Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Teck Ghee Chinese New Year Dinner on 1 February 2020.
The portion of PM Lee Hsien Loong's speech delivered in English is provided below.
有了这个前车之鉴，我们从那个时候开始就做了许多准备。现在，新加坡在应对传染疾病方面已经有更多的把握了。我们有更好的医药设施，例如我昨天参观的国家传染病中心( National Centre for Infectious Diseases.) 这个传染病中心就有最新的设施，有更多的床位 — 有三百多个床位 — 特别为传染病病人准备的。我们也拥有更多的专业医疗人员，他们在对抗传染病方面都训练有术。此外，政府医院也有足够的防护配备，能保护好病人以及医疗人员。所以，我相信我们可以更从容的应付这一次的考验。
这个新型冠状病毒,名词很长，是一种新的病毒。这个新的病毒跟上一次SARS的病毒是有关联的 — 它们的DNA, 它们的基因百分之八十是重叠的，是一样的。所以两者是相似的，但是两者也有一些重要的差别。
第二个不同：新病毒的传染力或许比SARS病毒来得强，所以散播的可能性比较快 — 你看中国的情况就散播到全国各地了。SARS在中国也没有这样的事情发生。所以散播得比较快，并且患者在没有出现病状的潜伏期的时候就可能会传播这个病毒。这样一来，我们防止传播的工作会更加艰巨。所以这个是新的病毒跟上一次SARS的不同点。
这个是第一个挑战 — 新的病毒和旧的病毒不相同。第二个挑战跟病毒没有关系，但是跟大家的手机跟社交媒体有关系。
在德义区，分发口罩的活动已经顺利地进行了。刚才我走访德义Zone Cares 居委会。他们从今天下午开始已经陆续分发口罩了。居委会，他们管的是三千个住户。忙了一个下午，已经分了口罩给500多户家庭。德义的两个居委会今天就总共分发了1000多包口罩。因为我们今天先发两个居委会。其他居委会从星期二开始，会发口罩。过后，口罩会从联络所发出去。我非常感谢基层领袖们的付出，大家辛苦了！也感谢各位居民的支持。大家可以安心了。
Friends and residents of Teck Ghee, let me say a few words in English and summarise what I said in Chinese just now.
We are all worried about the coronavirus situation. Many of us would remember what happened when we had SARS in 2003, 17 years ago. It was frightening. We did not know how it would spread, how long it would last, whether our loved ones would be alright, or would they be infected. But we stayed united and dealt with the crisis as one people, and fortunately, after a few months, we overcame it, and we got Singapore back together again. We upheld public confidence, we upheld our cohesion and our unity. We dealt with the problem, and we kept Singaporeans safe and healthy.
Since then, after SARS, we did a very serious post-mortem to study what we could do better, and since then, we have been preparing ourselves, because we knew that sooner or later, something like this would happen again. SARS was not the last time, and it will happen again one day. We have been preparing ever since then and now we are much better prepared than back in 2003.
We have better facilities like the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) which I visited yesterday, and healthcare professionals well-trained to deal with this scenario. I met some of them at NCID in good spirits. They were in good spirits and I thanked them for putting themselves on the frontline and at risk in order to deal with the problem and keep Singaporeans safe. I have every confidence that we can overcome the challenge before us.
This situation with the coronavirus is something like SARS. In fact, the coronavirus is related to SARS. If we look at the DNA, it is 80 per cent similar. But the virus is also somewhat different. Most importantly, it seems to be less lethal than SARS. SARS had a death rate of about 10 per cent but this one is about two per cent. We will see, but possibly, it may go lower. But the new virus is more infectious – you may be able to infect people even before you show any symptoms. Before you have a runny nose, fever, coughing or have pneumonia, you may already be able to infect people.
So, detection is more difficult. Which means that we have to work harder to isolate suspect cases as soon as we can identify them, and to stop the virus from spreading in the community. So far the cases we have had, all come from overseas. Mostly Chinese or PRC people who came from Wuhan. Also, in the planeload of Singaporeans who came back from Wuhan two days ago, two of them have since fallen ill with the coronavirus but we have quarantined them. They are in the hospital, under treatment, and have been taken care of. I think they will be alright and I am sure Singaporeans will be alright. Hopefully we will be able to maintain this, keep the virus contained and prevent the virus from spreading locally in Singapore.
Yesterday after we assessed the situation carefully, we decided to announce that from tomorrow, visitors who have travelled to Mainland China within the last two weeks, will not be allowed to enter or transit through Singapore. This is so, regardless of their nationality. Because we want to protect ourselves from the situation, which is in China, where the spread is much wider and numbers are much bigger.
We are doing this as a preemptive measure, purely to protect the public health. Some other countries have also done the same. We know that China is doing all they can to contain the spread of the virus. They have imposed their own travel restrictions in China, and on their own people. Including cancelling all outbound tour groups and bringing back Hubei residents from overseas. It is a much stronger response than what they did when SARS first broke out in 2003. So our efforts to stop the entry of people who have been to China recently will complement China’s efforts.
We wish China well in their efforts to fight the virus; we have confidence that China and the other countries will work together to win this battle internationally. It is not just in China that there will be a problem. If in other countries, the countries fail to prevent the virus from spreading and you have a big outbreak in another country – for example somewhere in Southeast Asia – then we will have a big problem in Singapore.
Because we have so many travellers come in and out from Singapore every day – hundreds of thousands. From Malaysia, more from Indonesia and others from Southeast Asia, from India and all over the world.
If all that has to come to a stop, I think the impact on us, our economy and livelihood will be quite severe. We will work with the other countries and with China to cooperate, fight the virus, understand the disease and prevent its spread. We hope to stop the epidemic and gradually to be able to bring the cases down.
We should see this as a public health problem, but unfortunately because people are scared, I think in some countries we have seen not just fear of the virus but also anti-PRC sentiments come up because the virus came from China. So therefore, there is an anti-PRC sentiment. People become afraid of and against China and in fact, against the Chinese.
As I said just now, there was a Singaporean tour group in Australia – Singaporean Chinese – and they were mistaken for PRC Chinese and they were prevented from entering some tourist site because people were afraid. But this is not helpful at all, because the virus may have started in China but it does not respect nationality or race. It does not check your passport before it goes into your body, and anybody can be infected. This is a problem that all countries have to work together to solve, because otherwise, as I explained, internationally we will have a problem. That is one big issue we have to be concerned about, making sure we see this as a health problem and not as a race or international diplomatic problem.
Another issue we have to be concerned about this time which we did not have to worry about with SARS is social media. In a crisis where social media has been both a boon and a bane, a plus and a minus. A plus because we can get our news out very quickly and there is a lot of information online which you can look up if you go to the right places. It is a bane and minus because there is a lot of untrue things and rumours circulating online on WhatsApp and Facebook. All kinds of stuff which go around. And it is difficult for people to tell what is true, or what is false.
Sometimes, it is because people are anxious, and they are sharing information that frightens them, and they want others to know. But, unfortunately when this happens, people’s anxieties are multiplied, and it is harder for them to get the correct information, and it can even spark fear and panic. So I strongly advise everybody, if you hear something shocking, please, before you believe it or share it, check with the proper channels, check from trusted places – check the mainstream media, check MediaCorp, SPH, check the government websites, sign up for the WhatsApp group that the government is offering, and in four languages , so you can get the messages from the government, whether you want it in English, Chinese, Malay or in Tamil.
We will put out the information as soon as we can to the media, and through these chatgroups, so that you can get the information soon, and you can get updated, and you can know what you need to do to protect yourself. And I think there is something that each of us can do to protect ourselves. What is it? Practise good hygiene and wash your hands frequently. That is the most important thing because the most common way such viruses travel, is people-to-people, is when you touch something, or when you touch somebody and the virus travels from contact to contact. Then you touch your face, or your eyes, and it gets into your body.
Not so often it is a droplet that is carried in the air that you breathe in and you need a mask. So washing your hands regularly, use disinfectant if you have it. You can get it, it is not hard to get. That may go a long way to keeping you safe. But if you have a fever, or are showing symptoms of a cold, then put on a mask and go and see the doctor, because if you are ill, you do not want to give your germs to other people. Go and see the doctor, let the doctor check and make sure that you do not have the coronavirus. And if you have the coronavirus, then you can be quarantined, admitted to hospital – you can be treated, and you can be taken care of, and your family, your friends and other Singaporeans will be well.
I know that some of you were worried earlier because you could not buy your masks. But as I have explained, if you are healthy and do not have any symptoms, you do not really need one. But nevertheless, just to make sure that everybody is reassured and that everybody has some at home just in case, the government has decided to mobilise the PA, the SAF – we have packaged masks for every household – one packet, four masks, and we are distributing them at the RCs from today.
I just went to visit our own RCs who were distributing it. Zone Cares RC – just a ten-minute walk from here – to see how it was going, and it is going well because they have been distributing it all afternoon. At Zone Cares, they have distributed about 500, and altogether in Teck Ghee they have distributed about 1,000 masks this afternoon. And we will continue tomorrow, Monday, Tuesday, and thereafter, at the CC as well.
So I thank all the grassroots leaders and the volunteers for working hard, for sacrificing their time, for manning the counters, for helping us to be able to do this, and to explain to residents, what you need to do, what you do not need to do, here is what you have, here is how we can help you, here is what you can do and please do, to help yourselves.
Let us remain resilient and calm, and respond as one united nation. Let us show care and concern for our fellow human beings. We continue with our lives as much as possible. We have the Chinese New Year dinner today. They asked me whether to proceed. I said yes, we proceed. We take precautions, we borrow a scanner, we put out scanners, we ask you not to come if you have a fever, when you come, we will put up the scanner and will see whether you have a red spot on your forehead, so we can check whether you have a fever or not. We can reduce the risk, but life goes on. And we have to keep on meeting, going to school, working, and keeping Singapore ticking over.
I have confidence that we will get through this, and we will get through this together because we are well prepared and we have dealt with more serious situations before. So it is a serious Chinese New Year message, but I think this is a serious Year of the Rat. The rat is an animal which is supposed to be clever, survivable – wherever you chase it, it will find a place to go, and it will continue to be able to live and to survive.
Singapore must be as wily, as resilient and as survivable as the rat, not just in the Year of the Rat, but all 12 years of the Chinese zodiac! So I wish you a happy New Year, good health, prosperity and happiness for this year and many years to come. Thank you very much.
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