SINGAPORE - Singapore will not rule out a lockdown to tackle the growing threat of the coronavirus outbreak, but it is not an option currently on the cards, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (March 17).
"We have always said that we need to consider a whole range of measures and not rule anything out," he told a press conference at the Ministry of Communications and Information.
"So something as stringent, we are not planning for it - so Singaporeans should not think of us as planning for it. It's certainly a very extreme measure, and we don't think we need to get there if we do all the things we have been doing, we have been advocating, and we do them well."
Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force set up to deal with the coronavirus situation, was responding to a question on whether Singapore would consider such a measure decided on by Malaysia.
Malaysia had announced that its citizens would not be allowed to travel overseas for two weeks starting from Wednesday (March 18), as part of a slew of measures to arrest the spread of the coronavirus.
All schools, universities, and businesses there would be shut, and all public gatherings banned during this period, although essential services would continue, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had said.
Mr Wong said that if the multiple lines of defences that the Government has put in place - such as border controls, contact tracing, and social distancing - can be tightened, then Singapore need not reach a situation where the entire city has to be locked down.
"We could potentially do, for example... a major circuit breaker that doesn't entail a lockdown, but entails school closures, workplace closures, and doing it on a temporary basis over a period of two to three weeks, just as the Malaysians have done."
"So there is a whole range of measures that we have in our toolkit, and we constantly monitor the environment, the risk situation, and then we will adjust our measures," he added.
At the press conference, also attended by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, the authorities said it was helping companies which employ Malaysian workers, especially those that provide essential services, to find temporary accommodation in Singapore.
Mr Wong said that the land crossing with Malaysia is something that needed special consideration given the high volume of people and goods passing through.
"That's why we've been discussing this matter bilaterally, but in recent days, the Malaysians, seeing the seriousness of the matter within their own country... decided that they needed a swift and urgent response."
He said that if and when these measures are lifted by Malaysia, things cannot go back to "business as usual". Extra precautions do need to be taken at the border, and what these measures are will depend on discussions with Malaysia.
A possible measure could be having to differentiate between the daily commuters and tourists. "And then you've got to find some ways to do that without causing too much congestion, some kind of a differentiated approach."
While the current measures posed an inconvenience to everyone, Mr Wong said, Singapore should take this in its stride.
"Importantly... the measures that the Malaysians put in place will help to control the transmission of the virus not just within Malaysia, but also across the border."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.
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