S'pore's reopening focused on retaining business hub status, valuing public health stability: Lawrence Wong

Singapore has announced quarantine-free entry for vaccinated travellers from Germany and Brunei as part of a plan to gradually reopen borders. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Singapore's reopening is aimed at maintaining its status as a business hub and staying connected to the world, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Friday (Aug 20).

And with an underlying philosophy that values stability and security, the Republic has taken a more cautious approach thus far, he added in an interview with BBC.

"We remain welcoming to talent, to investments, and we will continue to do so because that's so essential to Singapore's survival and the ability to thrive as a nation," said Mr Wong. "Being open, staying open... It's existential for Singapore."

The day before, Singapore announced quarantine-free entry from next month for vaccinated travellers from Germany and Brunei, provided they test negative for Covid-19. Border restrictions will also be relaxed for travellers from Hong Kong and Macau, starting this Saturday.

These measures - part of a plan to gradually reopen borders, and a wider road map to becoming a Covid-19-resilient nation - come after Singapore largely stopped accepting new entry applications for work pass holders from most countries in May, owing to a surge in infections globally.

On Friday, in a Facebook post referencing his BBC interview, Mr Wong wrote: "Businesses know that they will find good governance here, as well as a strong sense of social solidarity where we rally together to tackle challenges… We will continue to make adjustments to our policies, to strengthen public trust in globalisation, strengthen the social compact, and bolster support for an open and dynamic economy."

He added: "We do not take the faith that our people and businesses have in Singapore for granted. We will continue to double down on our connectivity and strengths, enhance our value proposition as a hub, and ensure good jobs and opportunities for all Singaporeans."

In the interview with BBC's senior journalist Katie Silver on Friday, Mr Wong stressed that Singapore was "not New York or London" - cities which have chosen to return to business as usual while putting up with thousands of daily cases.

"As much as we want to resume normal life and we are trying as much as we can to do so, we also want to ensure that we keep hospitalisation and ICU cases low, that we continue to ensure that our hospital system is intact, and we get to the end of the pandemic with minimum death and damage to our society," he said.

Hence, a risk-based approach that calibrates measures according to data, evidence and rigorous assessments of the global situation, he added.

Mr Wong said Singapore's move to tighten measures and throttle back some travel flows over the past few months had turned out to be the right decision - which helped to keep fatalities low (46, as at Thursday) and buy time for its vaccination roll-out.

"Now, we are one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world," he noted. "In a few weeks' time, 82 per cent of the entire population would have completed their vaccination. And if you take away the children who are not eligible for vaccination, that comes close to 90 per cent of the eligible population.

"That is a remarkable achievement… with that level of vaccination, I think we will have more confidence that even if clusters were to break out, as long as it does not overwhelm our hospital system, we can continue safely with our reopening plans."

This also puts Singapore in good stead to reconnect with the world, said Mr Wong.

"At some point, the pandemic will pass and travel will resume, and people will be able to once again travel more freely. I think companies and businesses recognise this… That is one of the reasons why last year we attracted $17 billion of investments, which was the highest in more than a decade."

Asked to comment on the challenge presented by remote working to Singapore's position as a global hub, Mr Wong said it was unlikely that employees would stop meeting face to face and rely entirely on virtual, remote connections.

"There may well be a scaling back to more hybrid models. But if you ask companies around the world and businesses around the world, they will tell you that the fundamentals for Asia's medium to longer-term growth prospects remain strong, remain intact, and they would want to invest in Asia," he said.

"And to invest in Asia… You cannot do it without physical presence. And in order to have physical presence, you have to decide on somewhere in Asia. We would want Singapore to be first in the list."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.