Minister Vivian Balakrishnan Gives Interview To Sky News Australia, Says Virus More Infectious Than Anticipated

As Singapore is still reporting hundreds of new cases of Covid-19 daily, it’s understandable for people to think that we’re still struggling to cope with the outbreak.

While the continuous barrage of new cases may be depressing, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has uncovered the light at the end of the tunnel for us, with some optimistic words during a recent interview.

Basically, he said that Singapore is “well on our way to recovery”, and was confident we will be able to bring down the numbers of new cases in migrant worker dormitories.

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Interview with Sky News Australia focused on Covid-19-related issues

During an interview with Sky News Australia on Friday (22 May), Dr Balakrishnan discussed a range of issues with presenter Annelise Nielson, including how Singapore is using technology when dealing with contact tracing, and our cooperation with Australia amid the pandemic.

A transcript of the speech was posted on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.

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We’re “well on our way to recovery”

One of the questions Dr Balakrishnan was asked by Ms Nielson was when he would feel that Singapore was on its way to recovery, given that we have had to deal with a wave of infections among migrant workers.

To that, the Foreign Minister replied,

I think we are well on our way to recovery.

Calling the ‘Circuit Breaker’ a “soft version of a lockdown”, he noted that we are in our seventh week, and our community cases (i.e. the cases apart from migrant workers in dormitories) have been reduced to single digits.

He’s “pretty sure” our migrant worker cases have plateaued

On the migrant worker dormitories, he described them as “like ships on land” — using a term the World Health Organisation had used. That means people are in close proximity and have risk of infection.

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Referring to to the outbreak in dormitories as a “problem”, Dr Balakrishnan noted that precautions were taken, but “this virus was far more infectious than we anticipated”.

However, as we are now testing the workers extensively and isolating them, he struck a more confident tone, saying,

I am pretty sure that it has plateaued, and we will be able to bring the numbers down.

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Singapore mortality rate is low

Dr Balakrishnan pointed out that Singapore’s mortality rate is low, with 23 deaths officially recorded so far.

That’s a less than 0.1% mortality rate, he added.

The low mortality rate shows that not only our health care is good, but that many of the people infected don’t have symptoms. That’s due to our extensive testing regimen.

He also said that as the nation has built up its medical capacity, contact tracing and testing regimen, he’s pretty confident that we can lift the ‘Circuit Breaker’ in June.

Vivian wants TraceTogether app to be voluntary as long as possible

Dr Balakrishnan was also asked about the relatively low take-up of the TraceTogether app, which facilities contact tracing.

He replied that while the number of people who have downloaded the app has gone up to about 1.5 million out of 5.5 million people in Singapore, downloading of the app still remains voluntary,

It is still a voluntary exercise, and I would try to keep it for as long as possible on that basis.

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Working on turning TraceTogether into a wearable device

One issue with the app is it uses Bluetooth, and this saps phone batteries — which may be a reason why people don’t download it.

Thus, Dr Balakrishnan revealed that Singapore is working on making a wearable device for contact tracing, which uses a battery and can carried around on a lanyard or handbag.

This would prompt more people to make use of the system, he added.

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He also focused on the human aspect of the technology, specifically maintaining trust, respecting privacy and getting voluntary participation.

As such, he emphasised that the human is at the centre of the process,

In dealing with human beings, when a diagnosis is made, I do not believe a smart app should tell you the diagnosis. You need a human being to speak to you, tell you that the test is positive.

Countries need to support one another, not be distracted by politics

When asked about how Australia should deal with China, which is under fire as it’s subject to an inquiry over the origin of the coronavirus, Dr Balakrishnan said that we’re dealing with “a clear and present danger” and need to “work with each other to support one another”.

Thus, he said, we should “not get distracted by the polemic and the politics”.

He added that after the emergency passes a proper inquiry can be held, but it shouldn’t be politicised.

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Boosting our hopes that we will get through this

We’re glad that Dr Balakrishnan is so sure that the outbreak will get better from now on.

It really helps boost our hopes that Singapore will get through this tough time.

We’re eagerly awaiting the day when the numbers of new cases go down low enough for us to enjoy going out again.

Meanwhile, here’s the video of his full interview:

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