Singapore was hit early, as one of China’s key trading partners. Within a few weeks of the first official notice of “Wuhan flu,” it had a dozen cases. But it very quickly realized that this was more than the seasonal flu, and took rapid action. Primed by experience with the SARS virus of 2002-3, Singapore began carefully tracking cases to find the commonalities that linked them. Within a day, sometimes two, of a new case being detected, the authorities were able to piece together the complex chain of transmission from one person to another, like Sherlock Holmes with a database. As of February, everyone entering a government or corporate building in Singapore had to provide contact details to expedite the process.
It’s not simply the ability to detect the cases and explain why they happened that makes Singapore such a role model in this epidemic; nucleic acid testing kits were rapidly developed and deployed to ports of entry. Within three hours, while individuals are quarantined on-site, officials can confirm whether or not they are infected with the virus before allowing them to enter.
The response in the US has essentially been the opposite. Early on, most people seemed to assume it was a “Chinese,” or perhaps an “Asian,” issue—pandemics don’t happen in the US! This arrogant complacency allowed the public health authorities to let down their guard. Dozens of infected people, perhaps more, were allowed into the US and allowed—even encouraged—to go to work sick, hastening the spread of the virus.