Relief measures set up for tourism sector in Singapore
Relief measures introduced as Government focuses on protecting jobs and businesses: Chan Chun Sing
Several measures will be introduced with immediate effect to help tourism businesses, which have been hit hard by the Wuhan virus outbreak.
They include the waiving of licence fees for hotels, travel agents and tourist guides, and defraying the cleaning and disinfection costs of hotels that had confirmed and suspect cases of the virus.
Announcing this yesterday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said the Government's primary focus will be protecting the jobs of Singaporeans and ensuring the survival of businesses in what could be a protracted battle ahead.
He added that while it is too early to tell, the impact of the 2019 novel coronavirus could be "wider, deeper and longer" than that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic in 2003.
"I would like to reassure Singaporean businesses and workers that we stand together with them," Mr Chan said during a visit to Oasia Hotel Downtown with Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.
"We do have the means to help them tide over this difficult moment, but we must do this with a long-term perspective."
Mr Chan's reassurance came as the death toll in China yesterday rose to at least 304 and infections surged past 14,000.
A 44-year-old man from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, died in the Philippines, the first such death outside China.
Singapore had a brief respite yesterday as no new infection was reported. The conditions of the 18 infected people, including two Singaporeans, are improving, the Ministry of Health said last night.
At Oasia Hotel Downtown, the two ministers inspected precautionary measures made after a hotel guest, a 73-year-old female Chinese national, was found to have the virus.
Speaking to the media afterwards, Mr Chan said the measures are meant to help businesses in the short term.
He said tourism-related industries such as the tour agency and the food & beverage sectors had been very badly hit as some of them rely heavily on the Chinese market.
China has banned outbound group tours to contain the spread of the virus. Singapore has also banned new visitors of any nationality with recent travel history to mainland China.
Noting that the aviation sector has also been badly hit, Mr Chan said: "We will be looking at measures to see how we can help them defray their costs as well as maintain air connectivity between Singapore and China."
The Government is looking at the possibility of bridging loans to help businesses with cash flow issues, he added.
As other countries progressively tighten their border controls, Mr Chan said, there will also be serious implications on other industries such as manufacturing.
Mr Chan said: "It will be a bit too early for us to give a number on how big the impact will be because we are now only at the initial stage of this contingency.
"So how long it will take to play out still bears watching... We don't want to jump to conclusions."
He told businesses and workers that while the Government has the means to help them, "we must make sure that whatever we do is sustainable because we are not sure how long this crisis will last".
Full details of the relief package will be announced by Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat during Budget 2020 on Feb 18.
In a later press statement, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) gave more details of the relief measures to help the tourism sector.
They include STB covering up to 50 per cent of the hotel's cleaning and disinfection costs, capped at $20,000 for confirmed cases and up to $10,000 for suspect cases.
Mainland Chinese tourists account for around 20 per cent of Singapore's total international visitor arrivals. About 3.6 million of them visited Singapore last year, said STB.
Mrs Teo said that about 30,000 Chinese nationals who hold work passes here had yet to return after going home for Chinese New Year.
They will have to take a mandatory 14-day leave of absence when they get back here.
Mrs Teo urged people on such leave of absence to stay at home and minimise social contact.
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