SINGAPORE: As the Singapore economy takes a hit from the COVID-19 outbreak, the Government will help minimise any resulting retrenchments, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said.
“Even as we deal with the viral outbreak, we must ensure that our economy can function to keep jobs and livelihoods for Singapore,” he said in his Total Defence Day message on Friday (Feb 14).
“The Government will work with companies and unions to ensure that retrenchments are kept to a minimum, if at all.”
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has said that his upcoming Budget statement on Feb 18 will contain detailed measures for the hardest-hit sectors - tourism and transport.
For the transport sector, the Government, taxi and private-hire operators have already announced a S$77 million package to help taxi and private-hire drivers affected by the outbreak.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has said it will waive licence fees for hotels, travel agents and tour guides, as well as defray the cleaning costs of hotels that accommodated confirmed and suspected cases of the virus.
READ: Singapore tourism to take 'significant hit' in 2020 due to coronavirus, up to 30% fewer visitors expected
STB said on Tuesday that the tourism sector will take a “significant hit” due to the outbreak, with visitor arrivals estimated to tumble by 25 to 30 per cent this year.
The Government has also said it is expecting a knock-on impact on related industries and firms, adding that it is prepared to support companies and workers in the event of a broad-based slowdown in the coming months.
This includes measures like helping firms retain and train their employees by supporting part of their wage costs.
READ: Firms must keep transforming even as they brace for hit from coronavirus, says Enterprise Singapore
Dr Ng said Singapore had overcome the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis in 2003 through Total Defence.
“We remember how SARS caused sickness and death,” he said. “Fear of being infected gripped citizens everywhere and it paralysed economies. Tourists stopped travelling and people stayed home. As a result, jobs were lost and retrenchments went up.
“But in Singapore, we rallied through Total Defence, stayed united, overcame the SARS crisis to emerge intact and stronger.”
So as Singapore grapples with COVID-19, Dr Ng said Total Defence “must now come into action again”.
"SALUTE OUR FRONTLINE STAFF"
The minister said Singapore must strengthen its psychological defence to withstand the “ups and downs” of the outbreak and carry on with daily life.
“In the midst of this battle against the viral outbreak, we offer our deep condolences to the families of victims who have suffered,” he said.
“We also salute our frontline staff, especially our doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who treat patients day to day and up close.
“You have our fullest respect and gratitude. Please protect yourselves and your families even as you do your jobs as professionals.”
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EMPATHY FOR THOSE INFECTED, QUARANTINED
For social defence, Dr Ng said people must practise good hygiene and maintain distance from others if they are sick.
“If you have cough and other flu symptoms, don’t spread the disease to others,” he added. “At the same time, we must show empathy and compassion to help those who are infected or under quarantine.”
Digital defence, the sixth and latest pillar of Total Defence, has also proved a “timely and necessary addition” as the country tries to contain the virus, Dr Ng continued.
READ: Digital Defence pillar added to Singapore's Total Defence framework to strengthen cybersecurity
“False information about the disease or messages to incite hatred against any group do nothing to contain the outbreak,” he said.
“We must never let these DRUMS – distortions, rumours, untruths, misinformation and smears – be heard lest they sow discord, divide our people and ultimately weaken our will to defeat the outbreak and defend Singapore.”
Dr Ng said he has “every confidence” that Singaporeans will rally and win the battle against COVID-19.
“Only then, as one united people, can our nation stand up and overcome any challenge that comes our way,” he stated.