Singapore could re-open practically entire economy by month-end

Singapore could open most of economy this month, minister says

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“We do think there is scope for us to be able to allow more long-term pass holders — work pass holders who have deep roots in Singapore — to return over a period of time.” — Lawrence Wong, minister for national development.

SINGAPORE (June 12): Singapore is on track to lift more restrictions on companies and residents by the end of June, and expects practically the entire economy to reopen in that phase, according to a top minister.

"With the start of phase two, we expect virtually the entire economy to be reopened — shops, F&B (food and beverages), dining, social interactions, but there will be limits on the number of people who can get together." Lawrence Wong, minister for national development, told Bloomberg TV's Haslinda Amin today.

Singapore is two weeks into the first of a three-phased easing of lockdown measures, that were put in place in early April. After being praised by international health experts for its initial response to the virus in the early months of the pandemic, the city state — like many countries — was blindsided by how contagious Covid-19 is. An outbreak among migrant workers living in crammed dormitories saw Singapore become one of the most infected countries in Asia, with nearly 40,000 recorded total Covid-19 cases as of yesterday.

Wong, who also co-chairs the government task force on fighting the virus, said the country has managed to bring Covid-19 infections in the city state "under control" through aggressive testing and strict measures that were imposed on social distancing. With adequate healthcare and quarantine capacity, there is more room to allow additional long-term work pass holders to return to the country, he said.

Long-term work pass holders

Many expatriates who are employment pass holders have found themselves stuck outside the city state, with Singapore imposing border restrictions and only just introducing fast-lane arrangements for business and official travellers with China. As of end December last year, Singapore had more than 190,000 work pass holders, comprising foreign professionals, managers, and executives who earn at least S$3,900 a month.

"We have ramped up our testing capacity, and we also have more rooms available for quarantine," according to Wong. "With all of that in place, we do think there is scope for us to be able to allow more long-term pass holders — work pass holders who have deep roots in Singapore — to return over a period of time."

While it is unclear how many such workers are stranded outside the city state, dedicated groups have emerged on social media that are closely monitoring changes to travel rules with hopes of returning soon.

Restarting economy

Even as the economy restarts with schools and more workplaces gradually reopening, Wong said Singaporeans will have to "be prepared for major changes" in social norms for everything from social distancing to hygiene, work-life, and entertainment. Meanwhile, mass-market travel for tourism is still likely to take some time to resume, he said.

Under the second phase of the reopening, more businesses such as retail outlets and gyms are expected to resume operations. Households may be able to receive up to five visitors per day while dining at hawker centres and restaurants could also reopen, with tables to be kept at least 1m apart and limited to no more than five persons.

Already, the lockdown measures both in Singapore and around the world have exerted a heavy toll on the trade-reliant economy. The government is now forecasting a full-year economic contraction of as much as 7%, which would mark the worst downturn for the country since its independence.

Singapore has announced four separate stimulus packages, taking the nation's total Covid-19 relief to S$92.9 billion, or 19.2% of gross domestic product, as it rolls out support for households and companies that include cash handouts, wage subsidies, rental rebates, and tax waivers.

Contact-tracing token

Later this month, Singapore will give out the first batch of portable contact-tracing devices to people as the country looks to improve on its ability to monitor the spread of the virus, Wong said. There are not any current plans for the device to be mandatory for now, although it is set to be distributed to everyone in the country.

"We will try to start by persuading and explaining to the population why these tools are important," said Wong. "I think that's a very important mindset that we want to inculcate rather than to do everything through mandatory rules."