SINGAPORE - If there is an upside to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the reaffirmation of the Singapore spirit and how Singaporeans' resilience as one people has seen the country through this crisis thus far, President Halimah Yacob said.
To see Singapore through the next phase of this "existential crisis" - the most serious since the nation's independence - Madam Halimah urged Singaporeans to unite behind the newly-elected government, and give it their full support to take the country through the crisis.
Speaking from the Istana on Monday (July 27) at a ceremony to swear in the new Cabinet, with a live video link to Parliament House, President Halimah said Singaporeans from all walks of life have come together to mobilise resources in this "most difficult of times" and stood together with one another.
She said: "So for this next phase, I ask Singaporeans to similarly unite behind the government that we have elected, and give it our full support to see Singapore through this crisis," she said, adding that she had confidence in the new Cabinet to steer Singapore safely through these tumultuous times.
President Halimah also took stock of the "significant progress" that Singapore has made in the last five years.
Just six months ago, it was a very different world, she said. Singapore was advancing steadily on the course it had set over many years to develop the country, be it upgrading the economy and workforce, building physical infrastructure, or strengthening social safety nets.
Although there were growing concerns about globalisation - with free trade in retreat and geopolitical tensions rising between big powers - Singapore was coping "better than most" because its people were united, and the Government was focused on addressing people's concerns, she said.
And Singapore made "significant progress" in several areas, she added.
For instance, Singapore's competitiveness on the economic front was strengthened, basic needs of life were made more accessible and affordable, and delivery of social services on the ground was improved.
Madam Halimah described Covid-19 as an upheaval that could set Singapore back for many years, but the progress made in the last term of government has given the country a strong base to work from.
Singapore has had to muster its strength and resources to mount an emergency response to this challenge, she added, describing the pandemic as the "crisis of a generation".
This includes introducing rigorous safe distancing measures, launching a massive and complex operation to bring the outbreak in migrant worker dorms under control, and injecting close to $100 billion in four budgets to cushion the impact on jobs and incomes.
The Government sought the President's permission to draw more than half of that amount from the country's reserves, which was approved, said Madam Halimah.
"I concurred with its assessment that we needed to bring all our resources to bear to deal with this existential challenge - the most serious since our nation's independence - and protect Singaporeans' lives and livelihoods," she added.
President Halimah added that after six months of unremitting effort on the part of front-line workers, the situation has stabilised in Singapore, although the crisis is far from over.
The Government called a general election to secure a fresh mandate and a new full term, to make necessary and difficult decisions to deal with the troubled times ahead, she said.
"Now that the election is over, we must focus on the challenges and the agenda ahead."