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Written reply to PQ on gradual reopening of the economy

Written reply to PQ on gradual reopening of the economy


Ms Tin Pei Ling: To ask the Minister for Trade and Industry (a) given the other countries' gradual reopening of their economies, what is Singapore's plan for our economy; and (b) how will an extension or repeat of the circuit breaker impact our economy.

Written Answer by Minister for Trade and Industry Mr Chan Chun Sing

1. Mr Speaker, we are acutely aware that the circuit breaker will disrupt businesses and have a substantial impact on our economy, but this painful trade-off was needed to save lives and protect the health of our people, including our migrant worker community.

2. As we bring down the number of new COVID-19 cases, we will progressively restart our economy. This will not be straightforward. We have kept essential services going. But the rest of the economy will have to open up step by step, and not all at once. We will open up some sectors earlier, but others will have to wait, especially those that attract crowds such as entertainment outlets or sporting events. In phasing in the opening of firms and sectors, we will take into account their importance to the economy and supply chains, contribution to local employment, and ability to minimise risks of transmission at their worksites. Sectors that allow us to trade with the world and access critical supplies must restart first. Sectors that attract high traffic and social interactions will have to put in additional safe measures before restarting progressively.

3. To ensure that the health of Singaporeans and our workers continues to take priority even as we resume economic activities, we are ramping up testing capabilities and leveraging technology to conduct robust contact tracing and rapid isolation of close contacts, to ringfence infected cases quickly and prevent the growth of clusters. We will also raise the minimum standards for the safeguards needed to keep our workplaces safe. This will apply to all companies that are currently operating, as well as those who are allowed to reopen subsequently.

4. Companies will need to deploy SafeEntry, to facilitate better contact tracing. Companies must also continue to implement and strengthen safe management practices. These include telecommuting wherever possible, enforcing safe distancing and mask wearing amongst their employees at the workplace, staggering working hours and break times, ensuring no cross-deployment of staff across teams or worksites, and reducing physical interaction or mixing amongst workers, including outside of work. Further details will be announced by the relevant agencies in due course. We will also work closely with the Trade Associations and Chambers over the next few weeks to reach out to businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises, to help them prepare to meet the stronger safe management requirements when they reopen.

5. In the longer term, COVID-19 will result in many structural changes to the global economy. The movement of goods and people will be more restricted. Countries will worry more about depending on others or relying on a single source of supply for essential goods like drugs, medical equipment or food. This will have major implications for global trade and investments, and for a small and open economy like Singapore.

6. This will mean that we must be prepared for significant structural changes to our economy. Companies will have to change their business models to survive, and workers from disrupted industries will have to reskill themselves to take up jobs in new sectors. But there will be new opportunities as well, in areas such as medical services, biotechnology, online education, food production and delivery. While we already have capabilities in some of these sectors, we will have to build up our capabilities and workforce in some of the newer industries.

7. Adapting to the post-COVID-19 world will be a serious challenge, but I am confident that Singapore will be able to succeed. We have restructured our economy before, and emerged stronger each time. If the government, employers and workers continue working together, we will also be able to overcome this challenge.

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