Virus may be here for the long haul so Singapore must adapt: Minister

Business models and building designs may have to be rethought, says Lawrence Wong

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The pandemic has precipitated a shift towards flexible work arrangements, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Singapore needs to be prepared for more challenging times ahead and steel itself to live with the coronavirus for the long term, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

"It is not likely that the virus will go away," said Mr Wong, who spelt out how Singapore was trying to keep a lid on new infections in the days ahead. He also flagged some changes that may be needed further down the road.

Urban planners, businesses and workers may all have to adapt to a new normal, he said.

"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. He highlighted how the virus has changed daily life here, and how Singaporeans are staying safe.

The pandemic has precipitated a shift towards flexible work arrangements, he said. 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.

"We will need to improve ventilation and air filtering inside buildings," he said. "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 who 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, work sites 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."

In the longer term, an important part of the solution is a vaccine, Mr Wong said, adding that Singapore is part of the "massive global effort" to develop an effective vaccine.

"If and when a vaccine becomes available, we will make sure that every Singaporean who needs it gets it, and at an affordable price," he said.

Singapore is one week into the first phase of reopening after the circuit breaker. It reported 218 new cases yesterday, the lowest daily number since April 11.

"We will continue to monitor the situation over the coming week," said Mr Wong. If the virus situation remains stable, the country will move into the second phase before the end of this month. 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.

These were steps that anyone could take to protect themselves and their loved ones, 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.

On their part, he said, the authorities had increased the capacity and speed of contact tracing. They had also expanded testing capacity hugely. These would help control the spread of the virus.

He added: "It has been a tough fight against a formidable and invisible enemy."

The country has shown its grit and adaptability during the circuit breaker period, Mr Wong said. "We must continue to demonstrate the same ingenuity and resourcefulness in this new phase."

He lauded the efforts of the many individuals and businesses that have gone the extra mile for others, such as by volunteering at dormitories or donating supplies to those in need. "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.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2020, with the headline Virus may be here for the long haul so Singapore must adapt: Minister. Subscribe