Singapore can emerge stronger from Covid-19 crisis: PM Lee
A head start in transforming itself and a sterling international trade reputation will help country recover
The Covid-19 pandemic is the most dangerous crisis humanity has faced in a very long time, and it will throw up immense challenges for Singapore.
But Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday told Singaporeans to take heart and spelt out his Government's plans to help the country emerge stronger from the crisis.
Addressing the nation in a televised broadcast last night, he did not downplay the magnitude of the task at hand.
International trade will be hit. Many industries may never recover fully from the pandemic. Jobs will be lost.
"The next few years will be a disruptive and difficult time for all of us," he said.
This was especially true of Singapore, which made a living by connecting itself to the rest of the world, said Mr Lee.
"But despite these immense challenges, I say to you: Do not fear. Do not lose heart."
Mr Lee's address, on "Overcoming the Crisis of a Generation", was the first of six national broadcasts over the next two weeks by Singapore's leaders on how the country might grapple with a post-Covid-19 future.
The last time there was such a series of broadcasts was in 1968, when the then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and several of his ministers spoke shortly after the British announced their withdrawal from Singapore.
They spoke on how the country might deal with the challenge.
Yesterday, Mr Lee said that while the Government has intervened decisively, its support measures cannot shield Singapore from "tectonic shifts" taking place in the global economy.
The Government has rolled out four Budgets totalling close to $100 billion - an unprecedented amount - in Covid-19 support, or almost 20 per cent of Singapore's Gross Domestic Product. To fund this, it is looking at drawing up to $52 billion from past reserves.
Describing the major global shifts taking place, Mr Lee said US-China relations are worsening. The movement of people will be more restricted, and countries will strive to become less dependent on others, especially for essential goods and services. All these developments will affect Singapore, he said.
But Mr Lee cited three advantages that would enable the country to emerge stronger and better from the crisis.
First, Singapore is highly connected to global trade and investment flows, and has built up an international reputation over many decades. Investors value the assurance of a government that plays by the rules, he said.
Second, Singapore has had a head start by transforming and deepening its capabilities through skills upgrading and innovation.
The country is also rebuilding its transport and trade links, and making its supply chains more resilient by diversifying its sources of food.
Third, there are programmes and plans in place to cope with the challenges.
Mr Lee said the Government's biggest priority now is helping Singaporeans keep their jobs or find new ones.
He said the many acts of solidarity and kindness during the pandemic has shown Singaporeans can emerge stronger from the crisis, with a sharper consciousness of being Singaporean.
"This is why I believe we can continue to be exceptional - a fair and just society, where everyone can chase their dreams," he said.
Get used to new arrangements in the way you work and play
The coronavirus will remain a problem for a long time, and Singaporeans will have to learn to live with it for the long term, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an address to the nation yesterday.
This means getting used to new arrangements in the way people work, play and lead their everyday lives, he said.
"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."
The Prime Minister sketched out Singapore's progress in tackling the pandemic so far and detailed the challenges it will face in the coming years.
He added that Covid-19 is not only a public health issue but also a serious economic, social and political problem all over the world. Singapore, too, has taken a severe hit. Its gross domestic product is likely to shrink by between 4 and 7 per cent, its worst contraction ever.
Mr Lee said the Government has intervened decisively through four successive Budgets and pumped in billions of dollars to save jobs and keep businesses afloat.
Unlike other countries, it is doing so without having to borrow.
"But even for us, this level of spending is hard to sustain."
Also, the movement of people will be more restricted, and health checks and quarantines will be the norm.
"It will no longer be so easy to take quick weekend trips to Bangkok or Hong Kong on a budget flight. 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," he said.
Singapore will now have to prepare for a very different future. Companies big and small will be hit hard, and many will have to reinvent themselves to survive.
"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," he added.
But Mr Lee underlined his belief that Singapore will emerge stronger and better from the crisis.
In the next two weeks, other ministers will share the Government's plans for a post-Covid-19 future.
"We have a full agenda for many years to come," Mr Lee said.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong will deliver the second of six national broadcasts tomorrow.
The remaining four will be delivered by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.
Country must ‘strengthen social compact, improve safety nets’
Singapore will have to strengthen its social compact and think carefully how to improve social safety nets to help its people cope with the uncertainties posed by the coronavirus crisis, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
In a national broadcast on Singapore's future post-Covid-19, he noted that the country has taken emergency measures to help everyone come through the crisis together.
But beyond that, he said, "sustainable social support will give people confidence to cope with the uncertainties and to make changes to their lives".
At the same time, Singaporeans must have the incentive to be self-reliant and progress through their own efforts, he added.
Difficult decisions have to be made on the country's priorities, resources and budgets in the months to come, but the values guiding Singapore will remain the same, he added.
"Every Singaporean will have equal opportunities. Whatever your starting point in life, you will have access to good education, healthcare and housing," he said.
"If you fall down, we will help you to get up, stronger. You can be sure you will be taken care of. In Singapore, no one will be left to walk his journey alone."
The forging of a new social compact as Singapore strives to transform its economy has been a common theme in speeches made by ministers over the past year.
In his round-up of the Unity Budget debate in February, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat stressed that the country has to strengthen its social compact to ensure that the benefits of growth reach everyone, including low-wage workers, middle-income families and retirees.
The coronavirus pandemic has shone the light on inequality in countries, including Singapore.
This in turn has renewed calls for more to be done to help the vulnerable and improve the lot of low-wage workers, who are typically on the front lines as Singapore tackles the outbreak. - THE STRAITS TIMES