SINGAPORE – The Covid-19 pandemic was a test of social cohesion and trust played a key part in tackling the crisis, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said on Thursday.

An Oxford study found that high-trust countries – in which people trusted the authorities to manage the crisis and one another to do the right thing – had lower Covid-19 death rates, he added.

Today’s challenges, such as rising costs and geopolitical tensions, will again strain social unity.

The question, therefore, is how to deepen the reservoirs of trust in a volatile world, he said at an international conference on social cohesion.

“If I were to distil Singapore’s approach, it would be this: That social cohesion does not come about by chance, but is achieved only through a deliberate and consistent effort to understand one another, to accommodate one another, and to flourish together,” said DPM Wong.

People should also believe they can benefit from the nation’s prosperity, which was why Singapore pursued inclusive growth, he added.

Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister, was speaking to religious leaders, policymakers, academics and civil society activists on the third and last day of the International Conference on Cohesive Societies at the Raffles City Convention Centre.

The event, which was held for the second time since 2019, drew 800 participants from over 40 countries who came together to discuss issues of faith, identity and cohesion.

In his speech, Mr Wong said social cohesion begins with people working to understand one another, and overcoming the natural tendency to gravitate towards those who look or sound like them.

This starts with fostering contact and interaction between people from different backgrounds.

Singapore does this deliberately, he said. Policies for public housing ensure people of different races live close together, national schools and national service create shared experiences, and common spaces like playgrounds, hawker centres and schools help people see they have more in common.

The Republic has also put in effort to promote dialogue among community, religious and government leaders, he added.

But engendering social contact is not enough, said Mr Wong. In diverse societies, there are bound to be issues where people cannot see eye to eye, as there may be deeply held positions stemming from fundamentally different worldviews.

“The question then is how do we resolve these fundamental disagreements – how do we strike a balance, and not allow different views to tear a society apart,” said Mr Wong.

He noted the many instances globally where disagreements have led to divisions.