Covid-19 is the most recent critical test Singapore has faced since its independence. Recovering from it will be different qualitatively from surviving the oil shock, recessions and the global consequences of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. The coronavirus pandemic could last longer than the oil shock in 1973, and subsequent financial and economic downturns in 1985, 1998, 2001 to 2003 and 2009. Then, the economy recovered fairly quickly because conditions elsewhere helped or because it was only certain sectors or regions that were badly hit. As for terrorism, it evoked an international response which, although not uniform, was substantial enough to reverse the threat.
The impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, however, will be felt beyond the economy. The current crisis could further splinter a world that is disunited already. The impetus for globalisation was under threat, not least from the Sino-US trade war, which was a strategic conflict as well. The pandemic has widened the gulf among many nations. The international movement of people will contract, hurting sectors that depend on travel, such as aviation and tourism. More worrying is that countries will reduce their structural stake in one another's well-being. There will be lower levels of interdependence, particularly in the areas of essential goods and services such as food or critical supplies. Autarchic self-dependence could lead to a more protectionist and even xenophobic world. None of these trends bodes well for Singapore, which, as an international node, is heavily reliant on trade.
Yet, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted on Sunday, international trade may shrink but it will not disappear. Being plugged into the global system should mean Singapore is well positioned to benefit from an economic upturn. Singapore has a penchant for anticipating and planning for the future even in the best of times. Policies and plans for a transformative future, continuing education and skills training, for instance, drawn up even before the onset of the pandemic, will be invaluable in meeting the existential challenge thrown up by Covid-19.
In the wake of the crisis, the Government has introduced a series of bold economic measures to protect citizens, including four Budgets totalling an unprecedented $93 billion in Covid-19 support, or about 20 per cent of gross domestic product. These measures underpin the confidence that leaders here have expressed in Singapore's ability to pull through these trying times. What will be needed more than ever is the continued resolve of its citizens to do whatever it takes to turn adversity to advantage. Singaporeans must never lose heart, or their self-belief in an extraordinary country that has transformed their hopes into reality so often.