Singaporeans must learn to live with coronavirus for long haul: PM Lee

They must prepare for a very different future, with changes in the way they live, work and play

An empty line for taxis at Jewel Changi Airport late last month. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "Industries that depend on travel, like aviation, hotels and tourism, will take a long time to get back on their feet, and may never recover fully."
An empty line for taxis at Jewel Changi Airport late last month. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "Industries that depend on travel, like aviation, hotels and tourism, will take a long time to get back on their feet, and may never recover fully."ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The coronavirus will remain a problem for a long time, and Singaporeans will have to learn to live with it for the long term, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an address to the nation yesterday.

This means getting used to new arrangements in the way people work, play and lead their everyday lives, he said.

"It will take at least a year, probably longer, before vaccines become widely available. We will have to learn to live with Covid-19 for the long term, as we have done in the past with other dangerous infectious diseases, like tuberculosis."

In his speech, the Prime Minister sketched out Singapore's progress in tackling the pandemic so far and detailed the challenges it will face in the coming years.

He added that Covid-19 is not only a public health issue, but also a serious economic, social and political problem all over the world. Singapore, too, has taken a severe hit, he said.

The global economy has virtually ground to a halt, he said. Governments have spent trillions of dollars to support businesses, economies and jobs, but tens of millions of jobs have been lost even so.

He noted that Singapore's economy depends heavily on international trade and investments, which were already slowing down before the pandemic hit. "Now this slowdown will happen faster, and go further," PM Lee said.

The country's gross domestic product (GDP) is likely to shrink by between 4 and 7 per cent - its worst contraction ever.

PM Lee said the Government has intervened decisively through four successive Budgets, and pumped in billions of dollars to save jobs and keep businesses afloat. Unlike other countries, it is doing so without having to borrow.

Last Friday, Parliament passed a second Supplementary Supply Bill, bringing government spending on four Covid-19 support packages to $92.9 billion - about 20 per cent of Singapore's GDP. These will require a draw of $52 billion from past reserves.

"But even for us, this level of spending is hard to sustain," PM Lee said. "More importantly, these measures cannot shield us from the tectonic shifts taking place in the global economy."

 
 

The world will not return to the open and connected global economy of the past any time soon, he added.

The movement of people will be more restricted, and health checks and quarantines will be the norm.

"It will no longer be so easy to take quick weekend trips to Bangkok or Hong Kong on a budget flight. Industries that depend on travel, like aviation, hotels and tourism, will take a long time to get back on their feet, and may never recover fully," he said.

Singapore will now have to prepare for a very different future, he said, adding that some industries will be permanently changed.

Companies big and small will be hit hard, and many will have to reinvent themselves to survive.

Workers will not be spared. "Retrenchments and unemployment will go up. Some jobs will disappear, and will not come back. Workers will have to learn new skills to stay employed. The next few years will be a disruptive and difficult time for all of us," he said.

 
 
 

But the Prime Minister underlined his belief that Singapore will emerge stronger and better from the crisis.

It has an international reputation built up over decades, a head start on preparing for the uncertainties ahead, and plans in place to help Singaporeans cope with the challenges, he said, adding that in the next two weeks, other ministers will share the Government's plans for a post-Covid-19 future.

"We have a full agenda for many years to come," PM Lee said.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong will tomorrow deliver the second of six national broadcasts.

The remaining four will be delivered by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2020, with the headline 'S'poreans must learn to live with virus for long haul: PM Lee'. Subscribe