COVID-19: Defence Minister says Government will try to minimise retrenchments due to virus outbreak

On Friday (14 February), Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen assured the public that the Government will help minimise any retrenchments occurred due to the COVID-19 epidemic affecting the country’s economy.

“Even as we deal with the viral outbreak, we must ensure that our economy can function to keep jobs and livelihoods for Singapore,” he said in his Total Defence Day message.

He continued, “The Government will work with companies and unions to ensure that retrenchments are kept to a minimum, if at all.”

Earlier, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has announced that the upcoming Budget 2020, which will be delivered next Tuesday (18 February), will detailed out measures to assist the most affected sectors – tourism and transport.

In order to help the transport industry, the Government, along with taxi and private-hire operators, have already declared a S$77 million package to aid taxi and private-hire drivers who have been hit due to the outbreak.

Separately, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) also noted that it will waive licence fees for hotels, tour guides and travel agents. The Board added that it will cover the cleaning costs for hotels that accommodated confirmed and suspected cases of the deadly coronavirus.

On Tuesday, STB highlighted that the tourism industry will take a “significant hit” due to the outbreak, as the number of visitors arriving to the country may drop by 25 to 30 percent this year.

Additionally, the Government also noted that it is anticipating a knock-on impact on other related industries and firms, mentioning that it is ready to support companies and employees in case of a broad-based slowdown in the upcoming months.

The Government stated that some of the measures planned out include helping firms retain and train their employees by helping out with their partial salary costs.

Dr Ng said that Singapore managed to defeat the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis 17 years ago through Total Defence.

“We remember how SARS caused sickness and death. Fear of being infected gripped citizens everywhere and it paralysed economies. Tourists stopped travelling and people stayed home. As a result, jobs were lost and retrenchments went up,” he explained.

He added, “But in Singapore, we rallied through Total Defence, stayed united, overcame the SARS crisis to emerge intact and stronger.”

Given that Singapore is currently in combat with the novel coronavirus, Dr Ng said Total Defence “must now come into action again”.

Applauds frontline medical workers

Dr Ng also said that Singapore must make its psychological defence stronger to deal with the “ups and downs” of the outbreak and move on with daily life.

“In the midst of this battle against the viral outbreak, we offer our deep condolences to the families of victims who have suffered,” he said.

He continued, “We also salute our frontline staff, especially our doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who treat patients day to day and up close. You have our fullest respect and gratitude. Please protect yourselves and your families even as you do your jobs as professionals.”

Will win the battle against the virus

As for social defence, the Minister advised people to maintain good hygiene and stay away from others if they are feeling unwell.

“If you have cough and other flu symptoms, don’t spread the disease to others,” he said.

“At the same time, we must show empathy and compassion to help those who are infected or under quarantine,” he added.

Speaking of digital defence, the sixth and newest pillar of Total Defence, Dr Ng said that it is a “timely and necessary addition” given that the Republic is going all out to contain the virus.

“False information about the disease or messages to incite hatred against any group do nothing to contain the outbreak,” he said.

“We must never let these ‘Drums’ — distortions, rumours, untruths, misinformation and smears — be heard lest they sow discord, divide our people and ultimately weaken our will to defeat the outbreak and defend Singapore.”

Having said that, the Defence Minister mentioned that he is confident that Singaporeans will rally and defeat the COVID-19.

“Only then, as one united people, can our nation stand up and overcome any challenge that comes our way,” he stated.

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