S'pore to see further delays in housing projects from tighter Covid-19 curbs on migrant workers: Lawrence Wong

The construction sector will face further delays to building and housing projects already hampered by the pandemic.
The construction sector will face further delays to building and housing projects already hampered by the pandemic.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The move to ban long-term pass holders and short-term visitors from India from entering Singapore will have a major impact on the construction, marine and process (CMP) sectors here, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong on Thursday (April 22).

The construction sector, especially, will face further delays to building and housing projects already hampered by the pandemic.

Hence, the Government is looking at how it can provide additional support for local small and medium-sized enterprises and contractors that will be hurt by the new restrictions, Mr Wong said at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19.

The additional support measures are being reviewed and will be announced when ready, he added.

"I seek Singaporeans' patience and understanding. If certain projects were to be delayed further, please understand why this has happened and know that we are doing this because of public health reasons," said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the taskforce.

"We hope that everyone will cooperate."

From 11.59pm on Friday, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with a recent travel history to India will be barred from entering Singapore or transiting through the Republic.

This new restriction will also apply to those who have obtained prior approval for entry.

Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng said at the press conference that the number of workers coming into Singapore "will definitely be affected". He did not provide specific figures.

"Given the magnitude of the number of projects that we have here locally, we would expect to see delays moving forward," he said.

"We are working across the board, between the Ministry of National Development, Ministry of Health (MOH), as well as the Ministry of Manpower, and with the support of the Ministry of Finance... to see how we can better support the industry."

It was reported earlier this month that 85 per cent of the 89 ongoing build-to-order projects face delays of six to nine months due to the pandemic, with 43,000 households affected.

Other public projects, including the construction of future MRT lines, have also been delayed by up to a year due to the manpower crunch and materials supply disruptions brought on by Covid-19.

Said Dr Tan: "The health of the workers within the dormitories, and also the public health of all of us as a nation is of paramount importance. We do not take such decisions lightly."

He added that the new travel restrictions allow Singapore to make sure its healthcare facilities do not get overwhelmed.

The majority of new arrivals to Singapore from India work in the CMP sectors and most stay in dormitories here. Mr Wong said companies in the CMP sectors are quite reliant on new arrivals of workers from India and will be the ones directly impacted.

"We are mindful of this," he said. "On Tuesday, when we tightened the inflow of workers, we already knew this would have an impact, but more so today with the complete freeze on arrivals."

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said the CMP sectors have been under great strain since the pandemic began and have been recovering at a much slower pace compared with other sectors.

Despite "great efforts" by firms in the three sectors to reduce their reliance on foreign manpower, the Government recognises the limitations that these firms face, he added.

"I want to assure our companies in the CMP sectors that the Government is looking into measures to provide support and relief in light of the latest developments... In the meantime, our economic agencies remain ready to work closely with all affected companies to help them through this challenging period."

Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said the Government will work closely with trade associations in the built environment sector to support firms through this period, and help them with transformation.

He noted that property buyers will also be concerned about the possibility of further delays in the completion of their new homes, offices and commercial spaces.

He said: "We will work with the Housing and Development Board, private developers and construction companies to see how their projects can be safely brought back on track."