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The Singapore Warning The Singapore Warning
(5 months later)
This article is part of David Leonhardt’s newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it each weekday.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 announce new guidelines on social distancing that will move the country toward reopening.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 announce new 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.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.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.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.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.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 lockdown two 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.”The number of new cases has surged, as you can see in the chart above. In response, the country announced a lockdown two 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.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: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.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.We’ve got a long slog ahead of us.
For more …For more …
The Trump administration’s response continues to lag. “Most of the country is not conducting nearly enough testing to track the path and penetration of the coronavirus in a way that would allow Americans to safely return to work,” report The Times’s Abby Goodnough, Katie Thomas and Sheila Kaplan.The Trump administration’s response continues to lag. “Most of the country is not conducting nearly enough testing to track the path and penetration of the coronavirus in a way that would allow Americans to safely return to work,” report The Times’s Abby Goodnough, Katie Thomas and Sheila Kaplan.
Paul Krugman, The Times: “The reality is that we shouldn’t consider opening the economy until we have both reduced infections dramatically and vastly increased testing, so we can crack down quickly on any potential re-emergence. The good news is that many governors seem to understand that.”Paul Krugman, The Times: “The reality is that we shouldn’t consider opening the economy until we have both reduced infections dramatically and vastly increased testing, so we can crack down quickly on any potential re-emergence. The good news is that many governors seem to understand that.”
“We can start to contemplate potentially reopening aspects of the country in May and into June,” Scott Gottlieb, a former Trump official, told CBS News this week. “But it is going to be a slow process, we want to do it gradually and we want to evaluate along the way to make sure that as we go back to work we’re not triggering a spike in new cases.”“We can start to contemplate potentially reopening aspects of the country in May and into June,” Scott Gottlieb, a former Trump official, told CBS News this week. “But it is going to be a slow process, we want to do it gradually and we want to evaluate along the way to make sure that as we go back to work we’re not triggering a spike in new cases.”
If you are not a subscriber to this newsletter, you can subscribe here. You can also join me on Twitter (@DLeonhardt) and Facebook.If you are not a subscriber to this newsletter, you can subscribe here. You can also join me on Twitter (@DLeonhardt) and Facebook.
Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.