Lesson from Singapore: Why we may need to think bigger

Singapore officials have been screening and quarantining all travelers from outside the country since the beginning of the pandemic. Their contact tracing is second to none. Every time they identify an infection, they commit to determining its origin in two hours. They post online where identified infected people work, live and have spent time so that potential contacts can be identified. They enforce quarantines and isolation of such contacts, with criminal charges for those who violate orders.

And yet, in the last week, they’ve put the entire country into lockdown. All migrant workers are confined to their compounds for at least two weeks. Citizens may leave their homes, but only to buy food or medicine, or to exercise. Anyone who breaks the rules, including spending time with anyone not in their household, can be imprisoned, fined the equivalent of $7,000 U.S., or both.

What Singapore was doing (more on that below) dwarfs what most are discussing in the United States. Its present circumstances bode poorly for our ability to remain open for a long time.

“There’s just no way that we’re going to be able to keep most of the country open through the year,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, vice provost of Global Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania.

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