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06 Apr 2020
Covid-19 crisis
Suggestion View - 305
Respond in a timely manner

We need to respond in a timely manner. We should not respond too late (i.e. behind the curve). However, we should also avoid responding prematurely, as it may cause panic and disruption. 

There is a cost to responding too late. There is also a cost to responding too early.

When the health minister declare code Orange on February 7 after reaching 30 infections, I felt that it was too early.

Several measures where implemented under this situation which cause a big disruption to the workplaces. This had an impact on the economy. Business started to slow down.

The spread of the infection slowed down. Observers declared that the measures introduced under code Orange were successful in containing the spread. 

This was not the case. The infection increased at a slow rate until 14 March when it reached 200 cases. In the following week, it jumped to 1,000 cases on 2 April. This coincided with the return of students from the UK and USA.

If the measures taken under code Orange were effective, it would not have led to this large jump.

Since its implementation, I have said that the temperature reading at workplaces and the recording of contact tracing details used a lot of manpower and the measures were largely ineffective.

I suggested that the resources should be better spent in carrying out large scale temperate scanning at all public places, providing hand sanitizers and carrying out on-site testing for people with fever.

During this time, the task force recommended that it was not necessary to wear a face mask in public. I agreed with that decision. I was not alarmed by the spread of the virus until then, nor on the severity of the illness. I attributed to low spread and severity to our warm climate.

On 22 March, the task force decided to implement social distancing measures. The measures were severe. It required all eateries, shops and workplaces to reduce their capacity by 50 percent.

I changed my approach and decided to wear a face mask on public transport. If it was necessary to implement social distancing, my common sense said that it is time to wear a face mask. 

The task force has now decided to "stop discouraging the wearing of face masks". They should be more pro-active and say - we have now reached the stage where it is advisable to wear a face mask in public. 

There will be insufficient masks for the public to use if they are to be changed daily. The public should be advised to sanitize the mask and re-use them for up to 15 or 30 days.

A re-used mask may not be as effective as a new mask, but it will offer an adequate level of protection. The exposure of the public is lower than the exposure of a health worker attending to patients that are infected with the corona virus.

We need to adopt measures that are advisable as the situation develops. We need to weigh the cost and benefit of each measure.

While we want to minimize the health risk as much as possible, we should not take extreme measures that cause greater economic damage and bring about a negligible improvement to the health status.

I do not agree with people who advocated extreme measures at an early stage, even though the subsequent events may prove their worst fears to be correct. 

When the situation turns for the worse, there is time to take the appropriate measures. The sky has not fallen down.

Tan Kin Lian

 


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