SINGAPORE: A package to help households with the cost of living will be introduced as part of this year’s Budget, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Sunday (Feb 16), as he sought to reassure Singaporeans that the Government is mobilising its full resources to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak.
As Singapore deals with these challenges, the authorities are doing their utmost to fight the outbreak, said Mr Heng in his remarks.
“While dealing with the immediate challenges, I want to assure Singaporeans that we are doing our best, mobilising our full resources across Government and society, to fight the outbreak and to better protect you,” he said.
His remarks come after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday warned the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak could have a significant impact on the local economy.
Workers and firms are “understandably concerned” about the impact of the outbreak on the economy, said Mr Heng.
“Some sectors have been hard hit, such as tourism and transport, and we have already taken targeted measures to support them. But we can expect to see a broader impact on the economy,” said Mr Heng.
“As confidence is affected, businesses and consumers could cut back on spending,” he said. “The disruption to the global supply chain – a result of the interruptions to production in China – will also affect trade and manufacturing. Our workers and firms are understandably concerned.”
As such, Mr Heng – who is also Finance Minister – touched on a set of “broad-based measures” to be announced as part of Budget 2020 to support companies, workers and households.
“On Budget Day on Tuesday, I will set out a set of broad-based measures to support viable companies and help workers stay in their jobs," he said.
This includes providing wage support to “help companies preserve jobs for local workers”, as well as tax rebates and rental waivers to help firms with their cash flow.
More support will also be given to sectors that have been harder hit by the outbreak, including food and beverage and retail sectors, said Mr Heng.
The Government will also support firms and workers “to make the best use of this period” to carry out restructuring, training and upgrading, in order to “emerge stronger when the eventual upturn comes”.
Help will also be given to households concerned about the cost of living, he added.
“In this time of uncertainty, I know that households are more concerned about their expenses,” he said. “So I will introduce a package to help households with their cost of living.”
He reiterated that the Government would do “all that is necessary” to help those affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
"Never doubt that Singapore has the means to bounce back from this outbreak," he said. "I assure you as Finance Minister that this Government will do all that is necessary to get workers and companies hit hard by this global health crisis back on their feet.
"With all these additional support measures, you have my assurance that we will rebound from this. Never fear."
TURN FEAR, ANXIETY INTO “CONCRETE ACTION”
In addition to support for companies and workers, Singapore will also need to strengthen its “social and psychological resilience” in the fight against COVID-19, said the Deputy Prime Minister.
Mr Heng called for people to “turn our fears and anxieties into concrete action” to tackle the outbreak, including looking after themselves and taking care of others.
This means taking measures such as observing good personal hygiene, seeing a doctor and staying home if unwell and staying updated on the situation from credible sources.
“If you are well, carry on with normal life as far as possible,” he said.
After Singapore raised its DORSCON level to Orange, the country saw a surge in demand for groceries, with some stores reporting stock shortages.
Authorities moved to assure Singaporeans that the country’s supply chain remains robust and that there was no need to rush for essential supplies.
READ: COVID-19: Supply chain remains robust, 'panic buying' situation has stabilised, says Lawrence Wong
In his remarks on Sunday, Mr Heng urged people not to panic buy or spread rumours.
“We have enough supplies of food, and an adequate stockpile of masks and other essential items, if used responsibly,” he said.
“We are actively replenishing our supplies and stockpiles from a diverse range of sources.
“But if you hoard, this will deny others with real needs.”
He also praised examples of generosity and kindness shown by Singaporeans which “demonstrate the best of the Singapore spirit”.
“SG United is our rallying call for this outbreak in a whole-of-society effort,” he said. “The outbreak is a test of our social cohesion and our psychological resilience. We can all do more to help those around us, and we can speak and act with hope and care.”
The Deputy Prime Minister also expressed his gratitude to healthcare and frontline staff members.
“I would like to express my deep appreciation to all our healthcare and frontline staff for their dedication, hard work and sacrifice. You have our full support,” he said.
“I am also heartened by how our people have rallied together. Everyone has something to offer, and every action makes a difference.”
SINGAPORE CONTRIBUTING TEST KITS TO CHINA
Singapore has been able to mount “a swift response to this sudden outbreak” because it learnt from its past experiences, built up capabilities over the years and adjusted its approach as the situation develops, said Mr Heng.
The country has also mobilised new capabilities in its fight against COVID-19, he added.
Since the SARS outbreak in 2003, Singapore has built new healthcare capabilities such as the National Centre for Infectious Diseases and better healthcare infrastructure to deal with outbreaks.
The Deputy Prime Minister also singled out research and design capabilities as “essential” to mounting an effective response to the outbreak.
“Since the outbreak, our research community has been working hard behind the scenes in partnership with our healthcare community and companies and building on our strong networks with the international community, to collaborate with scientists from around the world,” he said.
Just over a week after the disease’s viral sequence was made available, local researchers developed a diagnostic kit for the virus, said Mr Heng.
“This has been very helpful in our screening efforts for suspected cases,” he added.
Singapore is contributing test kits for 20,000 tests to China, he said, noting that “all of us” would benefit from China’s success in overcoming the outbreak. Singapore and the global community must “do our part to contribute to this effort”, he added.
The local research community is also working with global partners to better understand the nature of the virus, develop faster diagnostic tests that are simpler to run and trial new treatments and potential vaccines.