PAP Govt’s Covid-19 White Paper is a frank, honest evaluation of its pandemic response

The PAP Government did good for Singaporeans during the pandemic.

And, as its just-released (Mar. 8) White Paper on Singapore’s Response to Covid-19 shows, internal investigations are frank about what could have been done better.

Prepared by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Paper draws on a review conducted by the former Head of Civil Service, Mr Peter Ho, findings from Government body reviews, as well as the perspectives from the private and people sectors. 

Areas in which the PAP Government performed well includes having ample vaccinations, protecting livelihoods, keeping supply chains open, and maintaining the resilience of our national healthcare system.

At the same time, the outbreak in the migrant worker dormitories and too-definitive mask-wearing policies were some areas where the PAP Government needs to improve.

These insights (and their lessons) are offered because this Party is committed towards serving Singaporeans for the long term with honesty — and will remain above-board and transparent while journeying forward together.      

What the PAP Government did well

Where Covid-19 was the crisis of a generation, the Government stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Singaporeans in confronting it.

“We maintained the resilience of our healthcare system and successfully vaccinated the population,” noted the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) about the Paper’s findings (Mar 8).

“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,” continued the PMO, adding that Government support for the vulnerable and avoiding learning disruptions for students were achievements too.

What the PAP Government could have done better

The PAP Government’s response to the pandemic was mainly “built upon crisis response plans that we had developed and practised over the years,” notes the Paper.

“The simultaneous activation of many crisis scenarios throughout these three years considerably stretched our crisis response system.”

And so, there is room for improvement in this response.

The Paper noted that the PAP Government could have handled the outbreak in migrant worker dormitories more promptly, tighten borders more aggressively, adopt a less definitive mask-wearing policy early on, and provide more clarity over the use of contact tracing data.

In particular, there were difficulties with the transition to endemic Covid-19 living.

The August 2021 attempt towards “Living with Covid” needed backtracking nearly immediately towards a Stabilisation Phase when disease cases surged that September.

Public hotlines were overwhelmed with uncertain callers when the Home Recovery Programme (HRP) for Covid-19 patients was introduced.

Lessons for the next inevitability

There are seven lessons, then, from Covid-19: Establish priorities upfront, strengthen Singapore’s all-round resilience, deepen tripartite partnerships, expand national healthcare capacity especially for communicable disease control, build up the Government’s crisis planning and management capabilities, make better use of science and technology in our crisis response, and have clear and transparent public communications.

These lessons are unvarnished ones: The PAP Government is unafraid to appraise itself with balance and objectivity.

Especially since another pandemic is inevitable; Singapore must be ready. 

One resolute insight from the Paper stands out here, then.

“This crisis of a generation showed us, and the world, what Singaporeans are capable of when faced with a severe existential test. It marks a certain maturity of Singapore as an economy, as a people, and as a nation,” the Paper writes. 

“We can be proud of how far we have come. And we will learn from the experiences of the last three years to be better prepared for the next pandemic.” 

You can read the White Paper on Singapore’s Response to Covid-19 here for more detailed information; Parliament will convene later in March to debate it.

Images via MCI, aboodi vesakaran / Unsplash.