Singapore may lift remaining COVID-19 curbs if situation is stable amid China cases, year-end travel: PM Lee
In his New Year message, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also says Singapore must brace for economic uncertainties ahead.
SINGAPORE: Singapore can take steps to lift its remaining COVID-19 restrictions if the situation remains stable despite the year-end travel season and the surge of cases in China, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Saturday (Dec 31).
In his New Year message, Mr Lee urged people to keep their COVID-19 vaccinations current and protect themselves with the latest bivalent vaccines.
"We are watching the COVID-19 situation closely, particularly how the year-end travel season and the surge in cases in China may affect us," said Mr Lee.
"If despite these risks, things remain stable, we can take the final steps to lift the remaining social restrictions to establish post-pandemic normalcy."
Singapore lifted most COVID-19 restrictions in April, such as removing limits on group sizes and the need for safe distancing. All vaccination-differentiated measures were then lifted in October.
Mask-wearing is still required in healthcare facilities and on public transport, although they are optional in other settings.
After nearly three years of battling COVID-19, the Prime Minister noted that things are returning to normal.
Singapore held its first full-scale National Day Parade since the pandemic, people can once again travel abroad, and the country hosted flagship international events such as the Shangri-La Dialogue and the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix.
"As we welcome visitors from around the world, our recovery is extending beyond the airport and airlines to the hotels, shops, F&B and service sectors too," Mr Lee said, adding that these send a strong signal that Singapore is back in business.
"We would not have got here without the support and trust of Singaporeans, and the valiant efforts of our frontline workers."
Singapore's experience with COVID-19 has taught it valuable lessons for future crises, said Mr Lee, adding that the country will enhance its preparedness for future pandemics, as well as strengthen its healthcare system and community networks.
"We will push ahead with Healthier SG to mobilise GPs, who were invaluable during the pandemic, to partner Singaporeans to live longer and healthier. Healthier SG will emphasise preventive health and improve the provision of care to Singaporeans, especially our elderly," he added.
But Mr Lee said providing healthcare and social services for an ageing population will require considerable resources, and so the Goods and Services Tax (GST) will go up by one percentage point to 8 per cent from Jan 1 in the first of a two-step increase.
At the same time, the Government is implementing a package of measures to help households cushion the impact of the GST hike and cope with the cost of living. These include utilities rebates and Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers.
Over the last month, nearly three million Singaporeans received up to S$700 in cash, said Mr Lee, noting that more assistance is on the way in the new year.
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
"Recently, another 11 MRT stations on the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) opened. When fully completed in 2025, the TEL will serve one million commuters daily, connecting residents in the east with the North-South corridor,” said the Prime Minister.
On housing, the Government has also been working to catch up on Build-to-Order (BTO) construction delays caused by COVID-19.
“We are sparing no efforts to build more HDB flats and keep public housing affordable and accessible for Singaporeans, especially couples starting families,” Mr Lee said, noting that HDB will launch another 23,000 new flats in 2023.
"We will maintain this high tempo to meet the strong demand for housing, and expect to build up to 100,000 new BTO flats from 2021 to 2025," he added.
Singapore has also made progress "towards a more inclusive society,” Mr Lee said, citing the example of the Enabling Masterplan 2030 that will help people with disabilities find jobs and live independently.
He also highlighted the repealing of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalised gay sex.
"This is a longstanding and difficult issue, with views strongly held on both sides," Mr Lee said.
“But I am heartened that Singaporeans have responded with restraint and supported our balanced approach – to decriminalise male homosexual acts, while protecting the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman from being challenged in the courts.”
On the economic front, Mr Lee said that Singapore must brace for uncertainties ahead as the international outlook "remains troubled".
Besides the continuing Russia-Ukraine war and US-China tensions, Mr Lee said: "How quickly China recovers from COVID-19 remains to be seen, while the US and EU may well enter recession."
The Ministry of Trade and Industry has said it expects slower growth of between 0.5 and 2.5 per cent in 2023.
"In such testing times, we must above all stay united as one people," Mr Lee said in his New Year message, noting the Forward Singapore discussions that the Government has been having with Singaporeans to chart new directions ahead.
"This collective sense of ownership and responsibility is crucial to renewing and strengthening our social compact. We look forward to the outcomes of the discussions, and to completing the exercise in the second half of next year," he said.
Concluding his message, Mr Lee said: "Even the darkest of clouds have silver linings, but only for those bold enough to seize opportunities."
He added that Singapore has emerged stronger from COVID-19 and enhanced its international standing through its response to the pandemic.
“We must seize the moment," he said.
"Welcome promising investments and talents of all nationalities to Singapore, while building up our own skills and capabilities, venturing forth to chase our dreams in the region and the world. Together, we will build a brighter future for Singapore and all Singaporeans."