Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong have all been able to preserve a sense of routine life in public space without having to shut down its economy at the peak of the Corona crisis. In each of these countries, the private and public sector haven’t ceased from operating as usual. These are just some of the conclusions that are found in a special report written by the Ministry of Intelligence Services that deals with how Asian countries have been coping with COVID-19 while preserving a functioning economy.
Influence on Israel’s policies
The report describes Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong as successful cases of countries that implemented efficient models for coping with the spreading of Coronavirus. Some of the steps taken serve as superb examples that are shaping some of Israel’s policies in its fight against the virus. The central aspects of the Asian model for preventing the spread of COVID-19 that Israel has adopted touches on its technical components. This includes the expedient closing of borders, widespread tests and the immediate isolation of those infected, mechanisms for locating potential carriers of the virus, the use of digital technology and efficient enforcement of government guidelines.
Similar to Israel, the steps relating to social distancing that these countries implemented included, among others, remote learning in public schools and universities, the closing of walk-in hours at government institutions, forcing the private sector to work from home as much as possible, limiting the numbers of participants allowed at social gatherings, and canceling cultural and sporting events.
While implementing these limiting measures, they were still able to preserve a near fully functioning economy even at the height of the crisis. The report stated that, “Our assessment is that a combination of factors allowing these three countries to contain the spread of COVID-19 while preserving a functioning economy include the following:
- Expedient steps for monitoring, widespread diagnosis and isolation of infected individuals
- Inculcation of “social responsibility” among the public
- Importance of maintaining a functioning economy and personal financial security of citizens
- Considering public morale as a factor that prevents decreasing levels of public obligation to social distancing
- Possibly the influence of time in the dynamic of the virus’s development
The report includes an Annex that contains a description of the social reality in Singapore and Hong Kong that is based on interviews with local officials and residents.
In Singapore for example, routine life was barely affected. Cafes, restaurants, malls, and public transportation have been operating as usual since the outbreak of the crisis. The only difference is that upon entering these businesses, each customer is required to have their temperature taken. Additionally, both inside buildings and in the street, there are public sanitizing stations.
At the outset of the Corona crisis, the government recommended that businesses split up their workers between two to three central locations: some from home, others from the main office and the remaining employees from additional offices that are to be rented. Work meetings are encouraged to take place through a digital platform.
At the beginning of the outbreak, the government didn’t require all citizens to wear a mask when going out in public, but instead only if someone is feeling ill. There are currently less than 10% of people wearing these masks in public.
Up to this point, schools and institutions of higher learning have yet to cease their operation. However, there were specific times in which centralized tests for the virus were conducted in a location where there was suspicion that someone who was exposed to Corona was present. Following the tests, the specific location underwent a process of disinfection. The country left its borders open and although the country refrained from altering tourist activity, it was nevertheless slightly damaged due to a significantly smaller number of incoming tourists from abroad.
The tests are mostly being conducted on those that are in the immediate social circle of the individual that was infected. There also isn’t a policy of mandatory isolation for those that were, for instance, on the same train or in the same store as someone who tested positive for the virus.
The situation in Hong Kong is also very positive, however is slightly different than that of Singapore. One of the first measures taken was that all of the governmental services were transferred to an online platform. Additionally, in contrast to Singapore, the schools have been closed since the outbreak of the pandemic and are expected to remain closed until April 20th.
Similar to Singapore, the malls, stores and restaurants have yet to close and have been only slightly impacted. Some business owners did in fact choose to close but were not obligated to do so by government authorities. It appears that only in the most extreme circumstances will public places such as bars and restaurants close. This is because in Hong Kong, going out to eat is a trademark of its culture.
Luckily for the locals in Hong Kong, public transportation is continuing as usual. Most people in the country completely rely on the metro and don’t have private cars in their possession. However, during this unique time, the busses and metro undergo disinfection procedures at a higher rate.
The government invests heavily in making sure the public is aware of all of the government’s guidelines and recommendations. Through various mediums such as television and radio the government is making sure the public is as informed as possible. Because of this, the people of Hong Kong aren’t even remotely close to being in a state of panic. However, because of the government’s consistent investment, the public possesses a high level of awareness regarding what is required of them during this crisis.