Coronavirus pandemic

Phased reopening to protect lives, livelihoods: Minister

But S'poreans have to get used to new normal of living with restrictions: Lawrence Wong

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

A phased approach to reopening Singapore will help protect both lives and livelihoods, but Singaporeans must get used to the "new normal" of living with restrictions, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry Covid-19 task force, said in a Money FM 89.3 radio interview yesterday that the process of reopening is a "very tricky" one - as seen from the experience of countries such as South Korea, which saw a second wave of infections after emerging from lockdown.

"Reopening means there will be an increase in activities and human contact, and more opportunities for the virus to spread. That is why we decided to implement a phased approach and not open the floodgates all at once.

"So please, please do not go out and have a big party."

Mr Wong had said last week that phase two of Singapore's post-circuit breaker reopening could start before the end of this month, if infection rates remain low and stable.

About 75 per cent of the economy will resume operations in phase one, which began yesterday. Shops will stay closed during this phase, and there will be no dining in at restaurants and other food outlets.

Speaking to Money FM host Elliot Danker, Mr Wong said the Government is prioritising both lives and livelihoods by reopening the economy gradually, while ensuring that it has the capabilities to test and contact-trace on a large scale.

"As cases emerge, we make sure we have the ability to quickly detect and isolate these cases and prevent large clusters from forming."

This does not necessarily mean keeping community infection numbers to single digits, he said, but, rather, having the ability to control and ring-fence any detected cases.

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"We understand that this phased approach will have an impact on businesses, that is why in the recent Budget, we provided more support for businesses that cannot reopen immediately," he said.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced a further $33 billion in Covid-19 aid under the Fortitude Budget. Together with three earlier rescue packages - the Unity, Resilience and Solidarity Budgets - the Government's support totals $92.9 billion, or close to 20 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product.

The Fortitude Budget includes enhancements to the Jobs Support Scheme, which subsidises wages paid by companies to local workers, as well as more rental relief for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Mr Wong cautioned that Singaporeans should not expect to return to their pre-Covid-19 way of life as there will still be restrictions in place, such as safe distancing and the wearing of masks.

"We should think of this as a new normal - a state which we can expect to remain until a vaccine or treatment is developed," he said.

He added that even if a vaccine is developed, it is expected to take more than a year and may not provide long-term immunity against Covid-19.

"We need to be prepared mentally for this to be a long fight."

While there is much debate on the relative merits of various countries' approaches to tackling the virus, the Government's focus, he said, remains on the task at hand - to control the spread of the virus and ensure that Singapore's healthcare system is not overwhelmed.

Thanking everyone for rallying together during the crisis, he said: "We have reached the end of the circuit breaker, and this is indeed a milestone. I want to thank everyone for your sacrifices in keeping our fellow citizens safe and bringing community infections down significantly."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2020, with the headline Phased reopening to protect lives, livelihoods: Minister. Subscribe