Singapore's successful containment of Covid-19

Insights Newsletter
17 March, 2020

Plenty of first-world countries have been hit with Coronavirus cases and failed to stamp it out effectively. However, Singapore has once again shined as an example of clever public policy.

As of March 17, Singapore has a very low total number of cases with (243) because its government took what World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom described as an “all-of-government approach."

How did it achieve this?

In the initial phase, Singapore focused mainly on border controls to prevent the virus entering. The city-state was one of the first to impose travel restrictions with China, then Iran, South Korea, Italy and now France, Germany and Spain as those places became infected.

It also imposed a mandatory 14-day ‘Stay-Home Notice’ and self-isolation for its citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders arriving from countries affected by the pathogen.

In the second phase, it prioritised hard containment by creating strict measures for tracing the virus’ spread, isolating individuals and treating the ill to keeping deaths low as possible. Its vigilant digital ‘Contract Tracing’ system also helped to locate the infected and map out the virus as it spread.

Singapore operates a centralised, top-down government system which makes it easy to compel people. In fact, the Home Affairs Minister deported three Chinese nationals – who were also permanent residents – for not following quarantine protocols and lying to officials.

Third, Singapore pursued economic stimulus packages to support the economy. In February, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced an $S6.4 billion government programme, of which $S5.6b will assist businesses and consumers, while $S4b is tagged to support businesses with their wage costs.

Singapore achieved all this without enacting a lockdown and remains open to the world.

New Zealand has many similarities to the city-state. Both countries rely on free trade, boast similar population sizes and are advanced market economies. However, while New Zealand’s more liberal approach makes it harder to exert central control, there is plenty to learn from Singapore’s containment policies.

Today, Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced a $12.1b stimulus package to support New Zealanders and businesses. It follows Singapore’s example by including $5.1b in wage subsidies for affected businesses in all sectors and regions.

But there is more to do. Singapore and other South East Asian countries may provide inspiration for us.

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