SINGAPORE: The COVID-19 pandemic has taught Singapore valuable lessons “for which we have paid dearly”, lessons that should not be wasted, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (April 24).
Speaking at an event marking 200 years since the establishment of the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) in 1821, Mr Lee said Singapore “cannot revert thoughtlessly to the status quo ante” after the pandemic.
“We must make the most of the changes imposed by the crisis to improve our ways of doing things,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr Lee credited Singapore’s resilient healthcare system, effective public health response and high degree of public trust for making “a big difference” in weathering the pandemic.
But “while we count our blessings, we must seriously prepare for the next pandemic,” Mr Lee said.
“It is entirely possible that within the next few decades another new pathogen more deadly and infectious than COVID-19 will sweep the world,” he said.
This means Singapore must maintain its high standards of medical excellence, investing in healthcare workers and good medical facilities and infrastructure, Lee said.
The country also needs to strengthen its scientific and biomedical capacities to take advantage of the R&D expertise it has accumulated over the years, he added.
Singapore will also look to developing public health expertise, which it called “absolutely critical” in the event of a pandemic.
“We need to be able to understand how a new disease spreads, make sense of disease trends…and design non-medical measures that can help bring the outbreak under control in our population,” he said. declared.
The government will also shift its focus from hospital-centred care to patient-centred preventive care by “attacking disease at its root, before it progresses to the point where it requires treatment”, Ms. .Lee.
This will address the pressing needs of the aging population and the burden of chronic disease on the healthcare system, Lee said.
However, the most critical factor in Singapore’s response to the pandemic, Lee said, is trust. This high degree of trust – between Singaporeans and the government, and each other – has been built over the years, he said.
“This is the fundamental reason why Singaporeans have been able to come together during the pandemic, instead of working against each other,” he said, pointing out how people adhered to “heavy” safe management measures. and opted for vaccinations and booster shots.
Public confidence in the healthcare system depends on the competence and commitment of healthcare workers, Lee said.
The transparency of the healthcare system, even when things don’t go as planned, also played a role, he added.
He cited the example of the Ministry of Health which regularly reports statistics on serious adverse events following vaccination against COVID-19 and proactively investigates any errors, such as when someone received the wrong dose. .
“Some might be tempted to think it would have been easier to remain silent… but that would have been very reckless,” the prime minister said.
“Rumours will spread, people will gradually lose faith in the system and we will end up paying a heavy price – loss of public trust.”
An effective public health response has also helped Singapore deal with the COVID-19 crisis, Lee said.
It refers to the use of public policies, including non-medical interventions, to manage the course of the pandemic and limit the spread of the virus.
Examples of such measures include isolation, contact tracing, safe management measures and cross-border restrictions.
Singapore’s national immunization program also required many public health decisions, Lee noted.
For example, decisions were made about which groups to vaccinate first, how often to give booster shots, and how to differentiate the vaccinated from the unvaccinated.
“The effective integration of these public health tools and considerations into our resilient health care system has made all the difference in this pandemic,” Lee said.
“THE CITY COMES BACK TO LIFE”
Singapore is nearing its goal of living with COVID-19, Lee said, in a speech two days after Singapore announced significant steps to roll back COVID-19 restrictions.
“You can feel the city coming back to life,” he said. “We are quietly confident that we will face whatever may come and continue to progress towards the new normal.”
Mr Lee credited Singapore’s “strong and resilient” healthcare system with helping the country overcome COVID-19.
Describing how Singapore has invested heavily in health infrastructure, Mr Lee highlighted the construction and expansion of eight public acute and community hospitals since 2010. The number of polyclinics has also increased from 18 to 23 over the past five years. ,
When COVID-19 hit Singapore, hospitals stockpiled essential medical supplies, increased intensive care unit (ICU) capacity, and reorganized and mobilized resources to support emergency departments and COVID-19 services. , Mr. Lee noted.
“Most importantly, our healthcare workers have demonstrated professionalism and commitment, kept our healthcare system strong and resilient, and enabled Singapore to maintain a degree of normalcy in extraordinary times,” he added. , thanking healthcare workers for their “courage, perseverance and commitment.” to the cause”.
“Singapore is deeply grateful to you all,” Mr Lee said.