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The attempted clarifications by Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong and other Ministry of Health (MOH) officials about the outbreak of the 41 Zika cases in Singapore raise fresh concerns.
The first case was detected on 31 July 2016. MOH had preliminary results before this was confirmed on 27 August 2016 but decided not to inform the public because it did not want to “create a false alarm”.
Given the seriousness of the disease and the ease of which it is transmitted, it behooves health officials to alert the public about the possibility of its transmission as early as possible.
The government has to stop its excuse of not wanting to cause alarm or panic (as in the case of the defective trains sent back to China for repairs) to keep vital information from the public. It must trust Singaporeans to react rationally and provide full information in a timely manner.
Medical professionals do not withhold information from their patients even when illnesses are only suspected but need further testing for confirmation. In such cases, patients are given the full account of the situation rather than kept in the dark.
Similarly, the public should be kept fully informed even if a matter is still in the developing stage.
The provision of complete information is a practice that must be the norm. Withholding information for fear of creating “panic” or “alarm” is a dangerous practice that can be abused to keep important facts that the government finds embarrassing or inconvenient from the public.
Already, this government has a poor track record in as far as transparency is concerned, the Hepatitis-C outbreak tragedy and the defective MRT trains fiasco are but the most recent examples.