Covid-19 shows importance of building up reserves and resilience, says Teo Chee Hean

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Mr Teo said the Covid-19 crisis has been a "stringent test" of Singapore's ability and resolve. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of having deep reserves of finances, people and capabilities to respond to crises, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Thursday (June 11) as he stressed the need for Singapore to emerge out of the pandemic as a more resilient nation.

Calling the coronavirus "the largest and most complex" challenge the Republic has faced in his more than 40 years of public service, Mr Teo said the work must be done even before it is needed.

"The clear lesson for me is that in 'peacetime', we need to plan on facing the unknown, and build deep reserves of people and capabilities, so that when we face a crisis, we can act decisively, and respond flexibly and rapidly," he said, in the third of six national broadcasts by ministers on Singapore's post-coronavirus future.

The Senior Minister also stressed the high stakes involved for Singapore in how it responds to crises. "Singapore can hold its own in the world only if we are strong, successful and united at home," he said. "We can face the world outside with confidence only if we are strong inside."

Mr Teo's address, filmed at the Marina Bay floating platform against the backdrop of the city skyline, focused on how Singapore intends to uphold its standing in a world in flux and also how the Government would help Singaporeans prepare for the uncertainty ahead.

He said that Singapore could no longer assume globalisation and open markets will continue to be the natural order of things, as the pandemic accelerates geo-political trends.

Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, outlined three aspects of Singapore's resilience in dealing with Covid-19 - in its crisis response, economic resilience and social resilience.

First, in terms of its crisis response, Mr Teo said Singapore had to scale up its capacity to deal with infected patients rapidly.

Speaking for the first time about the outbreak in dormitories since being asked in April to advise the task force handling the issue, he said that while the Government had tapped its experience dealing with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), ramping up contact tracing and increasing surveillance and precautions in dormitories early on, this was not enough.

"Unfortunately, these turned out to be insufficient because the virus was far more infectious than Sars," he said.

He pointed out how on April 4, there were 26 cases in the dormitories, but this increased exponentially, and there were more than 1,000 new cases recorded daily by April 20.

It required plans for community care facilities to be accelerated and scaled up, and capacity to care for patients was added daily over the first few weeks of April, he said.

Manpower and resources from both the public and private sector also had to be mobilised to run and man these facilities, he added, calling it a "tremendous effort".

"The operations are still ongoing, to bring the dormitory situation fully under control. But the number of daily cases has already come down to between a third and half of the peak. About two-thirds of the patients have already fully recovered," said Mr Teo.

Second, in terms of economic resilience, the virus has impacted livelihoods and disrupted supply chains, he said.

  • The national broadcasts by Singapore leaders will start from 7.30pm on the following dates:

    June 7: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

    June 9: Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

    June 11: Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean.

    June 14: Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.

    June 17: Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

    June 20: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

    All speeches will be televised in the four official languages. Or watch it on website, Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter.

But essential supplies have been maintained thanks to stockpiling, diversification and local production.

The Government has also marshalled four Budgets to deal with the economic fallout, drawing up to $52 billion from past reserves in the process.

Pointing to a crisis early in the nation's post-independence years, when the British withdrew its troops from the country in 1967, Mr Teo said Singapore had lost 20 per cent of its gross domestic product and 70,000 jobs overnight.

But Singaporeans "gritted our teeth, rolled up our sleeves, and moved ahead", he said.

"We are far more resilient today than in 1967, and better positioned to create new markets, businesses and jobs to replace the ones that will be lost," he added.

Finally, in terms of social resilience, the virus has strained Singapore's social fabric, but Mr Teo was heartened to see Singaporeans showing kindness, care and compassion to the more vulnerable regardless of their race and religion.

Noting that he had worked closely with the new generation of ministers over the past few months, he praised their handling of the crisis, saying they have stepped up to the task and worked as a team. Second, in terms of economic resilience, the virus has impacted livelihoods and disrupted supply chains, he said.

He similarly lauded how Singapore has responded as a nation, avoiding the fissures that have divided some other countries and hindered their ability to respond to the pandemic.

With support from Singaporeans, infection numbers have come down in the community and the outbreak among migrant workers have been stabilised, he added.

"What we have built as a nation - our solidarity, our resolve and our resilience - gives me confidence that we will overcome the current crisis and any future challenges, to build a stronger and better Singapore together," he said.

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