Dealing with an Invisible Enemy

Tuesday, Jul 21 2020 12:33 PM

As we write this (16 July 2020), the world is more than four months into a pandemic (declared by the World Health Organization on 12 March 2020).

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has struck every country in the world; 13,732,432 have been confirmed, though 8,182,139 have recovered, and 587,790 people have died from COVID-19, the associated disease.

Of course, this is by no means the first major, global outbreak of an infectious disease, even in recent years: in 2009 we had both H1N1 and Swine Flu, and in 2002/2003 SARS. AIDS is estimated to have killed 36 million people around the globe from 2005-2012. (Our last declared pandemic was AIDS.)

What makes the current infection so rare is the sheer transmissibility of the virus. Because this figure is so high, and so few countries initially treated the situation with the gravity it deserved, we now have a pandemic on our hands.

Singapore was an exception: it swung quickly in action, banking on its experience with SARS.

Within a week of Singapore confirming its first case, local researchers had successfully cultured the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Then we got into the limelight for development of the SARS-CoV-2 test kit. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and colleagues at Harvard Chan School lauded Singapore’s approach for detecting COVID-19.

Singapore used its early infections to establish an advanced contact-tracing system. The Duke-NUS Medical School developed a serological test (done on blood samples) that can determine links between infected cases. This allowed authorities to trace the chain of transmission — a necessary step to breaking it. On 25 Mar 2020, Singapore scientists developed a test kit that could test for COVID-19 in 5-10 minutes, making it the fastest official test in the world.

Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) was impressed. “Singapore is a good example of an all-of-government approach ...” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

But this SARS-textbook response turned out to be flawed and inadequate. (As of mid-July 2020, Singapore had over 47,000 cases, mostly amongst its migrant workers. Until 5 July 2020, Hong Kong had only 1,269 cases in a population of just over 7 million; since 6 July, it has seen 236 new infections, with 85 from unknown sources, in what is being termed a ‘third wave’.)

There are human failings here, but there are also the challenges of dealing with uncertainty. For starters, how do you deal with an invisible enemy, when there is no textbook solution, when you have ‘super spreaders’, ‘asymptomatic cases’ (people who are infected but don’t show symptoms), and ‘unlinked cases’ (cases with no clear indication of how the infection occurred), and even the experts cannot agree on the basics?

Singapore is striving to be at the frontline of not only biotechnology but also the cybersecurity, automated intelligence, robotics, and compliance and regulatory arenas. We don’t have a choice: we are a tiny nation with no natural resources. It’s either thrive or die for us.

Technology, however, is only half the battle. Preparedness for uncertainty and ambiguity is still crucial, as COVID-19 shows us once again.


"Let me give you some other words that matter much more and that are much more actionable:
Prevention, Preparedness, Public Health, Political Leadership, and most of all People."

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
WHO Director-General
Media Briefing on COVID-19


As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Whatever the situation, wherever you are, you want accessible, resilient, all-weather systems and back-ups.

Vault@268 has recently installed an air-filtration system and incorporated two new services for its clients:

> A pharmaceutical-grade hand sanitiser for clients’ disposal before and after each transaction

> Increased thorough surface sanitisation by commercial cleaning personnel

> A basic triple-filter air-treatment system that removes 99.99% of particles as small as 0.0024 microns:


- A Pre-Filter that captures large, airborne fibres and hair

- A HEPA filter that removes small particles such as viruses, bacteria, fungi such as mould, allergens, and asbestos

- A Cold Catalyst Filter that reduces formaldehyde, dioxin and ozone


UV sterilisation




Anion release




Upcoming innovations for the safety of our clients and our business environment:

> Automated disinfection systems (initiative disinfection system to sanitise high touch point surfaces and air)

> Thermal, facial, biometric-access capability (reads employees and visitors temperature before access)

> Streamlined, automated, easy registration for on-boarding of clients

Finally, while other facilities are mandating that visits to safe deposit boxes be restricted by appointment only, Vault@268 remains open, benefitting from biometrics and automation, throughout these trying times.


“The vault is so clean … you can do Qigong on the premises.”

Feedback from a client


Our challenge with contagious pathogens in particular and uncertainty in general will never be done. This will not be the last occasion that countries and companies will be called on to create innovative technologies, systems and procedures in the pursuit of safety and security.



  1. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak situation  | World Health Organisation (WHO)
  2. SARS-CoV-2 Live Data | nCoV 2019
  3. The latest on the coronavirus | Harvard T. H Chan
  4. Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now | Medium, 10 Mar 2020
  5. Spore is gold standard for case detection: Harvard study | The Strait Times, 18 Feb 2020
  6. Singapore’s coronavirus response has contained the outbreak—but its strategy is hard to replicate | Fortune, 28 Feb 2020
  7. The ‘sixth sense’ and long nights behind virus test kit | Tan Tock Seng Hospital, 16 Feb 2020
  8. Media Briefing on COVID-19 | Facebook, 12 Mar 2020
  9. Coronavirus: Singapore scientists on the front lines of fight against Covid-19 | The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2020


Information accurate at time of publishing.

Copyright © Vault@268 Pte Ltd   Author: Vinay Kumar Rai