Leadership lesson Lam lacks

Editorial | Mary Ma 11 Feb 2020

Singapore faces a health crisis from the new coronavirus that is no less severe than in Hong Kong but its government seems to have inspired a greater confidence in its people than we are seeing here.

And that's not at all funny.

Singapore is not connected by land to mainland China.

In theory, it should be easier for the Lion City to protect itself from the disease that first broke out in Wuhan.

My fears are that Hong Kong will soon overtake Singapore as more local cases are confirmed.

This has much to do with the way the two places are protecting their people.

I wasn't at all impressed to see Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor moving around without wearing a mask.

That's despite so many experts - including Hong Kong's top ones - saying it is dangerous not to wear a mask as she may infect others if she is ill but doesn't know it.

That's possible. As the number of cases continues to increase, we've been reminded regularly that some virus carriers do not show any symptoms at all or they can be so mild that they may be easily ignored.

For the sake of others, Carrie Lam, please put on a mask the next time you appear in public.

Lam is normally articulate but that has not been the case in the recent past as she appeared before the media to explain policy updates a little bit each time.

That bit-by-bit approach never inspires confidence - to the contrary, in fact.

A reader forwarded me a video link of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong addressing his nationals in which he assured them there is no cause to panic.

Lee's speech was made a day after reports of more cases sparked a run on masks and groceries.

That's been happening here in Hong Kong for a while.

Regrettably, the SAR government has not been able to reassure the public and runs on masks and toilet rolls have become a daily routine.

Panic is bordering on insanity.

Lee didn't dwell on figures and that was perfectly logical as the numbers keep changing every day.

His message to Singaporeans basically consists of four major points. First, he tried to differentiate the Wuhan virus from SARS, pointing out that the latter had a higher mortality rate than the new coronavirus and that scientific evidence available so far shows the mortality rate of the new virus is comparable to that of the common flu.

Two, the new virus, however, is far more infectious.

Three, because the new virus is more infectious, there will probably come the day when hospitals will be overwhelmed. When that day comes, what should Singaporeans do?

Then comes the fourth point: the government's future strategy. Lee said patients suffering from mild symptoms may see their family doctors and stay at home for recovery so that hospitals can focus on the more serious cases.

In a public crisis, it is crucial for a political leader to stay ahead of the curve to inspire confidence in the people and sound out a strategy to prepare the masses mentally for what may happen later.

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