SINGAPORE - The bulk of Singapore's economy should be able to bounce back this year following the heavy hits it took last year with the Covid-19 pandemic, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Such a rebound will however be uneven, and Mr Lee cautioned on Friday (Feb 12) that sectors like tourism, transport, aviation and construction will take longer to recover.
"We are expecting some rebound this year. Last year was minus 5 to 6 per cent. That was particularly also because we had a circuit breaker period, which had a big impact on activity," he told reporters at Changi General Hospital after visiting workers in essential services on the first day of Chinese New Year.
"This year, we expect to bounce back," he added. "The Year of the Ox should be better than the Year of the Rat in terms of the economy."
But the prime minister added that while Singapore is likely to perform better, it is not guaranteed that it can get to an economic level beyond where it was in 2019, before the pandemic hit.
The most recent official forecasts project the economy to expand by between 4 and 6 per cent this year, after shrinking by an unprecedented 5.8 per cent in 2020.
The country's recovery will depend on its progress in getting its people vaccinated, as well as the vaccination progress of other countries, particularly the United States and Europe, said Mr Lee.
Once these countries make progress on their vaccinations, their economies will be able to open up again, allowing Singapore to get much closer to normal, he noted.
Singapore's economy depends heavily on international trade.
But various sectors will recover differently, and Mr Lee pointed out that transport, tourism and aviation, all of which were ravaged by coronavirus-related disruptions and the drop in international travel, will take longer to get better.
He said the construction sector has specific difficulties as well, due to the need for migrant workers and safe management measures, and the Government will be addressing these concerns separately.
His Chinese New Year visits, organised by the labour movement, have been an annual tradition to thank workers for putting their duties ahead of festive celebrations.
On Friday (Feb 12) morning, Mr Lee, together with Mrs Lee, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, as well as National Trades Union Congress president Mary Liew, secretary-general Ng Chee Meng and union leaders, met Singapore Airlines (SIA) cabin crew and pilots who were flying to London and Manila, as well as support staff on shift at the SIA Cabin Crew Control Centre.
He then went to Changi General Hospital, to offer festive wishes to healthcare workers including doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and ancillary staff, and present Chinese New Year gifts, including red packets and mandarin oranges.
Responding to a reporter's question on whether various sectors will be able to cope with stricter measures, Mr Lee said that he hopes to not have another lockdown, and the Government will try very hard not to impose one, given the big impact it will have on the economy.
During the two-month circuit breaker period which started last April, all non-essential activities were halted and people were urged to stay home to choke the spread of Covid-19.
"If we have to lock down again... it will have a big impact," said Mr Lee.
"You can be resilient, you can have capabilities, but if we cannot do business for two, three months, it is going to hurt. I do not think that there is any way around that."
He added that Singapore is making sure that it builds up its people with skills training and that companies here strengthen their capabilities so its workers can have skills that are useful and its companies can do business in a new post-Covid-19 world.
But keeping people safe is the priority and Mr Lee noted how this Chinese New Year, safety measures were tightened to only allow people to receive at most eight visitors a day, and how individuals should also limit themselves to visiting at most two other households.
"Our focus should be to keep people safe, ensure that safe management measures are complied with and we work, and we avoid having another lockdown," he said.
"It has to be a more subdued mode. There will be time to celebrate in a more carefree way later on."