Singapore to announce additional support as virus cases grow

SINGAPORE • Singapore will unveil additional support for businesses and households today, less than two weeks after announcing a S$48 billion (RM145 billion) stimulus package to buffer the impact of the coronavirus.

The government plans to waive foreign worker levies for April and boost an existing jobs support programme, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a Facebook post on Saturday. The measures follow the government’s latest move to shut schools and most workplaces from this week. Heng didn’t elaborate on other measures or how much authorities will spend.

The government will also be passing legislation tomorrow in Parliament to ensure that previously announced property tax rebates are passed through to tenants. Another bill set to be introduced this week is one that would allow contingency plans to be put in place by the Elections Department to ensure polls can be carried out safely during the outbreak, the Straits Times reported last Friday.

Singapore’s stimulus package announced last month will draw on national reserves for the first time since the global financial crisis to support an economy heading for recession. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last Friday deployed significantly stricter safe-distancing measures meant as a “circuit breaker” to curb the escalating number of new Covid-19 cases, shutting down the economy even further.

“We are implementing these painful but necessary measures to protect lives,” Heng wrote in the post. “The stronger the measures we adopt, the bigger the disruption and costs on businesses.”

On Saturday, the Ministry of Health confirmed an additional 75 coronavirus infections in Singapore, a single-day record, bringing the total to 1,189. Of the new cases, six were those with recent overseas travel history, while 69 are local cases. Health authorities had earlier in the day said an elderly man died from complications due to the virus, marking the sixth fatality for the city-state.

“This is undoubtedly a difficult month for many businesses,” Heng wrote.

“Additional help is on the way. I hope that businesses can tide through this month, hold on to your worker and resume activities once the circuit breaker is lifted. Together, we can pull through this crisis.”

Last Friday, Singapore reported a 8.6% year-on-year decline in retail sales. GDP fell an annualised 10.6% in the first quarter from the previous three months, while the government is now forecasting an economic contraction between 1% and 4% this year.

Starting tomorrow, most workplaces, except for essential services and key economic sectors will close, while the South-East Asian nation will move to full home-based learning in its schools from Wednesday, Lee said in an address to the nation last week. Essential services including food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services will remain open. — Bloomberg