Covid-19 ~ The Singapore Warning

The Singapore Warning

Reopening the economy will be hard.

By David Leonhardt

April 16, 2020

This article is part of David Leonhardt’s newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it each weekday.

This has been the week when everybody seems to be thinking about reopening the economy. Governors are talking about it. So are President Trump and leaders in much of Europe. Today, Trump plans to announcenew guidelines on social distancing that will move the country toward reopening.

But before anyone gets too excited, it’s worth taking a look at what’s happening in Singapore, which has been celebrated for a model response to the virus.

Singapore’s approach has certainly been aggressive — and more effective than the American approach. In January, as the virus was spreading within the Chinese city of Wuhan, Singapore officials began screening travelers arriving in their country and placing anyone who tested positive into quarantine. Singapore also quarantined some travelers who didn’t have symptoms but had been exposed to the virus. And Singapore tested its own residents and tracked down people who had come in contact with someone who tested positive.

The result has been only 10 deaths, out of a population of 5.6 million, despite the country’s close ties with China. “They never had a big outbreak, because they were ready and nimble,” Aaron Carroll, a professor at Indiana University’s medical school and a contributor to The Times, told me.

Thanks to that response, Singapore had been able to avoid the kind of lockdowns that other countries had put in place. Restaurants and schools were open, albeit with people keeping their distance from each other. Large gatherings were rare. Singapore, in short, looked as the United States might look after the kind of partial reopening many people have begun imagining.

But Singapore doesn’t look that way anymore. Even there, despite all of the successful efforts at containment, the virus never fully disappeared. Now a new outbreak is underway.

The number of new cases has surged, as you can see in the chart above. In response, the country announced a lockdowntwo weeks ago. Singapore’s “present circumstances,” Carroll writes in a piece for The Times, “bode poorly for our ability to remain open for a long time.”

Many public health experts agree. Moving toward reopening still makes sense. But it will need to be done with extreme care. Even if it is, as in Singapore, people should be prepared for a series of partial reopenings — varying from place to place — that will sometimes be followed by new lockdowns.

As Ed Yong writes in The Atlantic:

The only viable endgame is to play whack-a-mole with the coronavirus, suppressing it until a vaccine can be produced. With luck, that will take 18 to 24 months. During that time, new outbreaks will probably arise. Much about that period is unclear, but the dozens of experts whom I have interviewed agree that life as most people knew it cannot fully return. “I think people haven’t understood that this isn’t about the next couple of weeks,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota. “This is about the next two years.”

If you want to understand more about what policies can minimize the number of future lockdowns, I recommend both Yong’s and Carroll’s articles. All of the best options involve aggressive testing, tracking and quarantining, as well as continued forms of social distancing even after some activities resume.

We’ve got a long slog ahead of us.


Journalists turned scientists have formed an opinion. I for one am certainly glad. Not only is Singapore exactly like the United States in nearly every way, but I was also hoping to find some editorial writers who can take the place of the scientists I’ve been reading.


People who have been infected apparently shouldn’t be too confident that they’re safe now… so a full reopening should IMO only happen when proper medication for treatment is available. There are still so many unknowns about this virus.


Totally agree. :wink: Sadly, a vaccine probably won’t happen for a long time here in the US and elsewhere. Who is to say there will be one created? We can only hope.

The economy is in free fall. People are wondering and fearing WTF is their future? How are they going to support themselves and their loved ones? They would rather risk getting infected and/or infecting others just to make their next buck on which to survive. It’s scary times, no doubt. Folks are stir-crazy!

The Singapore scenario will play out all over the world. Social distancing is our “vaccine” at the present time. The forbearing and forward thinking folks realize that… the fractious and knee jerk reaction folks rebel against the notion.

We are very social creatures. At the present time… this trait in our society is our undoing. :grimacing:


I do think though it’s important to note who is protesting and why. Most certainly there are those who decry the loss of rights and freedoms, and loss of socializing. But, as in the Michigan case for example, the original organizers were protesting not the social aspect, but the economic impact.

These were small business owners of ‘non-essential’ labeled services that are now living without income, which of course to a business that is akin to a fish trying to breathe out of water. Highlighting the economic impact of the lock downs, and the unwavering stance of elected entities to make any compromise, was the original intent in Michigan. Bandwagoners allowed the media to distort the protests with some well chosen words and photographs to make them all seem like anti-government, selfish Jesus Rollers with guns slung over their shoulders, simply flouting the lock down in personal or political protest.

So while “social distancing is our vaccine at present”, the economy must be considered. I don’t see why non-essential services should be held down with tape over their mouths for months on end until they perish. Starting the engine needs to be considered sooner than later.


Please Lawd, don’ let our most studied and thoughtful deliberations on Libertee be a misunderstood !


So… it will happen, all too soon enough. America goes back to work. The possible price of which, whether or not anyone likes it, will be actual human lives. Like it or not, its a Catch-22 situation. In this scenario, there’s no having our cake and eating it as well.

This is our life now. :confused: … until, possibly, a vaccine is created.

As perhaps many of us are in “Grams and Gramps” demographic - odd to become “collateral damage”.