PM Lee: 'Tide has not turned' in Covid-19 fight, unprecedented economic challenge requires fast response

PM Lee needs everybody's cooperation.

Sulaiman Daud | Kayla Wong | March 27, 2020, 03:06 PM

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the economic challenge posed by the global Covid-19 pandemic is "very grave", but the government is doing all it can to stabilise the economy and preserve jobs.

For severely-hit industries, like aviation, they are placed in a state of "semi-suspended animation" until the time comes for them to bounce back.

During the planning for the Unity Budget, announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in Feb. 2020, PM Lee said that the government knew it would not be the "last word", but it would be able to buy a few months of time.

They would then assess the situation and put together a new package to deal with the next stage.

However, the spread of the virus worldwide has been so fast and virulent that it necessitated a fast response from the government.

PM Lee said that within a month, the health and economic situation was "totally changed", and so the policy response had to be totally changed as well.

Heng's Resilience Budget package, which was announced on Mar. 26, was a gargantuan S$48 billion, which was about five or six times the size of Heng's original Unity Budget.

PM Lee said it was necessary, and Singapore had the "dry powder" to finance such measures. He said that enhancing the wage support scheme and providing help for the self-employed, among others, is what the government will do to see the public through this situation.

If the need arises again, the government will do even more.

But he warned that the road ahead is not going to be easy. Said PM Lee:

"But even then, there will be uncertainty, there will be pain, there will be job losses, there will be cases of the Covid-19 and I am sure along the way as time passes, there will be further people who will not survive and will succumb to the disease. We have to expect that. There will be ups and downs."

He added that strong leadership and good governance was important to see this through.

Keep the floodwaters at bay

Regarding the health situation, PM Lee used the analogy of rising floodwaters against the "dykes" put up by the government, and said that the "tide has not turned."

Despite some success in keeping it out, cases of the virus still crop up in Singapore. PM Lee said the "waves" were all around us, and it will take a long time, perhaps a year or even two, before things settle.

But in order to beat the virus, PM Lee called for the cooperation of everyone in Singapore:

"To sustain this, I need everybody's cooperation - safe distancing, personal hygiene, cooperation when we are contact tracing and discipline when people come back, stay home notification, stay home. That way we slow the spread of the virus."

That way, even if a spot "pops up", Singapore has a chance to deal with it before it gets out of control and sparks a "public health disaster."

Top image by Ministry of Communication and Information.