The model requires an amount of state intervention and compliance that might be less feasible in other parts of the world.
At the dawn of 2021, Singapore feels like a coiled spring where growth is just waiting to be unleashed. Last-minute dinner reservations are once again almost impossible to secure and the countless malls that dot the map are hopping on weekends. The Central Expressway, a core artery running north from downtown, is again prone to congestion. Children — mercifully — are in school.
The government projects gross domestic product will increase between 4% and 6% this year, compared with a contraction of 5.8% in 2020, the worst in history. This brighter outlook and cautious easing of restrictions reflects Singapore’s success at containing Covid-19 infections, and makes the place look great relative to the U.S. and Europe, where the disease is again spreading rapidly. Even Japan and South Korea, generally praised for their handling, are wrestling with new outbreaks.
But as real as Singapore’s coronavirus-fighting achievements are, they rest on a model that isn’t easily exported. Its results are facilitated by a degree of state influence that other countries might find uncomfortable. Granted, there aren’t many places I would rather have been during this pandemic. Still, I find it doubtful that Singapore’s approach can work beyond its borders. In numerous cases, constitutions don’t easily give national governments the ability to do what’s been achieved here.