What's next in 2022: ST editors look ahead to the biggest issues of the new year

Is this the year we finally emerge from the pandemic? Will workers go back to the office? Will travel bounce back? Editors from The Straits Times look ahead to the world in 2022 and make some predictions about everything from the economy to the World Cup.

Time to walk the talk and start living with the virus

A viral video showing a gathering of hundreds on New Year's Eve in Clarke Quay was hugely troubling for a nation locked in a grim battle to keep the coronavirus in check.

Covid-19 fatigue is real after two years of restrictions but the authorities have not spared the stick when rules are broken.

Agencies reviewing closed-circuit television footage will take action against those found to have breached the rules at Clarke Quay, Finance Minister and co-chair of the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 Lawrence Wong said on Wednesday.

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Reading the tea leaves for the Year of the Tiger

If 2021 tested the endurance of the ox, then going by the Chinese calendar, the world should prepare for much geopolitical baring of fangs and claws with the arrival of the Year of the Tiger on Feb 1.

As the Chinese saying goes: "One mountain cannot accommodate two tigers".

A quick scan of the horizon shows major tests of dominance on at least two fronts.

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Rebuilding the economy amid recovery

In 2022, there will be high hopes that the Singapore economy will fully emerge from the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic. It will be a year to consolidate the economy's recovery, accelerate its transformation and rebuild public finances.

Unlike in 2020 and 2021, there will be no outsized economic rescue packages, although some still-troubled industries such as aviation and tourism-related sectors will continue to need help, at least until travel curbs are eased.

With gross domestic product growth officially projected at a respectable 3 per cent to 5 per cent in 2022, and with resident employment above pre-pandemic levels, policymakers can shift their focus to helping companies and the economy adapt to the post-Covid-19 world - although we are not there yet.

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Will S'pore know who its fourth PM will be?

The plan was for Singapore to see its fourth prime minister in place by February 2022, when PM Lee Hsien Loong turns 70.

But when designated 4G leader Heng Swee Keat stepped aside last year (2021), the issue of succession went back to square one.

Nine months on, the fourth generation team - and Singaporeans by extension - seem to be no clearer on who from the team should be their next leader. And time is not on their side.

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Keep an eye on interest rates and inflation

With robust growth of 7.2 per cent for 2021 under its belt and a population that is largely vaccinated, the Singapore economy is well on track for a smooth transition to a world where Covid-19 is endemic. However, there could be speed bumps for investors and households in the form of rising interest rates and inflationary pressures.

As economies around the world emerge from the shadow of Covid-19, there will be a rollback of previously expansionary monetary policies. In particular, in the United States, with the spectre of inflation running at the fastest in three decades, the Federal Reserve could raise rates as early as March, with more than one hike this year.

Singapore does not set interest rates as such but its rates track those in the US and are likely to edge higher as well. UOB economists predict that a key benchmark rate, the Sora (Singapore overnight rate average), will go from 0.25 per cent in the first quarter this year to 1.01 per cent by the end of the year.

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Back to the office, but how to do it right?

Major corporations Google, Citigroup, Apple and Ford shared a common frustration as workplaces reopened for the new year: they had to delay their return-to-office plans due to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

But hiccups aside, it is clear that office life will make a comeback at some point this year.

Singapore has taken steps to ease its default work-from-home stance by allowing 50 per cent of those who can work from home to return to the office from Jan 1. These employees have to be fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 within the past 180 days.

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Another year, another season of virtual travel?

By now, the travel pundits have all weighed in on what the new face of travel, emerging after this long Covid-19 slumber, will be like.

It appears travellers are now a hot mess of conflicting desires - they yearn for safety, caution and to take it slow yet also want high-octane excitement.

These rested travellers (after being spared two years of laborious commutes to the office) are in search of more restedness (read: wellness holidays), yet are no less restless.

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In Asia's polls, will China or US win?

Bread-and-butter issues tend to dominate national elections. But, increasingly, it matters where candidates stand on the United States and China.

South Korea, the Philippines and possibly Australia will see a change of guard this year, while Japan's Upper House election could make or break Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's dovish image.

Everywhere, candidates are mindful of China as their country's largest trading partner. And equally, of the critical security alliance with the US. But walking the tightrope has become trickier as the gap widens on how the two great powers are seen by voters.

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A World Cup of many firsts - as well as several 'lasts'

The first World Cup to boast air-cooled stadiums got a downright frosty reception when Qatar was announced as its host in 2010.

After all, who would think a desert nation with a population of under three million was an apt venue for the staging of football's most important tournament?

The winning bid has also been dogged by corruption accusations, which have ensnared some of the sport's most powerful office-holders, and human rights abuses.

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