“Our fight against COVID-19 continues,” Singapore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong said on 7 June 2020 in a national broadcast.
“COVID-19 will remain a problem for a long time yet. It will take at least a year, probably longer, before vaccines become widely available. We will have to learn to live with COVID-19 for the long term, as we have done in the past with other dangerous infectious diseases, like tuberculosis,” he added as he went on to talk about life, work and play in the time of COVID.
PM Lee first highlighted how owing to COVID-19, the global economy has virtually ground to a halt. Even as Singapore’s GDP is likely to shrink between 4 and 7% this year, the worst contraction ever, almost S$100 billion (20% of our GDP) is being invested to protect workers, households and companies.
Going forward, residents of Singapore can expect the following:
- We will not be returning to the open and connected global economy we had before, anytime soon. Movement of people will be more restricted. International travel will be much less frequent. Health checks and quarantines will become the norm.
- Industries that depend on travel, like aviation, hotels and tourism, will take a long time to get back on their feet, and may never recover fully.
- Countries will also strive to become less dependent on others. Especially for essential goods and services, like food or critical medical supplies.
- All these developments will affect Singapore greatly - and its position as a trading hub, an international seaport, and a hub for aviation, finance, and telecommunications.
He cautioned: “Now, we have to prepare for a very different future. Companies big and small will be hit hard. Some industries will be permanently changed. Many will have to reinvent themselves to survive.
“Workers too will feel the pain. Retrenchments and unemployment will go up. Some jobs will disappear, and will not come back. Workers will have to learn new skills to stay employed. The next few years will be a disruptive and difficult time for all of us.”
Plan of action: “Do not fear. Do not lose heart.”
In marching onward from here, PM highlighted several strengths of Singapore that can enable an even stronger and better Singapore to emerge from this crisis.
Strength 1: Economic strengths and an international reputation built up over many decades
While international trade and investments may shrink, but they will not disappear entirely. Some flows will be diverted or dry up, but other new channels will open up. There will still be overseas markets, and opportunities for international partnerships. In this, PM Lee says Singapore’s strong, trusted international reputation will help us greatly.
“In a troubled world, investors will value the assurance of a government that plays by the rules. A people who understand what is at stake and a stable political system that enables businesses to continue operating even in a crisis.”
Strength 2: We have had a head start preparing for the uncertainties ahead
Singapore’s plans for its Future Economy, investing heavily to upgrade workers through SkillsFuture, digitalising both the private and public sectors, building innovation and R&D capabilities - have all enabled it to stand out in Asia and the world.
Thus, the immediate thing would be to systematically reboot our economy, as countries emerge from lockdowns. “We are rebuilding our transport and trade links. For example, Changi has already resumed transit flights. We are working out Reciprocal Green Lane arrangements for safe travel to China and other countries. We are making our supply chains more resilient.”
Next, Singapore will work hard to retain and attract talent and investments. “At a time when some countries are closing their doors, we are keeping ours open.”
Strength 3: Programmes and plans to cope with the challenges before us
The government’s biggest priority now is jobs – helping Singaporeans to keep their jobs, or find new ones, with particular concern for the following five groups:
- Those in their 40s and 50s, who are often supporting children and elderly parents at the same time, and have financial commitments to meet
- Mature workers nearing retirement, who want to work for a few more years, to build up their nest egg for old age
- Lower income workers, who have not much savings to fall back on
- The self-employed and freelancers, who have less job and income security in the gig economy
- Fresh graduates who are entering the job market in a very difficult year.
He cited the schemes to help all these groups, i.e. the Job Support Scheme, the Workfare Special Payment, the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS), the COVID-19 Support Grant and the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package.
He added: “We have set up a National Jobs Council, to pull together and drive all our efforts on jobs, and look at how we can create new jobs for the economy. Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is leading this.”
PM Lee went on to talk about the social support being provided: “We have taken emergency measures to help everyone come through the crisis together. Beyond that, we have to think carefully how to improve our social safety nets.
“Sustainable social support will give people confidence to cope with the uncertainties and to make changes to their lives. At the same time, everyone must have the incentive to be self-reliant, and to progress through their own efforts.”
“We have difficult decisions to make on priorities, resources, and budgets but the values guiding us remain the same: every Singaporean will have equal opportunities.”
In the coming weeks, several senior ministers will be addressing the nation on these decisions - do stay tuned for our 5-minute highlights of the speeches.