SINGAPORE - Singapore has weathered its worst economic crisis since independence, and must now change gears to refocus on the future, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Aug 29).
"It is no longer about drawing down reserves to keep ourselves on life support," said PM Lee.
"It is about generating new growth, jobs and prosperity for the future."
With the Covid-19 situation here under control, Singapore will pursue growth in three ways - by preserving the country's status as a business hub, attracting more foreign investments and growing Singapore companies and entrepreneurs.
PM Lee said it was important that Singapore opens up soon to allow more people to travel in and out of the country in a safe way.
Many multinational corporations (MNCs) use Singapore as their regional base, and their staff would need to travel to visit operations in other countries, he pointed out.
"If our borders stay closed for too long, MNCs will find us less useful. Singaporean businesses also will suffer, and our economy will be permanently damaged."
Foreign investments are also important as they will help to create good jobs for Singaporeans, PM Lee said.
Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Economic and Development Board persuaded major firms to set up shop here, he said.
BioNTech, for one - the German biotechnology company that partnered with American firm Pfizer on a key Covid-19 vaccine - is setting up its regional headquarters for South-east Asia in Singapore, along with a manufacturing facility that will support global supply of mRNA-based vaccines and therapeutics.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus shots widely used in Singapore hinge on messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, which teach the body how to trigger an immune response to the virus.
Meanwhile, semiconductor manufacturer GlobalFoundries is building its sixth wafer fabrication plant in Singapore, while videoconferencing company Zoom has opened its first research and development (R&D) centre in South-east Asia here.
Said PM Lee: "Singapore must remain attractive to investors... All these investments will create many good jobs for Singaporeans."
Home-grown companies must also make their mark in the new economy, he said.
A few have become global names, said PM Lee, including car marketplace Carro, gaming chair manufacturer SecretLab, as well as digital marketplace Carousell.
"Enterprise Singapore is supporting more entrepreneurs to follow in their footsteps, go out into the world, seize new opportunities and grow their businesses."
But subsidies and grants go only so far, he said, adding: "Ultimately, it is their own resolve and resourcefulness which will secure their success."
For example, Mrs Yvon Bock, 41, who co-founded Hegen, a company selling baby-feeding bottles and equipment, had pivoted to marketing her products online when Covid-19 hit and shut many of Hegen's physical retail channels down, said PM Lee.
"She improved her websites, conducted live streams in multiple languages, and hired more staff to fulfil orders.
"Now, Hegen's main engine of growth is online sales."
In his address to the nation, PM Lee noted that the global economy is picking up, with Europe recovering and the United States and China growing strongly.
"These are our major markets. That is why the Ministry of Trade and Industry is more confident that Singapore will also do well, and has raised our growth forecast for this year to 6 per cent to 7 per cent."
And with eight in 10 people in the country now fully vaccinated, Singapore is in a new situation with slower Covid-19 transmission and spread.
However, the coronavirus has mutated, and the Delta variant is much more infectious.
This means it would no longer be possible to bring Covid-19 cases down to zero, even with lockdowns, he said, and people must prepare for Covid-19 to become endemic, like the flu or chickenpox.
Vaccinations and added precautions will help Singapore to be Covid-19-resilient, he said.
"We may have to tap the brakes from time to time, but we want to avoid having to slam on the brakes."
Singapore will open up cautiously and progressively and feel its way forward, not in one big bang like other countries, he added.
While the past week has seen the number of virus cases going up, the number of people who are seriously ill has remained stable.
"It is important to maintain this, so that we can continue to ease up, especially to reconnect Singapore with the rest of the world."
Meanwhile, the Government will continue to make every effort to reach the remaining unvaccinated population, he added.
"With endemic Covid-19, sooner of later, everyone will meet the virus. If you are vaccinated, you may not get infected," he said. "But if you are not vaccinated, you will almost certainly get infected, and may well get very sick."
He added: "If we all do our part in the months ahead, then we can keep our situation stable, and gradually return to more normal life."