Wuhan virus outbreak will be a test of 4G leaders' teamwork, say political observers

SINGAPORE – How Singapore’s fourth-generation (4G) leaders handle the Wuhan virus could prove to be the first major test of their teamwork, political observers have said.

They added this is especially so for the Republic’s younger ministers who make up the multi-ministry task force put together last week to tackle the rapidly spreading virus, which emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

The group was out in force on Monday (Jan 27), the third day of Chinese New Year, to announce a slew of new measures aimed at protecting Singaporeans from the infectious new coronavirus.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chair the task force, headed up the briefing flanked by Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung.

Mr Inderjit Singh, a former People’s Action Party (PAP) MP, noted that the third-generation team did an excellent job tackling the outbreak of Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus in 2003.

He said Singapore’s standards of contact tracing and temperature screening at airports were even adopted internationally, giving Singaporeans great confidence in the 3G team’s ability to handle crisis.

“How the 4G team handles the Wuhan virus crisis will be an important measure of their ability,” added Mr Singh.

“Singaporeans are looking to them to tackle this issue to protect everyone and we want them to succeed. All Singaporeans should work with the leaders and the government so that we can come out of this crisis with minimal impact.”

Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser of the National University of Singapore said some may argue that Singapore has learned much from the Sars period, thereby making the 4G leaders’ jobs much easier.

But nevertheless, a crisis of this scale would still require leaders to be proactive, preemptive and capable of making critical and timely decisions, noted Prof Tan.

They must also provide clear direction and coordinate seamlessly across ministries, he added.

“More importantly, it would be a test of collective leadership, which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has previously pointed out would characterise the 4G leadership.”

Prof Tan added that the Wuhan virus outbreak could be to the 4G as nation-building was to the “1G”, as the Asian financial crisis was to the “2G”, and as the Sars outbreak was to the 3G team.

Other members of the task force were seated in the front row with the audience at the briefing on Monday.

They included Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, labour chief and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Ng Chee Meng, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee and Senior Minister of State for Transport, and Communications and Information, Dr Janil Puthucheary.

Each took turns speaking about their ministries’ measures to prevent the spread of the virus and support Singaporeans.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also Finance Minister, serves as the adviser to the task force and was not at the briefing.

But he told an audience of businessmen and members of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations on Monday that the Wuhan virus is a challenge that Singapore must face “together as one people”.

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