A Review of Singapore’s Response to COVID-19

How Singapore Defeated COVID-19 and some Economical and Ethical Reflections.

Andrew Chen
9 min readApr 18, 2021


Photo by Mike Enerio on Unsplash

In Dec 2019, an unprecedented disease was identified in Wuhan, China. It did not get enough attention in the beginning. Later, the number of reported cases surged, and scientists reported that this disease is contagious and can be transmitted among people. The Chinese government soon claimed nationwide lock-down, especially in the provinces that have most cases, like Hubei province. Flights between China and other countries were canceled except the very important ones. Due to the characteristics of the virus, scientists names this pandemic COVID-19, as known as SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2). Meantime, the FDA did not begin the COVID-19 test in the USA, and people were still optimistic about these pandemics. However, a resident of Washington state was diagnosed as COVID-19 positive [1]. It did not take long for this disease to spread all over the country. Up to the time of writing this essay, there are more than 129 million people infected by COVID-19 around the world. What’s worse, about 2.82 million people had passed away due to this disease. The USA was also affected severely. About 30.5 million people had been infected, 552K residents passed away, and the numbers are keeping increasing [2]. Although scientists from different countries are dedicated to developing vaccines, and some vaccines were already released, we should still be cautious about this pandemic.

Admittedly, different governments took different methods to deal with this pandemic. For example, the Chinese government implemented draconian lockdown and social distancing. As an international student, I can understand how difficult it is according to my parents’ description. While some countries discourage normal healthy people from wearing face masks in the beginning, and the social distancing was not as strict as China, needless to say, lockdown.

Comparing the death rate and infected cases in China and the USA, is it safe to say draconian social distancing and lockdown is better than a comparatively loose regulation? Maybe. Yet, some countries adopted mixed methods, like South Korea and Japan. The government did not take rigid procedures at the first time, but the pandemic was controlled with unified efforts. Some western countries, like Australia, also performed well in this pandemic. It is hard to conclude which method is the best. However, a small country was highly praised uniformly around the world. Its experience may not be copied to other countries, but it might be a great reference. That country is Singapore.

It is impossible that a country’s economy would not be affected during COVID-19. Singapore suffered from GDP (gross domestic product) shrinkage as well. However, in the fourth quarter of 2020, the reported shrinkage is 2.4%, less than the government expectation, 3.8%. Also, the government expected about 5% to 6% GDP growth in 2021[3]. This may not be a significant success because the GDP of the USA only decreased 2.3% in 2020, and China even reported GDP growth in 2020. [4][5]

Nonetheless, Singapore has the lowest COVID-19 fatality in the world, which is 27 deaths among more than 57,000 people [6]. In contrast, more than 4.500 people passed away even under the rigid quarantine, and more than 57,000 people passed away in the USA [7]. Compared with other countries, this is a victory indeed. So, what are the reasons that Singapore succeeded in the war of defeating COVID-19?

First, as a country close to China, Singapore learned a lot from the outbreak of SARS-CoV in 2002. The government spared no effort to prompt the development of public health and preparation for a pandemic. The direct institute is called the “Public Health Preparedness Clinic (PHPC).” The PHPC will help to monitor the health condition of residents in a community so that they would not have to visit hospitals. Thus, the cost of diagnosing will be reduced, the risk of being exposed to the virus would decrease. Once a resident knew she/he is COVID-19 positive, she/he can take action in time and not affect other residents [8]. Also, now that it is a neighboring country of China, Singapore has the first time information and prepared for the pandemic with high attention [9]. Although these methods may not be the root reason for Singapore’s success in this pandemic, they should be a great reference to other countries.

Besides, the policy of the Singapre government should not be neglected in this pandemic. Fighting against COVID-19 requires unified work from all around the country. Singapore has built multiple government agencies to coordinate intervention and messaging during any possible pandemic since 2003. This has been proven efficient in 2009 to defeat H1N1 and in 2016 to defeat the Zika outbreak [10]. This system gets involved actively in this pandemic and functioned well, which ensured the safety of Singapore residents. What’s more, the government would cover the costs of texting and treatments in Singapore. Compared with Singapore, the US government did not respond as quickly neither provide enough vacancies in hospitals after the outbreak, needless to say, the covering the full cost of treatment. Some people can only stay at home to quarantine after being diagnosed as COVID-19 positive. Although it is free for students, not all people can get tests in time, and some of these people might be carriers of viruses and infect more people.

Singapore Parliament, retrieved from Yahoo News Singapore

Plus, the unified system, quick response, powerful regulation, and monitoring rely on a strong government. Singapore is known as a country that takes the form of a Parliamentary Representative Democratic Republic. Yet, the People’s Action Party has taken the most seats of the cabinet until President Lee Hsien Loong came into the presidency. Therefore, Singapore has been criticized as a country with defected democracy [11]. Nonetheless, if the People’s Action Party did not hold power for such a long time, some policies may not be implemented. For example, establishing the PHPC system is time-consuming and does not have instantaneous rewards. If another takes over the party, this policy might be abolished, or less funding will be invested to it. But once the pandemic outbreak and the clinical system cannot function, it might be fatal. For example, the Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) was not favored by President Trump during his presidency. It was not completely abolished but has been overhauled to a large extent [12]. Further, when the COVID-19 outbreak, President Trump was preparing for the election in 2020. Public media may pay more attention to the election than the pandemic itself, and the parade for votes may trigger more infection. Although it has been controversial for a long time and may not be the key to fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic, some people may benefit from affordable Medicare, which may save a lot of people’s lives.

Photo by Melvin Tan on Unsplash

Another thing that needs to be considered the ideology or the social norm of Singapore. As a geographically small country, Singapore has been ruled by Britain and Japan. Currently, the normal people in Singapore will be educated in both Chinese and English, and there are four official languages of Singapore: Chinese, English, Malay, and Tamil. It means Singapore is a country with complicated cultural background. It may not follow the Confucius of China, but normal people might be more obedient to the government than Western countries. Thus, residents are willing to follow the instructions of the government and stick to the rules. Will this undermine the well-being of people? Maybe. If we view Kant’s perspective, he may maintain that the action of any person should be guided as the universal law, and people should be treated as the end, not a method. Implement lockdown and quarantine might affect the well-being of citizens for a short period, but the benefits are great. In contrast, if we respect the freedom of every person during this special period, the pandemic would not be controlled, and the condition of the whole country will be undermined.


Some people may argue Singapore is driven by utilitarianism in this case. To clarify, to build PHPC, increasing hospitalization, and mandating residents to wear masks are all out of the interest to control the epidemic. In other words, this is equal to utilitarianism. This may not be false.

According to Bentham, utilitarianism is “maximizing happiness or benefits, or minimizing pain or loss.” Although Singapore paid a lot to build those facilities, they did perform well in the pandemic, and the goal to minimize loss had been achieved. To some extent, it is possible to build a “beautiful world” in Moore’s theory if the government can keep implementing beneficial policies. However, it is difficult to quantify “benefit” or “happiness.” In Singapore, Dengue fever is common, and PHPC had been proven efficient in suppressing it. Thus, PHPC can be kept. Yet, if PHPC is established in a more massive country or a country that has few epidemics, it might be canceled and would never function in COVD-19. Thus, utilitarianism is a double-sided sword.

Similarly, some people may think Singapore referred to Rawlsian philosophy because Rawls argued: “justice is fairness.” Singapore did provide an equal chance for the citizens to enjoy medical care. However, although it sounds ideal to give everyone Paul the opportunity, this is only feasible for countries like Singapore. Rawlsian philosophy might explain Singapore’s success, yet it may not be a great reference to other countries, like the USA.

To conclude, Singapore had performed excellently in the war against SARS-COVID-2 (COVID-19). The Public Health Preparedness Clinic (PHPC) in Singapore, a powerful and responsive government, a unified system, and possibly the social norm of Singapore, helped this country defeat the pandemic and recover the economy. Although different countries have different situations, Singapore’s experience might be a reference to other countries. Despite ideology or utilitarianism, a government should take responsibility when faced with austere situations, and citizens should cooperate to manage through a pandemic and thrive.


[1]A timeline of COVID-19 developments in 2020. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.ajmc.com/view/a-timeline-of-covid19-developments-in-2020

[2] The New York Times. (2020, January 28). Coronavirus world map: Tracking the global outbreak. Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/world/coronavirus-maps.html

[3] Lin, C., & Aravindan, A. (2021, February 15). Singapore on path to recovery As FOURTH-QUARTER GDP shrinks less than estimated. Retrieved April 17, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-singapore-economy-gdp/singapore-on-path-to-recovery-as-fourth-quarter-gdp-shrinks-less-than-estimated-idUSKBN2AF02R

[4] News release. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2021, from https://www.bea.gov/news/2021/gross-domestic-product-4th-quarter-and-year-2020-advance-estimate#:~:text=Current%2Ddollar%20GDP%20decreased%202.3,(tables%201%20and%203).~

[5] Cheng, J. (2021, January 18). China is the only major economy to Report economic growth for 2020. Retrieved April 17, 2021, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-is-the-only-major-economy-to-report-economic-growth-for-2020-11610936187

[6] Geddie, J., & Aravindan, A. (2020, September 17). Why is Singapore’s COVID-19 death rate the world’s lowest. Retrieved April 17, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-singapore-explainer/why-is-singapores-covid-19-death-rate-the-worlds-lowest-idUSKBN2680TF

[7] COVID-19 United States cases by county. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2021, from https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/us-map

[8] Singapore Ministry of Health. (2020a). Primary Health Preparedness Clinic. https://www.primarycarepages.sg/practice-management/moh-national-schemes/public-health-preparedness-clinic-(phpc)

[9] Kuguyo, O., Pharmacogenomics, and Drug Metabolism Research Group, Kengne, A., Medicine, D., Dandara, C., Dandara, A., . . . M, W. (2020, August 03). Singapore COVID-19 Pandemic response as a successful model framework for Low-Resource health care settings in Africa? Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/OMI.2020.0077

[10] Li Yang Hsu and Min-Han Tan March 23, Hsu, L., Tan, M., About the Authors Reprints Li Yang Hsu @hsuliyang Min-Han Tan @minhantan, Hsu @hsuliyang, L., Tan @minhantan, M., . . . Says R. (2020, March 23). What Singapore can teach the U.S. about responding To covid-19. Retrieved April 03, 2021, from https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/23/singapore-teach-united-states-about-covid-19-response/

[11] “Our Legal System | Ministry of Law.” www.mlaw.gov.sg. Archived from the original on 3 April 2019. Retrieved 29 January 2019.

[12] Vicini, James; Stempel, Jonathan; Biskupic, Joan (June 28, 2017). “Top court upholds healthcare law in Obama triumph.” Reuters.