Release on White Paper on Singapore’s response to COVID-19
White Paper on Singapore’s response to COVID-19: Preparing Singapore better for the next pandemic.
The government has released the White Paper on Singapore’s Response to COVID-19, in the wake of Singapore stepping down its remaining COVID-19 measures and moving into a new endemic COVID-19 normal. The White Paper reviews our whole-of-nation response to the pandemic and sets out key lessons for Singapore, so we can be better prepared for the next pandemic.
The White Paper draws on the insights from an internal review by former Head of Civil Service Mr Peter Ho and the findings from after-action reviews conducted by government agencies. The White Paper seeks to synthesise the breadth of perspectives gathered to offer as balanced and objective an account as possible of our COVID-19 response.
Reviewing our experience
What we did well
Relative to other countries, Singapore has done well in protecting both lives and livelihoods. We maintained the resilience of our healthcare system and successfully vaccinated the population. The assistance rendered to businesses helped them stay afloat. Livelihoods were preserved through support schemes for self-employed persons as well as skills training and job placements for displaced workers. As a result, we averted a deeper economic crisis. We also kept our air, port and land links open so global supply chains could continue to flow to and through Singapore and the region.
The pandemic affected daily life. Many Singaporeans experienced severe life stressors at home and at work. Public and private organisations worked hand-in-hand to offer additional financial, social and mental well-being support to the vulnerable. We continued educating our students throughout the pandemic, avoiding the severe learning disruption faced by students in other countries. Most of all, there was a high level of trust in fighting this pandemic together – between the government and people, amongst individuals and communities.
What we could have done better
There were also areas where we could have done better, in particular, the outbreak in the migrant worker dormitories during the early months of the crisis which could have spiralled out of control and overwhelmed our healthcare system. Another was our ability to scale contact tracing efforts to keep pace with the intensity and pace of outbreaks. The TraceTogether (TT) programme faced slow adoption initially, and suffered a setback with the disclosure that TT data could be used for criminal investigations following earlier reassurances that the data would only be used for contact tracing.
The government could have also been less definitive in its initial position on mask-wearing, and more flexible in its implementation of safe management measures. The constantly changing rules were frustrating for businesses and individuals. The switch to home recovery also happened too quickly, causing significant anxiety among infected individuals and their family members.
Finally, on border measures, we had to make difficult decisions around whether to close the borders, whom the restrictions should apply to and thereafter, when to reopen borders. On hindsight, we could have tightened borders more aggressively when confronted with signs of the virus spreading rapidly elsewhere, as well as eased them earlier as soon as it was clear that the main danger would no longer be from imported cases.
These issues have prompted reflection on the important lessons to be drawn from our COVID-19 experience. Where we have done well, we will cement these gains for the future. Where there have been shortcomings in our response, we will identify and tackle them, to be better prepared for the next pandemic.
Lessons for the next pandemic
The White Paper distils what we have learnt from COVID-19 into seven key lessons.
a. We need to better establish upfront which dimension to prioritise in each phase of dealing with the pandemic, and to adapt more quickly to the changing situation. Our crisis response should strike the right balance between precision and ease of implementation, and we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
b. We need to strengthen Singapore’s resilience as an economy, society, and nation. We should maintain access to key resources by building buffers, invest in critical systems and capabilities to marshal our resources well, and enhance the adaptability of our infrastructure and workforce so we can pivot quickly when we need to.
c. We should deepen engagements and strengthen partnerships with the people and private sectors to harness their strengths. To do this well, the government must develop an eco-system to support and nurture these relationships in peacetime.
d. We should expand our healthcare capacity and strengthen public health expertise and organisational capabilities, especially in communicable disease control and management.
e. Science and technology ought to be better leveraged to support future pandemic crisis management and response. We need to invest in data engineering capabilities and interoperable systems across government, as well as enhance the cybersecurity of our systems.
f. The pandemic emphasised the need for the government to strengthen its structures and capabilities for crisis planning and management. In particular, the range of baseline scenarios for pandemic planning will need to be broadened.
g. Throughout the pandemic, clear and transparent public communications kept citizens informed and reassured, and psychologically prepared for what lay ahead. We will build on this foundation, and consider how else public communications could be leveraged to shape the national psyche in support of important shifts during a crisis.
In this crisis of a generation, we mounted a strong whole-of-nation response. The public, private, and people sectors banded together to deliver the best outcomes for our people and country. From healthcare workers and other essential personnel working on the frontlines, to private companies and community organisations who contributed their time and resources, as well as the many ground-up groups and volunteers who stepped forward to provide support to those in need — all went beyond the call of duty.
The government would like to put on record our appreciation for the dedication and sacrifices of all who were a part of our multi-year fight against COVID-19. We also thank all Singaporeans for displaying considerable fortitude in abiding by the measures imposed at different phases of the pandemic.Members of public may access the White Paper at go.gov.sg/covid-19-white-paper. The White Paper will be debated in Parliament later this month.
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PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE
8 MARCH 2023
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