Singaporeans can overcome challenges of 2020, emerge stronger: President Halimah

While the availability of Covid-19 vaccines was cause for cheer, Singaporeans have to heed expert advice on the ongoing need to be cautious, said President Halimah Yacob. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - At the end of a very unusual and challenging year, with Covid-19 causing serious economic and social disruption, Singapore needs "all hands on deck" to overcome the crisis and build a better future for generations to come, President Halimah Yacob said in her New Year message on Tuesday (Dec 29).

She added she was confident that Singaporeans were up to the task, noting that the people have shown time and again to be made of sterner stuff, with crises strengthening them and making them even more resilient.

Speaking in a video released by the Istana, Madam Halimah said: "We now have to reassess the way we organise our lives, work and businesses as there is no going back to the pre-Covid-19 period. But there are also opportunities.

"Covid-19 has accelerated the use of technology, and long-term challenges such as climate change have gained a new impetus. Countries are using the opportunity to reshape their recovery towards a more green and sustainable economy."

But the President also observed that Singapore was still experiencing economic headwinds induced by the pandemic, particularly in the aerospace and tourism-related sectors.

She said that with concerted efforts, a full recovery may take one or two years - and even then, the next decade will see slower growth with higher expenditure.

"We must continue to make critical investments in our infrastructure and skills development so that we can continue to attract new investments and create new jobs," Madam Halimah added.

She pointed out that Singapore, like other countries struggling with tight fiscal positions, has had to dip into past reserves to support affected businesses and workers.

Most recently, in November, the President approved the injection of an extra $8 billion in Covid-19 support. The Government has passed nearly $100 billion of relief measures over an unprecedented four budgets this year - with up to $52 billion drawn from the reserves.

"Going forward, the Government's fiscal position will continue to be very tight, but we also cannot adopt policies that will cause the economy to contract, which can delay our recovery," said Madam Halimah. "It's a fine balance with the people's interest at our core in whatever we do."

She also thanked healthcare professionals for their dedication and steadfastness in keeping Singaporeans safe from Covid-19.

And while the availability of Covid-19 vaccines was cause for cheer, Singaporeans have to heed expert advice on the ongoing need to be cautious, added the President.

She said in an accompanying Facebook post that as more activities gradually resume under phase three of Singapore's reopening - which kicked off on Dec 28 - it was important to continue to stay vigilant and practise safe management measures.

"My gratitude too to all other frontline workers. Without your services, life would have been very unpleasant for us as we cannot access basic amenities and feel secure," said Madam Halimah, who has spoken often of the need to strengthen mental health resilience in a stressful year.

"I want to thank all Singaporeans too for your fortitude and forbearance in dealing with the pandemic," she said. "I wish all Singaporeans a very happy 2021."

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