Firms, families to get $9b in support payouts this month to help them cope with Covid-19 impact

Most S'poreans to get one-off $600 payment tomorrow; 233 new virus cases confirmed

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

About $9 billion in support measures will be rolled out to families and businesses this month, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

This includes a one-off payout of $600 which nine in 10 Singaporean adults will receive tomorrow through their bank accounts.

The rest can provide the Government with their bank account details by April 23 and get the money by April 28, or receive this "Solidarity Payment" by cheque from April 30.

In a radio interview with CNA938, Mr Heng said he fully understood the difficulties facing businesses beset by the coronavirus pandemic, but urged them to use the Government's support packages to retain their workers.

He recapped the measures under the Unity, Resilience and Solidarity budgets - three support packages which combined amount to a $59.9 billion war chest against Covid-19.

Businesses hit by the pandemic's economic fallout, and more recently by strict circuit breaker measures, have called on the Government to provide more help sooner, as have trade associations and MPs representing them.

Mr Heng noted that all companies will get 75 per cent of the first $4,600 of each local worker's monthly wages subsidised by the Government for this month, under the Jobs Support Scheme.

"This is a very significant support and I hope that businesses do their part in keeping their workers, retaining them, so that we can emerge stronger after this."

The Government is also looking at various indicators to see how much more might be needed from past reserves, he added.

But he urged Singaporeans to focus on how to make the best use of the amounts already allocated to ride out this difficult period.

 
 
 
 

In fact, some of the measures already announced will go on for several more months, he noted, with some until the end of the year.

"After this month, we will then consider what else needs to be done, and we will look at what the measures are," said Mr Heng.

For now, containing the spread of the virus is the top priority, he said. Singapore confirmed 233 coronavirus cases yesterday, bringing the total to 2,532.

"Enhanced distancing measures may be inconvenient, but it is far more important to protect one another and bear with the inconvenience," said Mr Heng.

He noted that more people were obeying circuit breaker rules in public places after Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli announced that first-time offenders would be fined.

In a Facebook post, Mr Masagos thanked Singaporeans who stayed at home, noting that about 200 fines were issued yesterday, far fewer than the 3,000 written warnings given out the day before.

But he said the situation cannot be maintained by "having a large force on the ground all the time".

Mr Heng also addressed rising cases of Covid-19 at foreign worker dormitories.

There were 207 cases who were work permit holders and dormitory residents yesterday, and four new clusters at dormitories, bringing the total number of such clusters to 15.

A joint task force headed by Brigadier-General Seet Uei Lim, Chief Guards Officer, is now in place, he said, to tackle issues like hygiene, cleanliness and reducing the concentration of workers.

In the longer run, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo has said Singapore will have to look at what else needs to be done to take care of foreign workers, Mr Heng noted, urging employers to work with the Government in doing so.

One thing that Covid-19 will change fundamentally is attitudes towards managing risk, he said.

"This episode reminds us that risk is always present, and we need to manage this risk well," he added.

"We need a good risk management system, and we need to take it seriously. We need to prepare for it so that we can be very resilient, even when crisis strikes."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2020, with the headline 'Firms, families to get $9b in support payouts this month'. Subscribe