This post is part of our COVID-19 series. An overview of Singapore’s COVID-19 response, include measures taken, shortcomings, and business opportunities moving forward.
It’s been 3 weeks now since we went into what was termed a Circuit Breaker – Singapore’s COVID-19 response. Not a total lockdown but almost. Most businesses are closed or operating from home. Essential services still function, and people are allowed to go out to exercise and buy groceries or food. But all other activities are on pause. The city has essentially come to a grinding halt.
The case of Singapore is somewhat peculiar. From the onset of this pandemic, we prided ourselves as being one of the most prepared countries in the world. We had learnt the tough lessons from SARS in 2003 and we were prepared for a pandemic. Our healthcare system was equipped, and the government put into effect their emergency protocols early. Initially we had relatively few cases and very few deaths. Everything appeared to be under control. But then we forgot something that is also quite particular to Singapore, our large migrant worker community.
A community within a community, mostly hidden away from everyone except at the many worksites around the country and on the workers’ off days when they tend to congregate at many popular spots around the city. There was an outbreak amongst this community and suddenly the numbers started to rise. The thing is that our migrant workers mostly live in tightly-packed dormitories where social distancing becomes somewhat difficult.
To the government’s credit, they acknowledged the oversight in dealing with the COVID outbreak within this community and thankfully, although the number of cases rose, the death rate did not. The Singapore government has put in a lot of resources to help the people within this community. They are our guests here, and an essential part of our success story. We have a responsibility towards them, and we will take care of them, whatever the cost. Beyond this, Singapore’s COVID-19 response has also included one the most wide-ranging economic support packages of any country in the world.
The economic effect has been significant, but not devastating, in part due to the steps that were taken to prop up the most affected areas of the economy. In February, March and April, as the crisis deepened, the government announced a series of financial assistance programs dubbed the Unity, Resilience and Solidarity budgets to help Singaporeans cope with the impact of work stoppages and stay at home notices that were part of the Circuit Breaker policy. Thankfully the country has a huge reserve, in part due to smart fiscal policies enacted over the years and altogether, Singapore’s COVID-19 response will total S$59.9 billion, or about 12 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). Some of the most important elements of these policies include a 75% wage subsidy for all locals employed by local companies for the months of April and May, regardless of the situation of the company. Many of the industries hit the worst by this, like the service and F&B industries, also received rent rebates. Every adult Singaporean received a one-time $600 pay-out as well. Many people who didn’t need this money donated it to those who did.
As we move out of this crisis, it is clear that there are many challenges ahead for us and for the whole world. We will have to change the way we operate in many industries, and we need to take a good, hard look at our treatment of the huge foreign workforce that props up our economy. But there will also be opportunity for those that look. In a country without natural resources that relies on imports, even for essentials, we are greatly affected by international supply chain disruptions and this will only accelerate the advancement of certain industries: Urban farming and food independence, energy independence, water independence will all see growth. There will be room for more remote work solutions, broadband improvement and opportunities in many more industries. We just need to spend this time during the circuit breaker well and develop these solutions.
Are you interested in doing business with Singapore? We wouldn’t be surprised: the city-state’s economy is considered one of the most open and pro-business in the world. It is important to have local contacts, however – and that’s where Gedeth can help. Our local network of contacts can put you in touch with the right people. Find out how!