SINGAPORE - There are two uncertainties that surround the unfolding global Wuhan virus crisis - whether the virus will mutate and become more deadly, and how long the situation will persist, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said on Sunday (Feb 2).
Singapore is preparing itself for a long-haul battle, he said, calling on Singaporeans to prepare themselves "psychologically, emotionally, economically and socially".
"Because we don't know how long this situation will last, all the measures we take, be it in health, or economics and jobs... must be sustainable. We cannot just be taking measures for the short haul, thinking that it will blow over," said Mr Chan.
Speaking at a Chinese New Year lunch for more than 1,000 residents of Tanjong Pagar GRC and Radin Mas constituency, Mr Chan pointed out that past epidemics have lasted anywhere from a few months to a year.
The crisis has already disrupted global supply chains, and Singapore cannot assume that its own supply chains will be uncontested or spared the disruption in China.
"Hence, no matter how much stock of essential supplies we have in Singapore, be it masks or medicine or other essential supplies, how we use these supplies, we must have a care and perspective of how long this may last and how seriously our supply chains may be affected," he said.
He added that he was cheered that Singaporeans remained calm and understood the importance of taking collective action against the virus.
The Government had begun distributing more than five million masks to over 1.3 million households islandwide on Saturday.
The novel coronavirus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year, has so far proved to be more infectious than the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) that struck in 2003.
It seems, however, to be less deadly, with a fatality rate at 2 to 3 per cent in China, said Mr Chan. On the other hand, Sars had a fatality rate of about 9.6 per cent.
China has been grappling with containing the infectious virus, which has sickened thousands and killed over 300 people.
So far 18 people, including two Singaporeans, have been infected by the novel coronavirus here.
On its part, Singapore has been taking measures to both reduce the risk of imported cases, and of the pathogen spreading within the community here.
On Saturday, it began imposing stricter travel restrictions on visitors who have been in mainland China in the past 14 days, barring them from entry or transit through Singapore. Visa restrictions have also been placed on those who hold Chinese passports.
Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term pass holders returning from China will be placed on a 14-day leave of absence.
But Mr Chan warned that it was "not possible for Singapore to close itself to the world", and Singaporeans must not succumb to xenophobia, or "reject" neighbours who have been placed on a leave of absence during this period.
"People who are on a leave of absence are not contagious or anything of that sort. They are taking the responsibility of acting to keep themselves from the community to give people added assurance," he said, calling on grassroots leaders to assure residents and prevent fear from crippling society.
The virus could also potentially accelerate changes in the global economy, noting that there was an urgency to reskill workers.
During his speech, Mr Chan also said the Government would step up efforts to reskill middle-aged workers.
The Government has warned of knock-on effects by the virus outbreak on related industries, particularly in tourism and transport, and pledged to help companies and workers.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also Finance Minister, said on Saturday that full details of a relief package would be announced in this year's Budget speech on Feb 18.