'The choices that we make now will define who we are as a people': PM Lee urges S'poreans to stay united & resilient

The world will never be the same, and Singapore has to be ready for the change.

Zhangxin Zheng | June 07, 2020, 07:43 PM

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed the nation on June 7, the first in a series of scheduled national broadcasts.

The theme of PM Lee's broadcast is "Overcoming The Crisis Of A Generation".

In the 22-minute-long speech in English, Lee outlined how Singapore has to learn to live with Covid-19 and why he still remains confident about Singapore's future despite the challenges ahead.

We have to learn to live with Covid-19

Lee said that while we have made good progress so far, Covid-19 is not going to disappear anytime soon.

"We will have to learn to live with Covid-19 for the long term, as we have done in the past with other dangerous infectious diseases, like tuberculosis," Lee said.

To do so, Singapore has to "move cautiously" and her people have to adjust the way we live, work and play so that we can contain the number of positive cases.

Testing and contact tracing will have to be increased significantly, and people have to continue to practise good hygiene and safe distancing.

Early detection and isolation will be key to ensure the number of positive cases will not grow into clusters.

Global economy will not be as open and connected as before

Besides health concerns, Lee also elaborated on the economic, social and political impacts of Covid-19 which he calls "the most dangerous crisis humanity has faced in a very long time".

While Singapore experiences its worst contraction of GDP ever, the government has intervened "decisively" through four successive Budgets to cushion workers, households and companies from the economic impacts.

"We are injecting almost $100 billion – 20 per cent of our GDP – the largest fiscal intervention in our history. Unlike other countries, we can draw on our reserves, and do not have to pay for our support measures by borrowing."

However, these measures will still not be enough to protect Singaporeans from the "tectonic shifts" happening in the global economy.

Lee cautioned that the international trade and investments will slow down even faster and even more. Global movements of people and goods will be much reduced as compared to before, Lee said.

Industries that depend on travel such as aviation, hotels and tourisms will take a long time to recover. Countries will strive to be less dependent on others for goods and services.

"Countries will have less stake in each other’s well being. They will fight more over how the pie is shared, rather than work together to enlarge the pie for all."

Prepare for a different future

Singapore's success as a trading hub, which benefits from an open and connected global economy, has been hit hard. PM Lee said we have to prepare for a change:

"Now, we have to prepare for a very different future. Companies big and small will be hit hard. Some industries will be permanently changed. Many will have to reinvent themselves to survive.

Workers too will feel the pain. Retrenchments and unemployment will go up. Some jobs will disappear, and will not come back. Workers will have to learn new skills to stay employed. The next few years will be a disruptive and difficult time for all of us."

Singapore will have to navigate the changing strategic landscape carefully, as Lee cited how Covid-19 has worsened relations between the U.S. and China as an example.

As a small country, Lee said that we must work together with like-minded countries to support free trade and multilateralism to enhance our voice and influence in the world.

Still confident that Singapore has a bright future ahead

While the next few years will be a "disruptive and difficult" period, Lee remains optimistic that Singapore will pull through and even emerge stronger from this crisis.

Lee said, "I say to you: Do not fear. Do not lose heart. Singapore will not falter in its onward march."

He then elaborated on three reasons why he is confident that Singapore will "secure a bright future for ourselves".

1. Economic strengths and long established international reputation

Lee said that Singapore has established economic strengths and an international reputation over the years.

While some investments and trade may shrink, Singapore is still well positioned to seize new opportunities in overseas markets and form partnerships with others.

"Our strong, trusted international reputation will help us greatly. In a troubled world, investors will value the assurance of a government that plays by the rules. A people who understand what is at stake and a stable political system that enables businesses to continue operating even in a crisis.

The way Singapore has responded to Covid-19 – openly and transparently, neither avoiding reality, nor acting arbitrarily at the first sign of trouble – has only strengthened this advantage."

2. We have a head start in preparing for uncertainties

Another reason that Lee mentioned was how Singapore has been working hard in past years to transform and deepen our capabilities that prepare Singaporeans for Future Economy, such as SkillsFuture.

"Nobody can predict what exactly the world will look like after Covid-19 but however things turn out, these Future Economy strategies will stand us in good stead."

Moving forward, digitalising efforts as well as efforts to build innovation and Research and Development capabilities will have to stepped up even more. The government will support businesses to transform.

Lee also added that Singapore has started to rebuild transport and trade links such as establishing green lanes with China and diversifying food sources to ensure food security.

3. Helping Singaporeans to retain jobs and find new jobs

The government's biggest priority now is jobs, Lee said.

There are five groups that the government is particularly concerned about:

  • Those in their 40s and 50s, who might have young children and elderly parents to support
  • Mature workers, who are nearing retirement
  • Low income workers
  • Self employed and freelancers
  • Fresh graduates

Lee assured that there are various schemes to help all these groups during this trying period.

Our people are our strength

Domestically, Singapore has to work on strengthening its social compact and improve social safety nets. However, Singaporeans will still have to be self-reliant and progress through their own efforts.

"We have difficult decisions to make on priorities, resources, and budgets but the values guiding us remain the same: every Singaporean will have equal opportunities."

Lee highlighted that it is important for people to remain united and resilient at this yet another turning point in Singapore's history.

"Now, at another hinge in our history, it is our turn to face the crisis of a generation. The choices that we make now will define who we are as a people, and what values and ideals we pass on to future generations."

He also mentioned frontline workers and volunteers who have stepped up during this period and contributed in various ways and believe that Singaporeans can continue to be exceptional as we endure through this crisis.

"These acts of solidarity and human kindness exemplify the best in us. They show how we can emerge stronger from this crisis, with a sharper consciousness of being Singaporean."

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Top photo courtesy of MCI