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Dean of Students (DOS) Update on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

  PUBLISHED: 14 February 2020, 11:00 p.m.

DOS UPDATE #18 - Love and Analogies of War

Dear Students:


  1. A student at Tembusu College has a family member who worked at the Assembly of God (Church Cluster 2). This family member has today been confirmed as a COVID-19 patient.
  2. The student has been put on Quarantine Order (QO) today. She has not been staying at NUS since Wednesday. She is well and has no symptoms. She is from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and has not been at school since Wednesday.
  3. There is no need for people who have interacted with her to take special precautions as she is well and has no symptoms, and they are not close contacts of the confirmed case.

Late Wednesday night, I received a call from the Master of Tembusu College Dr Kelvin Pang. A student had told him that her parent works at the same church as two confirmed cases. The parent was checking into hospital that night to be tested.

We both thought she ought to go home and reduce social interaction. The student cooperated willingly. Today, her parent tested positive for the virus. Ministry of Health (MOH) has put her on QO.

There are no further measures required for those who have interacted with her because they are not close contacts of the confirmed case.

But campus living may require extra vigilance. So, I had asked Kelvin to advise people who have interacted with this student to observe social distancing for three days, counting from their last contact with her:  

  • Reduce socialising with others. Maintain a high level of hand hygiene.
  • You are strongly encouraged to use e-learning.  
  • Put on a mask immediately if you feel unwell or have mild symptoms, alert your Master/RAD so that we can arrange for you to seek medical attention. 
  • If there are any developments and you need to take additional measures, we will inform you. 

These are an enhanced version from the measures that are already in place for the general population.

Analogies of War

In NUS over the past two weeks, we have erred on the side of caution, often imposing measures that would not have been ordinarily contemplated.

Are we overreacting? Well, it depends on how you think about COVID-19. Professor Tommy Koh had used three analogies when writing about COVID-19. He reminds us that “as a people, we have gone through much bigger crises before.” Surviving World War II, Singapore’s expulsion from Malaysia and SARS.  

NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye invokes the analogy of a race – “The road ahead will be tough but with the cohesiveness and strength of the NUS community, we will win as one NUS.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong too used the analogy of SARS and contrasted it to flu. “The new coronavirus is similar to SARS, but with two important differences. First, the new virus is more infectious than SARS. Therefore, it is harder to stop it from spreading. Second, the new virus is much less dangerous than SARS. About 10 per cent of those who caught SARS died. With the new virus, outside of Hubei province, the mortality rate is so far only 0.2 per cent. In comparison, seasonal influenza has a death rate of 0.1 per cent. So in terms of mortality, the new virus is much closer to influenza than SARS.”

My colleague at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Professor Khong Yuen Foong had written a brilliant book on decision making and war, “Analogies of War”. I asked him – how does the way we think about this crisis impact our decision making? What does he think of analogies to war, SARS and races?

He replies:

“In Analogies at War, the Korean analogy predisposed policymakers to pick one of three options during the Vietnam War. In this case, I argue that US decision-makers invoked the wrong analogy, with huge costs.  It is often impossible to know if you got the right analogy in the heat of the moment. 

Analogies affect decision-making in the following way:  once invoked, they can perform one or more of the following cognitive tasks – (i) help define the nature of the problem faced by the decision-maker; (ii) help assess the stakes (e.g. matter of life and death); (iii) provide prescriptions; (iv) help predict the chances of those prescriptions working; (v) evaluate their moral rightness; and (vi) warn about dangers associated with those prescriptions. 

Perhaps the key phrase here is “once invoked”— Korea came to mind most readily (the availability heuristic) because it was the last war the US fought (and won) in Asia.

And once the Korean analogy was invoked, it processed incoming information about Vietnam through the Korean lens: a war of aggression by North against South (not a civil war, as opponents of the Vietnam claim).

On Prof Tommy Koh’s analogy, I do think it is appropriate. The COVID-19 is a deadly threat, and the war metaphor points to the importance of mobilising all the relevant societal capabilities and forces to combat and overcome the threat. The metaphor also suggests we should be in a state of heightened vigilance, work together to protect our physical sovereignty and integrity. 

On President Prof Tan Eng Chye’s reference to “race”: As a metaphor, also appropriate, because it highlights the importance of speedy reaction and pre-emptive actions so as to slow down, and eventually, eliminate the spread of the virus. Also conjures up images of need for stamina on our part... if we are to win the race.”

These metaphors – a battle, and a race – can account for the strict and hard measures that have been imposed on life at NUS. But I do not think that the COVID-19 is an enemy with which we war, nor are we competitors in a race with winners or losers.

We might consider the analogy of a marathon – where runners choose how they want to run – a positive split, where we start fast and go slower, an even split, with constant speed throughout, or a negative split, where one gradually speeds up over the race.

But no matter how we choose to run, the key is to finish the race, rather than bonking out (or hitting the wall). And in marathons, as in life, we ought to pace ourselves and make room for love and roses.

So, I thought to send you these lovely photographs of young people in love and living life large, celebrating Valentine’s Day while running a marathon.

In that spirit, I would also like to tell you that this will be the last of my daily DOS UPDATES. You should know the fantastic team behind the UPDATES – Elissa, Runi, Phyllis, Amalia and Sean Tan – unflagging, steadfast and incredibly talented.

I will continue to update you periodically. Please say hi the next time you see me on the ISB. Stay strong.


Celebrating Valentine’s Day while running a marathon


Although this is their third year together as a couple, Tricia Tan, Year 3, FASS and Gavin Han, Year 1, Pharmacy are celebrating their first Valentine’s Day in NUS. Photo: OSA

1. Valentine’s Day Fundraising for Eusoff Expeditions



“How are the students?” I asked last night, as the news of the first confirmed case at NUS broke. In reply, I got these photos of students busy packing flowers for Valentine’s Day. At Eusoff Hall: Shanice Tan (left), Caitlin Lim (right) were wrapping flower bouquets for their Valentine’s Day booths at UTown and FASS. Photos: Eusoff Hall

Eusoff Expeditions V-Day Flowers Collection Booth: Many of the flower bouquets, including their biggest order, a 99-rose bouquet, were collected from UTown Plaza today. Photo: OSA

There were 1,000 roses, sunflowers and carnations in Eusoff Expeditions’ V-Day Fundraising. Neville Koh Wei Yan, Year 2, Mechanical Engineering, one of the three Project Directors of Eusoff Expeditions team said: “Valentine’s Day allows people in NUS to show their appreciation and love for people. They can order flowers for their special ones knowing that they are helping the less fortunate at the same time.”

The funds will enable Eusoff Expeditions to go on a 2-week trip to a village in Prey Veng province, Cambodia, constructing toilet and wells alongside the NGO Love Cambodia.

2. V-Day Fundraising for Bizad’s Flag Day 2020

Many NUS Students’ Business Club (Bizad Club) students pulled an all-nighter, repacking roses for sale at various sale locations including their booth at UTown Plaza. Sales collected will go towards Bizad’s Flag Day 2020. Photo: OSA

3. For the students, by the students

As seen on Instagram story, Communications and New Media (CNM) students selling $5 baby’s breath bouquet and $1.50 bespoke gift cards. Funds raised will go towards CNM Society for student-organised welfare activities. Photos: @nus.cnm

4. Love is in the Air

Love is in the Air Project Director Chuan Jun Kai, Year 1, Life Sciences and President of Science Club made the adjustment from physical sale to an online e-sales of gifts such as snow globes, socks and polaroid suitable for Valentine’s Day in response to D-Orange.

“This project serves as a platform for students to express their gratitude to one another. I have decided to adjust the event to e-sales as I wanted to provide students with another platform to celebrate this occasion amidst the outbreak of the virus. This initiative brings students closer together and highlight the fact that we can overcome this ordeal as long as we are together.”

A/P Leong Ching
NUS Dean of Students

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