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Businesses here can find opportunities amid uncertainties: Minister

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Singapore businesses can still look for opportunities amid the uncertainties, and their responses will shape the extent of the impact of the Wuhan virus on the economy and the labour market, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday.

"I don't think it's possible to say there'll be zero impact, that's very unlikely, but the impact can be moderated if we make the right moves, if we respond in rational ways... at the company level and at the individual level," she said at a media briefing on last year's employment situation.

Businesses may choose different ways of pursuing opportunities, said Mrs Teo. For example, they may moderate the number of deals that directly involve contact with China but look elsewhere for opportunities at the same time. Instead of travelling to China to meet clients, they could use teleconferencing, or visit other clients elsewhere.

"The important thing is that people know this will come to pass, this is interim," said Mrs Teo.

So far, she said the company representatives she has spoken to have said the number of workers affected by preventative measures is manageable.

The Ministry of Manpower on Tuesday started rejecting new work pass applications for workers from Hubei province - more than 30 such applications, it said.

Workers in healthcare, education and eldercare institutions must also abide by a compulsory 14-day leave of absence if they have returned from China in the past 14 days.

Mrs Teo said the economic outlook for this year was already uncertain before the virus outbreak due to ongoing trade tensions and international conflicts, and with uncertainty heightened, investment decisions are bound to be re-examined.

Singapore must remain open and aim to be one of the top choices when companies evaluate competing locations, she said, adding that it is important to keep an eye on the medium- and long-term situation and keep the economic transformation going to prepare for the future.