Singapore Should Have Closed Borders To High Risk Countries

With the covid-19 outbreak raging in India since the emergence of the Delta variant, the government’s reluctance to close its border to India should be seriously questioned.

As though the lessons of the mask flip flop last year were not sobering enough, the government is again lapsing into a wait-and see attitude and only taking reactive measures on border restrictions when cases begin to surge in the country.

The government could have implemented a temporary restriction on all flights from South Asia and reassessed SOPs, then reopened borders when the necessary safeguards are in place. That would have saved our country much suffering. Instead, it chose not to rock the boat and only implemented half-hearted measures such as a longer stay-home-notice period for travellers from India and a reduction in entry approvals.

Defending the government’s risk management approach, co-chair of the multi-ministry taskforce Minister Lawrence Wong insisted that it was necessary to keep our borders open for foreign workers to come in and that restrictions were already in place to reduce the number of arrivals.

His response reflects the government’s failure to take into consideration new threats posed by new viral strains in the context of an escalating global situation. As a result, our country remained open to hotspots like India.

To make things worse, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung revealed that defences at Changi Airport were far from tight. Frontliners at the airport were only protected with basic PPE despite the increasing number of imported cases of variants and there was no proper segregation of high-risk passengers and staff from the general public. It was only after the Changi Airport cluster swelled that measures were reviewed.

Being slow to ban travellers from high-risk countries coupled with not having strong defences at the airport is clearly a sign of incompetent leadership.

A lack of a a proactive strategy and complacency on the government’s part was what led to the second wave of outbreaks in the community. While safety protocols have been subsequently tightened, the damage has already been done.