Singapore

Vital for country to have deep reserves and capabilities, says SM Teo

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Senior Minister says Singapore will need to emerge from pandemic as a more resilient nation

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of having deep reserves of finances, people and capabilities to respond to crises, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday as he stressed the need for Singapore to emerge out of the pandemic as a more resilient nation.

Calling the coronavirus "the largest and most complex" challenge the Republic has faced in his more than 40 years of public service, Mr Teo said the work must be done even before it is needed.

"The clear lesson for me is that in 'peace time', we need to plan on facing the unknown, and build deep reserves of people and capabilities, so that when we face a crisis, we can act decisively, and respond flexibly and rapidly," he said, in the third of six national broadcasts by ministers on Singapore's post-coronavirus future.

The Senior Minister also stressed the high stakes involved for Singapore in how it responds to crises.

"Singapore can hold its own in the world, only if we are strong, successful and united at home," he said. "We can face the world outside with confidence, only if we are strong inside."

Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, outlined three aspects of Singapore's resilience in dealing with Covid-19 - in its crisis response, economic resilience and social resilience.

First, in terms of its crisis response, Mr Teo said Singapore had to scale up its capacity to deal with infected patients rapidly.

Speaking for the first time about the outbreak in foreign worker dormitories since being asked in April to advise the task force handling the issue, he said that while the Government had tapped its experience dealing with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), ramped up contact tracing, and increased surveillance and precautions in dormitories early on, this was not enough.

Cases in the dormitories increased exponentially in a matter of weeks, which called for a "tremendous effort" to accelerate and scale up plans for community care facilities, with resources from the private and public sector being mobilised.

Second, in terms of economic resilience, the virus has impacted livelihoods and disrupted supply chains, he said.

But essential supplies have been maintained, thanks to stockpiling, diversification and local production.

The Government has also marshalled four Budgets to deal with the economic fallout, in the process drawing up to $52 billion from past reserves.

Finally, in terms of social resilience, the virus has strained Singapore's social fabric, but Mr Teo was heartened to see Singaporeans showing kindness, care and compassion to the more vulnerable, regardless of their race and religion.

He lauded how Singapore has responded as a nation, avoiding the fissures that have divided some other countries and hindered their ability to respond to the pandemic.

With support from Singaporeans, infection numbers have come down in the community and the outbreak among migrant workers has been stabilised, he added.

"What we have built as a nation - our solidarity, our resolve and our resilience - gives me confidence that we will overcome the current crisis and any future challenges, to build a stronger and better Singapore together," he said.

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