'Circuit breaker' may be extended if coronavirus not controlled

Success of Covid-19 moves depends heavily on Singaporeans, Chan Chun Sing stresses

Shoppers at the FairPrice outlet in Jem. Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing reiterated reassurances that the country has enough supplies to meet its needs, but stressed that Singaporeans had a part to play. "No amount of stockpile will ever b
Shoppers at the FairPrice outlet in Jem. Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing reiterated reassurances that the country has enough supplies to meet its needs, but stressed that Singaporeans had a part to play. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

"Circuit breaker" measures that take effect from this week may be extended beyond May 4 if the spread of the coronavirus is not controlled over the next month, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

He stressed that the success of Covid-19 containment measures depends heavily on Singaporeans.

"If we all remain united, if we all take the measures seriously, and if we are successful in controlling the spread in the next one month, then we will be able to progressively resume normalcy and to reduce the impact of the measures," said Mr Chan.

"On the other hand, if we do not take the measures seriously, and if in the next one month we are unable to control the situation, then that might require us to extend the period for which such measures are necessary, and that will inflict even greater damage on our economy."

He added: "So it's in our collective interest to try our best to work together, bear with the inconveniences in the coming month, but let us get over this part together... Otherwise it becomes recurring waves of infections that we have to deal with, and it will be very difficult for us to gradually, progressively attain normalcy."

He was responding to a series of questions in Parliament from Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) about the impact of the enhanced measures and the adequacy of Singapore's stockpile of goods and essential items like protective equipment for healthcare workers.

The size of Singapore's stockpile is determined by a range of factors such as our consumption rate, supply chain reliability, resupply rate and frequency, shelf life of the products, the cost of storage, the duration of possible disruptions and Singapore's own production surge capacities, Mr Chan explained as he reiterated reassurances that the country has enough to meet its needs.

"For food, we have a strategy developed over many years that entails a combination of stockpiling, import diversification and local production," said the minister.

Mr Chan added that Singapore is working with like-minded partners to ensure that trade continues to flow unimpeded, and that critical infrastructure such as airports and seaports remain open to support supply chains globally.

He also highlighted a joint ministerial statement with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Myanmar, New Zealand, Laos and Uruguay, affirming their collective commitment to ensuring supply chain connectivity to facilitate the flow of goods, including essential supplies. He also shared about last week's G-20 Trade Ministers Meeting, where countries agreed to work together to maintain global production systems and trade links, and to engender long-term confidence in investors, businesses and consumers.

But on the adequacy of supplies as well, he stressed that Singaporeans had a part to play.

"Panic buying severely disrupts the usual consumption rate and our stockpile efforts. No amount of stockpile will ever be sufficient if individuals hoard."

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He also said that domestic last-mile logistics from the warehouses to the retailers can be disrupted by panic buying: "We will have to mobilise logistic players from other sources to restock our supplies, in turn impacting those supply chains and creating a cascading effect. The compounding disruptions further increase fear and heighten the possibilities of more irrational behaviours. If we are not careful, it becomes a self-fulfilling and self-feeding frenzy."

Ms Cheng had also asked about Singapore's own capacity to manufacture masks and reports of other countries trying to hijack masks.

Mr Chan said that Singapore is building up its own ability to manufacture masks, although he said it was not yet appropriate to talk about the capacity.

He also said that Singapore's position was to keep working with other countries to keep supply chains open rather than resort to protectionism.

"It makes more sense for all of us to work together to keep the supply chains open. It benefits not just us, it benefits everybody. But when every country starts to shut down their own production system... actually it reduces the entire global capacity."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2020, with the headline 'Circuit breaker' may be extended if coronavirus not controlled. Subscribe