SINGAPORE: The construction sector has been a “key vulnerability” during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Government will work closely with the industry to get through this difficult period, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Jun 9).
In a televised address to the nation, Mr Wong said that putting in place tighter measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 means extra costs for the construction industry.
“For now, the Government is bearing these costs through the Fortitude Budget,” he said.
“Beyond that, we will introduce other measures to cushion the impact and to move the industry to new productivity levels.”
READ: Singaporeans must stay ‘disciplined and vigilant’, prepare for more challenging times amid COVID-19: Lawrence Wong
Mr Wong’s speech is the second in a series of national broadcasts by Cabinet ministers on Singapore’s future beyond COVID-19.
Laying out the challenges faced by the construction sector, Mr Wong said companies will have to continue to push for automation in order to reduce reliance on migrant workers. Workers, both local and foreign, will have to be tested for COVID-19 “regularly and comprehensively”.
The Government will also need to “review and improve” living arrangements for migrant workers, added Mr Wong.
“The present dormitories are in fact the outcome of improvements made over the past decade. But despite this, and the precautions we took, we still had major outbreaks in the dormitories,” he said.
READ: COVID-19: 20,000 migrant workers to be discharged by end-May, but cases from dormitories likely to remain high
Authorities had announced last week that new migrant worker dormitories would be built to improve their living standards.
Government agencies are also developing a set of specifications for these new dormitories, which will factor in social interaction and disease response needs.
READ: COVID-19: Singapore to build new dormitories with improved living standards for migrant workers
“But we have to be mindful that the risks will always be there because of the large number of workers living together and sharing communal facilities,” Mr Wong said on Tuesday.
“In fact, all communal living spaces, be they dormitories, nursing homes or cruise ships, will always be at risk in the event of an infectious disease outbreak.”
As the industry goes through significant changes as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, Mr Wong said it can emerge stronger.
“I have no doubt that this will be a very difficult transition. But I assure everyone in the industry that we will work closely with you to get through this difficult patch and to emerge stronger from this experience,” he said.
READ: A stronger and better Singapore will emerge from COVID-19 crisis despite 'immense challenges': PM Lee
NEW WORK NORMS
As COVID-19 pushes Singapore towards more flexible work arrangements, including working from home, staggered work hours and split team schedules, urban plans will also need to cater to these new norms, said Mr Wong.
Office and building designs will have to change to minimise the risk of transmission in enclosed spaces.
Buildings should have improved ventilation and air filtering, contactless fittings, automatic doors, hand sanitisers and temperature monitoring stations, he added.
Companies will also have to find “new and safer ways” to deliver products and services, said Mr Wong, noting that many have already turned to digital solutions.
“Some will need to change their business practices to adapt to the new environment,” he said, adding that he was happy to see that wet market stallholders and hawkers are using digital payments and online platforms to reach new customers.
The country must learn to live with COVID-19 in the long term as it is not likely to go away, said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force on the virus.
Calling on Singaporeans not to let their guard down, Mr Wong stressed the importance of social responsibility and good personal hygiene.
We’ve been emphasising all this for some time. But it bears repeating, because individually, these are steps everyone can take to protect ourselves and our loved ones,” he said.
“Collectively, these actions will make all the difference in keeping COVID-19 at bay.”