S'pore has to tighten Covid-19 measures promptly if needed to curb spread, avoid second circuit breaker: PM Lee

PM Lee Hsien Loong noted that with new strains of the virus emerging, Singapore's Covid-19 situation can deteriorate rapidly.
PM Lee Hsien Loong noted that with new strains of the virus emerging, Singapore's Covid-19 situation can deteriorate rapidly.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Singapore will have to tighten measures against Covid-19 promptly where necessary to clamp down on the spread of new clusters, and avoid going into a second circuit breaker, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Speaking to unionists at the May Day Rally on Saturday (May 1), Mr Lee hoped Singaporeans would work together with the Government against the virus, and not let down their guard.

He noted that with new strains of the virus emerging, Singapore's Covid-19 situation can deteriorate rapidly.

"We are watching our own situation, and it can easily, quickly, turn bad again," he said.

"If we have to do another lockdown like last year’s circuit breaker, it would be a major setback for our people and for our economic recovery. Let’s not make it happen."

PM Lee's remarks come amid a spike in Covid-19 cases in the community in the past week, as new waves of infection spread around the world, fuelled by new and more infectious strains of the Sars-CoV-2 virus.

There were 35 cases of community transmission here in the past week, from 10 cases in the week before, many of the cases coming from the first Covid-19 hospital cluster.

The cluster at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, discovered after a nurse tested positive for the Sars-CoV-2 virus on Tuesday, had grown to 13 cases as at Friday. Another cluster has eight cases so far, with an Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officer at Changi Airport and seven others in his family contracting the virus.

The number of unlinked cases has also gone up.

These developments prompted the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 to announce tighter restrictions on gatherings, malls and travel, among other measures, on Friday.

PM Lee said: "The Government is doing everything we can to prevent these clusters from spreading in the community. And we will have to be agile and decisive in our response, to tighten measures promptly, when it’s necessary, to clamp down on the spread and to avoid going into a second circuit breaker.

"I hope Singaporeans will work with us, and not let down our guard."

He added: "It is not time to relax yet. This is a marathon. Let’s keep jogging. Let’s keep ourselves safe.

"Don’t make the mistake which other countries have done, celebrate too early, relax too fast, let your guard down, cause another wave to come – very often worse than the first – and more nasty, drastic measures become necessary."

In his speech, PM Lee noted that with the global recession less protracted than feared - the United States' economy is expected to make a strong rally this year and China's economy is performing strongly - Singapore could achieve growth of 6 per cent or better this year.

But this would only bring Singapore back to where it was before the pandemic struck, and some sectors like aviation, tourism and construction were still not out of the woods, he noted.

The recent ban on travellers from India, amid record infection figures surpassing 300,000 there, has further worsened the situation for the construction sector, he added.

The Government is therefore working on emergency legislation to address this severe disruption and to "share the burden more fairly between the different parties - the contractors, the developers, and the buyers", he said.

"We will introduce the legislation, I hope in the next sitting of Parliament," he added.

PM Lee also called for continued efforts to ensure the well-being, health and safety of construction workers.

He noted that throughout the crisis, the Government has provided relief and grants to help companies tide over the recession, drawing on more than $50 billion from past reserves to fund initiatives like the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS).

The wage subsidies scheme, which was extended for the hardest-hit sectors until September 2021, has been cheered by many union leaders who have asked him if it could be extended further, he added.

"I said, we would think about this carefully. But please remember: JSS is artificial life support. It keeps us breathing for a while, but it doesn’t cure us, and it doesn’t last forever," said PM Lee.

"We must find a way to fully recover, to get back on our feet, to build new muscles to move Singapore forward again."