Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has won praise from an unexpected source – singer, actress and filmmaker Barbra Streisand.
The 78-year old legendary entertainer’s career spans an incredible six decades, and she is known for songs such as The Way We Were, Memory, and Woman In Love, and films like Funny Girl where she won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1969, Yentl, the original A Star Is Born, and The Way We Were where she was nominated for an Oscar.
She has also won 10 Grammy Awards and five Emmy Awards.
In the past weeks, however, she has been more concerned about the coronavirus outbreak which is sweeping the world, and which has brought the United States to a standstill. The country is now the most infected in the world, with more than 160,000 infections and close to 3,000 deaths.
Streisand has used her Twitter account to tweet about the pandemic, with many of her tweets condemning President Donald Trump’s (mis)handling of the situation.
On Monday, 30 March, she took to Twitter again, but this time heaping praise on Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong.
In an apparent reference to Mr Lee’s interview with American journalist Fareed Zakaria, Ms Streisand tweeted:
The Prime Minister of Singapore (a country that only has three deaths out of 6 million people) speaks such common sense. He tells people the truth and they did everything that needed to be done to be ready for this virus.
— Barbra Streisand (@BarbraStreisand) March 30, 2020
Singapore’s handling of the virus outbreak in the country has indeed been praised by many, including the World Health Organisation. The tiny island-city of some 3.2m citizens, and a total population of 5.5m, currently has more than 400 infections and 3 deaths, one of the lowest numbers in the world, despite being among the first to see cases of infections.
Singaporeans’ lives have, by and large, been normal, save for certain restrictions such as having to undergo temperature screening at public buildings, and having to wait their turn to enter shopping malls. Entertainment and food establishments have also either closed or have very strict protocols. Employers are urged to let their workers work from home when possible, which many are doing so now. Religious organisations have temporarily suspended their services.
Yet, schools remain open, public transport continue to operate, and people are free to go out to wherever they wish.
The relative normalcy of life here is no doubt due to the delicate management of the crisis by various parties, including the healthcare authorities, community organisations, and of course the government.
The latter has not only won praise from those like Ms Streisand and the WHO, but also from Singaporeans.
With DPM Heng Swee Keat announcing a generous stimulus and assistance package amounting to $48 billion last week, Singaporeans have breathed a sigh of relief that they will not be left on the lurch.
And just today, 31 March, DPM Heng gave another assurance – that the government is ready to introduce a third package if necessary.
“If the situation continues to worsen, we’ll be prepared to have a third package,” he said. “I would like to reassure Singaporeans that we have the resources to do that if we need to.”
For a small island like us, without any natural resources, and having to constantly run faster and further than anyone else, having the resources to be able to tackle such a global crisis is no mean feat indeed.
But while it is flattering to receive praise for all of this, it is also important that we remind ourselves that the pandemic is not over yet, and in fact may just be starting, with the worst of it yet to come.
Large parts of the world have not reported many cases of infections but it is only a matter of time before Covid19 spreads in these parts, such as India, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
PM Lee, fortunately, is keenly aware of this.
“It is taking off in America now, and that is not going to disappear soon,” he told Mr Zakaria on Sunday. “And there are other huge parts of the world, where we do not quite know what is happening, but I think that it will happen. It will happen in India, it will happen in Southeast Asia, it will happen in Africa and Latin America.
“By the time it goes around the world, and then finally runs its course, I think that is several years, unless something happens to abort that process.”
This is perhaps what Ms Streisand was referring to when she said the Prime Minister tells his people the truth, unlike some other leaders such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro who has been dismissing the seriousness of the virus, and even US President Donald Trump, whose initial reaction to the virus was similarly dismissive, blaming it as a “Democrat hoax”.
One thing Singaporeans can be glad for is that their government has, by and large, told them the truth, from almost daily press briefings – that there are serious consequences for us, that people will die, businesses will close, jobs will be lost, and the economy taking a severe hit.
That is all now coming to pass.
But at the same time, the government has also – as DPM Heng displayed – assured Singaporeans that they are on top of things. That they need not worry too much as there are resources which can and will be deployed to help everyone see through this tough period.
So yes, we can be glad and thankful that we have the resources, including our healthcare professionals and workers and many others, who hold the fort and are leading the way.
Be thankful, but also continue to be vigilant.
The worst is not over yet.
Meantime, enjoy Ms Streisand singing Memory….