it happens, we will not be able to hospitalise and isolate every case like we do now. But we now know that the majority of patients, in fact 80% of them, only experience mild symptoms. The ones that are most at risk are the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure or lung problems. So with larger numbers, the sensible thing will be to hospitalise only the more serious cases, and encourage those with mild symptoms to see their family GP and rest at home – isolate themselves. This way, we focus resources on the seriously ill, speed up our response time, and hopefully, minimise the number of fatalities.”

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Singapore has since introduced heavy penalties for quarantine defiance, flouting of isolation notices and non-adherence to safe distancing measures. Citizens’ observance to circuit breaker measures further demonstrates the trust in the Government.

Investments in a nation’s healthcare system and R&D pay off

Singapore’s healthcare system has often been cited as an example of excellence. Efforts over the years and lessons learnt from SARS have paid off during this pandemic. There is however, no place for complacency. The need to constantly innovate and improve on old ways of doing things remains.

The outbreak has pushed many hospitals to accelerate healthcare transformation plans – Alexandra Hospital being an example. The hospital took the opportunity to ramp up automation with a robot named ‘BeamPro’. It delivers medications and food to isolated patients and allows doctors to remotely inspect them. The robot also helps to cut down on the use of Personal Protective Equipment.

As one of the biggest global healthcare crisis, this pandemic has and will continue to revolutionise the healthcare sector, as it puts healthcare systems worldwide to their biggest test. Only countries with robust healthcare systems, continual investments in R&D, and adoption of innovative technology will be able to emerge stronger than ever.

BeamPro, the robot, at Alexandra Hospital helps to reduce exposure of healthcare workers. Via

Importance of multiple sources of food supply

As a small nation that imports more than 90% of our food, Singapore is especially vulnerable to global supply disruptions. That, is a fact. But Singapore’s effective food security strategies have allowed us to tahan the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic so far. (By the way, not being able to find your usual favourite brands of coffee, cheese etc on the shelves is but a first world problem – cos hello, we have a global pandemic going on.)

The silver lining is that we have enough stockpile to last us for a while, buying time for us to continuously source for alternative sources. In other words, there will be adequate essential supplies for everyone. That’s IF people buy responsibly, i.e. don’t xia-suay.

Looking forward, did you know about the “30 by 30” goal – the aim to produce 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs locally by 2030? This is not a new initiative, but one set in motion back in 2019. This ambitious plan builds upon innovative research solutions to raise productivity and overcome Singapore’s resource constraints. From vegetables cultivated in greenhouses under special LED lighting to maximise yields, to fish farmed at sea in contained systems, approximately a third of the food for our nation should be home-grown by 2030!

Panasonic’s indoor vegetable farm, which uses an intelligent lighting system, is located in Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim. Via

Same storm, different experiences

We are all in the same storm, aren’t we? But the truth is some of us are cruising on fancy, big-a**ed ships, while others are merely trying to stay afloat on sampans. For the privileged, this circuit breaker probably just means that you can’t get in a workout at your gym, visit your regular salon to get a mani-pedi, or cafe hop with your Coffee and Bagel date.

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Then you have the vulnerable groups who live hand to mouth, in a downward spiral. For your karung guni man, hawker centre cleaners, office cleaning aunty, this might be a terrible time.

Thankfully, there are existing networks, both formal and informal, set up over the years that allow help to reach vulnerable groups quickly in this time of crisis. Those who need support can approach the social service offices and community centres to apply for new schemes such as the Temporary Relief Fund and the upcoming Covid-19 Support Grant, as well as existing ComCare schemes.

In his Supplementary Budget speech, DPM Heng promised to put more cash in the hands of all families. On 14 April, 9 in 10 Singaporeans received $600 each as part of measures by the Government to help families tide over the pandemic. Besides cash payouts and rebates to families, the Government will also double the $10 million grant to self-help groups to help more families. For the Community Development Councils running schemes to meet the needs of families in their communities, additional grant given will be increased to $75 million. NTUC will be stepping up efforts to help freelancers and Self-Employed Persons (SEPs) make appeals to the Government for their SEP Income Relief Scheme (SIRS) applications.

While many struggling to put food on the table are thankful for the helping hand, there are black sheep abusing the system, exploiting limited funds, and slowing down aid to our underprivileged! Let’s not even talk about the ones griping about the ‘meagre’ $600 cash handouts. Hey, you can always donate yours here or here, #justsaying.

At the end of the day, recognise that united we stand, divided we will fall. Look out for the vulnerable. If you know of someone who is struggling, offer your help. A meal or two, or a bag of groceries – you’d never know how much it means to them. Pull one another along, share resources. Then and only then can we sail through this mother of all storms and emerge stronger, together.

Seth Godin: You can learn just about anything now. So what did you learn today?

 

 

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