Shut in must not mean Shut Up

Shut in must not mean Shut Up

All of us face, a few times in our lives, some moments when we seem to get to the brink of a major change, possibly triumph, maybe disaster. Villages, towns, countries face the same scary options every now and then. Once in a few generations, so does the world – as it does now. As road traffic comes to a standstill and the outdoors becomes eerily silent, each of us ponders what the next, and further, stages of coronavirus will bring for us.

The fallout from this disease will change how people live and what people think for a generation or two. If we truly learn the lessons its influence may last even longer, though the capacity for people to forget and ignore what happened in the past is breathtaking. Very few countries learnt the call of SARS. Those that did are better placed to handle the current crisis.

Rightly, the medical needs must be met first and the bravery of those battling the front line is being watched and honored by all of us. The death of the doctor who first identified the disease, and tried to warn the world about it, reminds us that not everyone is keen for bad news to be spread as quickly as it might be. But transparency is key to defeating this dragon and it needs to be the transparency of a global world for the benefits of all. Those who have been resisting globalisation and denying its impact on the world have done a disservice.

Globalisation has never been an enemy with options to fight or to collaborate. It is a fact, demanding skilful handling, not competitor bashing. Part of that handling can only be achieved if there is a reasonably free press ensuring the best possible transparency of news. The restriction of media access to any part of the world at a time of pandemic is a threat to that necessary transparency. Serious negotiations need to begin immediately to remedy what might turn sickness into silence and, rapidly thereafter, into fake news.

As we must all live for a while ‘behind closed doors’, we could use some of that time to ponder the whole role of media – and the dangers of misinformation – in a society we have only just created and which we barely yet understand. For all the urbanisation of the last fifty years, the world stuck remarkably to its agricultural roots. That time is now well and truly over and the population growth towards the ten billion figure demands that we prepare for the threats of such hugger-mugger living even as we rejoice in its advantages.

“To see ourselves as others see us” has always been a prerequisite to successful adaptation. The window that enables us to do so must be kept open in the sort of way that the Singapore Government has demonstrated transparency while handling the coronavirus. It has built a remarkable trust between voter and minister.

Where and when we shall end this trying and dangerous time nobody knows. But we will be better able to judge that if reliable, sensible media coverage is guaranteed.

In times of stress, we are entitled to know the truth.

A very big thank you to all those readers who so kindly followed my heart valve replacement with messages of encouragement, kind thoughts and prayers. I am home from hospital and on the road to recovery. I have already sent a message of gratitude to the eight surgeons and numerous back-up staff at the Singapore National University Hospital whose amazing skill managed an 87-year-old body and mind through the operation and on to the present stage of recovery.

Paramount in this success has been the unfailing support and strength of both my wife, Eliza, and our helper, Gina.

May they and all who have done so much for me be blessed all their lives.