Phased reopening will protect lives and livelihoods; S'poreans must get used to new normal: Lawrence Wong

About 75 per cent of the economy will resume operations in phase one, which begins on June 2, 2020. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - 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 task force tackling the coronavirus pandemic, said in a Money FM 89.3 radio interview on Tuesday (June 2) 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's 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 June if infection rates remain low and stable.

About 75 per cent of the economy will resume operations in phase one, which begins on Tuesday. Shops will stay closed during this first 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 in a gradual manner - 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.

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

On May 26, 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 subsidies wages paid by companies to local workers, and more rental relief for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Mr Wong cautioned that Singaporeans should not expect to return to their pre-Covid 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.

He also thanked Singaporeans, from front-line workers to volunteers, for rallying together during the crisis.

Said Mr Wong: "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.

"The fight is not over. We still have a long road ahead of us, so let's continue to stay united, work together and prevail against Covid-19."

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