top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Convergence

Fear is most contagious, but we can stop it with knowledge and preparedness, says Minister Indranee

Conversations | By Zhou Xizhuang Michael, Editor-in-Chief

When faced with external challenges, Minister Indranee Rajah reminds us that Singapore’s preparedness comes from many years of experience. Photo: The Convergence.

Misunderstanding of DORSCON Orange led to initial fear and panic

Nearly two months ago, the raising of the DORSCON level to “Orange” triggered mixed reactions among Singaporeans. For some time, episodes of panic buying, and public discrimination of frontline healthcare workers grabbed the headlines.

The root cause of these adverse reactions, however, stemmed from fear, says Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Ms Indranee Rajah.

However, it also sheds light on the importance of communicating government policies to the people effectively and clearly. She shares, “Whenever we change a (DORSCON) level, it’s important that the public knows what that level entails.”

Fear was also the underlying factor that led to healthcare workers being ostracised by a minority, Minister Indranee says.

Knowing that nurses worked in hospitals, she adds, made some Singaporeans afraid that these healthcare workers might carry the virus with them and spread it to others.

Nonetheless, Minister Indranee thinks that we should not tar the majority with the same brush.

“A large majority of people didn’t feel that way, and the majority of people actually pushed back,” she says.

Most Singaporeans rallied around the frontline healthcare workers, which included kind acts like giving moral support, contributing food and writing “thank you” cards.

Be properly “armed” to stop the spread of fear

When people are seized by feelings of fear and moments of panic, they are less likely to stay united and resilient in difficult situations.

“Fear is probably more contagious than any virus,” Minister Indranee says.

To win the fight against fear, she posits that Singaporeans must first be properly “armed” with knowledge. (emphasis added)

To combat fear, “the key is understanding the nature of the problem, educating yourself with the data, and then having the courage to do what is correct,” she says.

Indeed, having good knowledge of the situation can provide mediating influences and perspectives that help us to make the right choices and develop the right mindsets in tough times.

As earlier episodes of panic buying and hoarding of essentials reveal, lack of information and understanding of the situation can easily cause unnecessary panic and anxiety.

Interview session with Minister Indranee. Photo: The Convergence.

Singapore will not “break” if we are well prepared

When asked by The Convergence if Singapore society would ever reach a breaking point, Minister Indranee says that this would not happen so long as the country remains prepared.

She later adds that Singapore’s years of accumulated experience and active preparation have helped Singapore to weather through different times.

“All along, we’ve been building up resources to deal with crises and emergencies.”

“This is 55 years in the making, and all of those years have stood us in good stead,” she says.

“The way Singaporeans have responded in this scenario shows that if you prepare enough, if you have the right values, if you have the right strength, then you won’t break"

In turn, long-term preparation has helped Singapore take the edge off Covid-19 and has enabled Singaporeans to respond to this major health challenge with resilience and unity.

“The way Singaporeans have responded in this scenario shows that if you prepare enough, if you have the right values, if you have the right strength, then you won’t break,” says the Minister.

Building a harmonious and inclusive society to manage “fault lines”

Unity and resilience are essential qualities for all societies.

In Singapore’s case, Minister Indranee shares that such qualities are important for Singaporeans in the face of three potential fault lines in society.

First, as a multi-racial society, there is always the possibility of society pulling itself apart “along racial and religious lines,” she says.

To prevent that from happening, Ms Indranee believes Singaporeans must build a harmonious society in which unity, not division, binds people from different races and religions together.

The second fault line is social and income inequality.

In particular, tackling inequality in the form of the growing divergence between the “very rich and the very poor” is one of the tenets of this term of Government, she says. She adds that various programmes and measures, such as UPLIFT (an inter-agency task force led by MOE that aims to strengthen support for students from disadvantaged families chaired by Minister Indranee), have been rolled out to address issues of inequality.

The third fault line is growing social tensions between Singaporeans and foreigners.

Here, Singapore needs to find the balance of staying open to foreigners while ensuring that the well-being of Singaporeans is taken care of and not compromised, says Minister Indranee.

Considering these centrifugal socio-economic forces in our society, the challenge for the city-state, therefore, is to establish a balance to develop a harmonious and inclusive community while retaining a sense of belonging and identity.

“Our challenge is to make sure that despite these fault lines, we are able to look beyond that, see people as they are, and build a country and a community where everyone can belong. And not just belong, but [where] you can retain the things that are important to you [and] at the same time see yourself as part of a bigger community,” Minister Indranee says.

Group photo of Minister Indranee and the crew. From left: Mr Gautam Rajulu, Media Director; Mr Jonathan Khoo, Media Assistant; Mr Saishwar Thirumagan Sri, Media Assistant; Mr Michael Zhou, Editor-in-Chief; Minister Indranee Rajah; Ms Nicole Foo, Managing Editor (Admin); Ms Soon Poh Suan, Media Director. Photo: The Convergence.

SG Together: taking government-people partnership to the next step

Moving forward, greater trust and partnership between the Government and people can strengthen society's unity and resilience.

For that, Minister Indranee thinks that SG Together is a step in the right direction and marks an “evolution of the style of governance and how we want to move forward as a people”.

“Because we think that plans and policies should be a result of Government and people brainstorming together, working together and also implementing things together.”

Indeed, Singapore’s leadership style has witnessed profound changes since independence.

“And now with the 4G led by the Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat”, Minister Indranee adds, the leadership is ready to take the next step which stresses “partnership between the Government and people.”

“Because we think that plans and policies should be a result of Government and people brainstorming together, working together and also implementing things together.”

“And when you have that kind of strong connection and interaction, it builds trust,” she says, adding that it is vital for people to have a part to play in the process of nation-building so that “they are invested in it, they believe in it, and will go forward together with it.”

The Covid-19 situation has prompted our leaders and fellow Singaporeans to reflect on and consider the type of society that they would like to see and build for the future.

In fact, in challenging times like this, it is as much a test of the Government’s ability to respond as it is of the strength of the nation’s character.

While Singapore and Singaporeans’ responses have been laudable, building unity and resilience remains a process in the making.

On that, the Government's willingness and ability to work closely with Singaporeans seems to offer a promising start.

Please check out the video below for more!


About the interviewee: Ms Indranee Rajah is the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Second Minister for Finance and Education. She has been the Member of Parliament for the Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency (GRC) since 2001. She was in practice as a lawyer and Senior Counsel before joining Government. As Second Minister for Finance, she co-chaired the Working Group on Legal and Accounting Services, a sub-committee of the 2016 Committee on the Future Economy. In her first tour of the Education Ministry from 2012-2015, she led the Committee for Applied Studies in Polytechnics and ITE (ASPIRE) resulting in SkillsFuture. As Second Minister for Education, she chairs UPLIFT—the “Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce” – which seeks to strengthen whole-of-community support for disadvantaged students.


bottom of page