SINGAPORE - An easing of indoor mask-wearing restrictions and a repeal of a long-contested law criminalising gay sex are among the key announcements in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 21).
Here are eight highlights from his speech:
1. Masks off in most indoor settings
Singaporeans will soon be able to take their masks off in most indoor settings, returning to almost pre-Covid-19 normality.
PM Lee said that with the country's situation stabilising, the Government will reduce mask requirements further to prevent fatigue from setting in.
Masks will be required only on public transport, where people are in prolonged close contact in a crowded space, and in healthcare settings such as clinics, hospitals, residential and nursing homes, where there are vulnerable persons, said PM Lee.
He said schools in particular should not require students to wear masks in class. Children need to see the facial expressions of their teachers and of one another, as this is crucial for their learning and development.
More details will come from the multi-ministry task force handling the pandemic.
2. Section 377A to be repealed
Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, will be repealed, said PM Lee.
Sentiments have shifted over the years as more Singaporeans accept that sex in private between consenting men should not be a criminal offence, he said.
But most Singaporeans do not want the repeal to trigger a drastic shift in societal norms across the board, including how marriage is defined and what is taught to children in schools, he noted.
In consultations held by the Government on this topic, the main worry among those with reservations is what they feel Section 377A stands for, and that repealing it may encourage more aggressive and divisive activism on all sides.
Even as Singapore repeals Section 377A, it will uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage, said PM Lee. Only marriage between a man and a woman is recognised in Singapore, he said, adding that many national policies such as public housing and adoption rules rely on this definition.
The Government does not intend to change these policies or the definition of marriage.
He added that currently, the definition of marriage could be challenged in the courts, like Section 377A has been. If such a challenge succeeds, it could cause same-sex marriage to become recognised.
Hence, to protect the definition of marriage from being challenged in the courts, the Government will amend the Constitution.
This will help Singapore repeal Section 377A in a controlled, carefully considered way, said PM Lee.
3. Be prepared for external dangers
The external environment has become very troubled, as United States-China relations - which set the tone for global affairs - are worsening, said PM Lee.
Both powers are divided over many issues, from trade to the South China Sea to Taiwan. But they also need to work together on pressing global problems like climate change, pandemics and nuclear proliferation.
Their tense relationship is making this almost impossible, which is bad news for the world, he said.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has violated the fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, which are particularly important to Singapore.
The war has also created deep hostility between Russia and other states, and affected security in the Asia-Pacific by complicating already strained US-China relations, and between China and America's partners in Asia like Australia and Japan, said PM Lee.
Pointing to how things have gone wrong in Europe, he asked: "Can you be sure things cannot go wrong like that in our region too? So we must get real and we must get ourselves prepared psychologically."
To do so, Singapore must stand firm on fundamental principles of international law, take national service seriously and keep the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team strong and credible, and stay as one united people, he said.
4. Brace for economic challenges
Cost of living is at the top of everyone's minds, acknowledged PM Lee. While most sectors are recovering from the pandemic, the war in Ukraine has clouded the country's outlook.
Inflation was already becoming a problem pre-war and the war made things worse by pushing up energy prices worldwide and causing shortages and price spikes in grain globally.
The Government is doing everything necessary to support Singaporeans, in particular the middle- and lower-income families, and will do more if the situation worsens, said PM Lee.
But the basic reality is that international economic conditions have fundamentally changed. The era of globalisation is over. China's growth and exports are slowing and countries are relooking their own supply chains to prioritise resilience and self-sufficiency.
Singapore has little influence over the global inflation picture, said PM Lee.
To become better off, the country has to press on with economic upgrading and restructuring, redouble transformation efforts and encourage workers to upskill.
5. New homes to be built in Paya Lebar
An estimated 150,000 new homes - public and private housing - can be built where the Paya Lebar Air Base is located, said PM Lee. This is roughly the number of homes in Punggol and Sengkang today.
The relocation of the airbase will start in the 2030s. The airbase and its surrounding industrial areas will yield a space five times the size of Toa Payoh.
The new town will have amenities and recreational areas as well as commercial and industrial developments to bring jobs closer to homes.
Once the airbase moves out, some building height restrictions around it in towns like Hougang, Marine Parade and Punggol can be lifted, said PM Lee.
This means the town can be redeveloped to make better use of the space there.
6. Developing Terminal 5 and Tuas Port
After a two-year pause brought on by the pandemic, work on Terminal 5 at Changi Airport will restart, said PM Lee. The new terminal will serve about 50 million passengers a year, more than T1 and T3 put together.
The design of the terminal will draw on lessons learnt from the pandemic and allow spaces to be converted for testing or the segregation of high-risk passengers.
Autonomous vehicles could be deployed to support baggage and cargo transport. T5 will also be greener and more energy-efficient, said PM Lee.
Next to it, the Government will develop the Changi East Urban District, a new business and lifestyle destination.
The mega Tuas Port began operations last December, with two berths opened. Three more will start operations by December this year.
When fully operational, the port will have 66 berths spanning 26km and be capable of handling the largest container ships.
Because Singapore had planned ahead, its port was able to handle extra volumes during the pandemic while ports in other countries experienced closures, severe congestions and long delays, said PM Lee.
Phase 1 of Tuas Port has just been completed, with three more phases to come before it is fully completed in about 20 years from now. It will be the world's largest fully automated port.
Then, it will handle 65 million twenty-foot equivalent units - a cargo capacity measurement - which is almost double today's volumes, he added.
7. Need to attract top talent from around the world
The ministries of manpower and trade and industry and economic agencies will soon be announcing new initiatives to attract and retain top talent from around the world, said PM Lee.
Singapore has attracted the interest of many talented individuals and international companies, thanks to its trusted brand of quality, reliability and efficiency and its track record in tackling Covid-19.
The country must seize the opportunity to secure its place in the post-Covid-19 world, he said.
It needs to do more, especially in sectors with good potential, to get people to come here, said PM Lee.
If Singapore can get the people it wants to come, it will help the country shine brightly as a hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and growth.
It will also make Singapore's own talent want to stay here, to participate in building a dynamic and outstanding nation, he said.
8. Getting three fundamentals right
PM Lee said that to tackle the challenges facing Singapore, the country must get three fundamentals right: a united people, a high-quality leadership team and high trust between the people and their leaders.
"We may have the best laid schemes, but without these three fundamentals, they will come to nothing."
He singled out good leadership as non-negotiable. Pointing to countries with unstable governments and where policies never make it through political gridlock, he said: "Often, it is not just the leaders who disappoint, but the whole system that has failed."
The result is the loss of faith not just in individual politicians or parties but in the whole political system and political class.
He said Singapore's very survival depends on having the right leaders, and leadership succession is therefore of paramount importance.
With the younger ministers having chosen Finance Minister Lawrence Wong to be their leader, PM Lee said that he was happy that his succession plans, which had been put on hold when Covid-19 hit, are back on track.
"I am also glad that from everything I see, Singaporeans are supportive of Lawrence and his leadership of the team."