SINGAPORE - Singapore has to start preparing to live with the coronavirus for the long term, with people changing the way they live and work and companies finding new ways to deliver their products, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday (June 9).
This adjustment cannot depend on the Government alone, he added, saying that people's behaviour and mindsets will be critical in the months ahead and urging them to stay disciplined and vigilant.
He said that many things - from urban planning to the way business is done - will have to adapt to a new normal.
"We have to be realistic and gird ourselves for more challenging times," said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19. "Our population will be vulnerable for a long time, in a world where Covid-19 is all around us. We must therefore adapt to Covid-19, and learn to live with it over the long term."
Mr Wong was delivering the second of six national broadcasts by Cabinet ministers on Singapore's post-coronavirus future. In the speech, he gave an overview of how the virus has changed daily life here, and highlighted measures to keep Singaporeans safe.
For instance, contact tracing and virus testing capacity have both been increased. This allows Singapore to quickly identify contacts of Covid-19 patients, and do more extensive testing among high-risk groups and the wider community.
The country is also looking at other ways of detecting the virus. These include testing wastewater for fragments of the virus.
"The vast majority of our population has not been exposed to the virus and are still vulnerable to the disease," Mr Wong said. "We want to continue to provide maximum protection for our seniors and those with medical conditions. Hence, we have been very cautious in our reopening."
Singapore is one week into the first phase of reopening after the circuit breaker. It reported 218 new cases on Tuesday, the lowest daily number since April 11.
If the virus situation remains stable, the country will move into the second phase before the end of June. More social activities will then be allowed, with most businesses resuming regular operations.
Mr Wong called for people to continue being socially responsible by wearing their masks, observing safe distancing measures, and upholding good personal hygiene.
"We've been emphasising all this for some time. But it bears repeating, because individually, these are steps everyone can take to protect ourselves and our loved ones," he said.
Done collectively, these actions will also help the country have a "safe and sustainable reopening", such as has been seen in Denmark and New Zealand.
"Conversely, if we are lax in our personal precautions, new cases and new clusters will multiply quickly, and despite our best efforts to test and trace, we might end up in another circuit breaker down the road," he said.
Mr Wong noted that the pandemic has precipitated a shift towards flexible work arrangements. These include working from home, staggered work hours and split-team arrangements.
Urban planning must cater to these demands and building designs will have to change, given what is now known about the risk of transmission in enclosed spaces, he said.
"We will need to improve ventilation and air filtering inside buildings. Other features like contactless fittings, automatic doors, as well as hand sanitiser and temperature monitoring stations should also become part of the norm."
Businesses will also need to find new and safer ways to deliver their products and services, Mr Wong said. Hawkers and wet market stallholders are among many that have embraced digital solutions, such as using online platforms to reach new customers.
Also, significant changes will have to be made in the construction industry, where major outbreaks occurred, he said. Workers will be tested regularly, worksites will implement new safeguards, and new dormitories will be built.
All this will mean extra costs, Mr Wong said. "I have no doubt that this will be a very difficult transition. But I assure everyone in the industry that we will work closely with you to get through this difficult patch, and to emerge stronger from this experience."
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 Gov.sg website, Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter.
The country has shown its "grit, adaptability and resilience" during the circuit breaker period, Mr Wong said, adding: "We must continue to demonstrate the same ingenuity and resourcefulness in this new phase."
He lauded the efforts of the many individuals and businesses who have gone the extra mile for others, such as by volunteering at dormitories or donating supplies to those in need.
"Adversity has brought out the best in us - both individually and collectively. We have found strength and confidence in one another. We have shown that we are capable of rising above ourselves and caring for others," he said.
Countries all over the world are looking for answers and solutions to the crisis, Mr Wong noted.
"There is no guaranteed formula for success," he said. "But it is our grit and resilience, our compassion and kindness, our cohesion and strength that will see us through this crisis of our generation."