Tuesday, 2 May 2023

May Day Rally 2023

‘We will always have your back’: 4G team will look after workers in these dark times, says DPM Lawrence Wong
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 May 2023

Amid global economic uncertainty and geopolitical tensions, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said that he and his 4G team are fully committed to looking after workers and helping them earn a better living.

They will do so by working closely with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the labour movement, to ensure sustained growth and good jobs for all, he said.

“In these dark times, this is my promise to you,” said Mr Wong at the May Day Rally on Monday where he was the main speaker.

Come what may, we will always be there with you, for you, and we will always have your back,” he said, addressing about 1,400 labour movement leaders, workers and tripartite partners at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre.

In his speech, Mr Wong elaborated on points made in April by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the multiple global storms ahead. He also spoke on how the nationwide engagement Forward Singapore exercise will help workers.

“As we grow the economy, we will also fight the ills of inequality,” he said.

“Singapore must never succumb to the kind of harsh inequality we see in so many other countries. However treacherous the terrain ahead, so long as Singapore continues to progress, all Singaporeans must continue to progress – no one must be left behind.”

This is why the Government is undertaking the Forward Singapore exercise, he said. The exercise, launched in June 2022, will culminate in a report in the second half of 2023.

Mr Wong said that in its Forward Singapore review, the Government is studying how it can invest more in every worker – to help them take ownership of their own careers, continuously reskill and upskill, and take up better jobs and opportunities throughout their working lives.

One way is by shifting SkillsFuture to a “higher gear”, he said, and making skills training and lifelong learning a key pillar of the refreshed social compact with every worker.

Another is by paying special attention to those in vocational and technical roles, as well as Institute of Technical Education and polytechnic graduates.

“We will help them deepen their skills through different pathways, so they can secure better salaries and career paths in the professions they have trained for and have the aptitude for,” said Mr Wong.

He added that professionals, managers and executives will also have to reskill and upskill themselves – given the rapid technological advancements such as in artificial intelligence, which suggest that more human tasks could be taken over by machines.

Noting that it can be hard to juggle work and family responsibilities while studying, Mr Wong said the Government will reduce costs and lower barriers to training.

The Government is also looking at how to further uplift lower-wage workers and professionalise skilled trades, provide more support for those who lose their jobs and enable all workers to meet their retirement needs. It is working closely with the NTUC on the possible solutions, he said.

Acknowledging that workers are concerned about other things apart from jobs, such as the cost of living, Mr Wong said he had implemented comprehensive support measures, including those in Budget 2023.

“We have done everything we can to lessen the stresses and strains that people feel on the ground, and we will continue to do so,” he said.

Another concern is public housing, where the Government has been ramping up the supply of Build-to-Order flats, but there are still worries about affordability.

Mr Wong asked Singaporeans not to look just at the headline price of a Build-To-Order flat, but to also consider how prices relate to income and the proportion of income needed to service the housing loan.

For example, a four-room BTO flat in a new town cost about $40,000 in 1980. Median household income then was around $900, and a typical household would use about a quarter of its income to service the loan.

Today, the price of a four-room BTO flat in a non-mature estate like Bukit Batok costs about $350,000, said Mr Wong.

While the price of the flat has risen nearly 10 times, so has median household income from $900 to $9,000, he added.

In addition, there are housing grants of up to $80,000 for first-timers, said Mr Wong.

“Affordable and accessible public housing – like access to first-rate education and healthcare – will always be a key part of our social compact in Singapore,” he said.

“As long as the PAP (People’s Action Party) remains in charge, we will ensure quality public housing that is affordable and accessible for our children and future generations.”

In his speech, Mr Wong also noted the global storms ahead that PM Lee had warned of – the Russia-Ukraine war, US-China tensions, and increasing protectionism undermining the multilateral global trade system.

These developments will make it harder for Singapore to compete, grow its economy, create jobs and earn a living. But what it must have enough of are “ingenuity and innovation; guts and gumption”, he said.

“That’s the only way we can and will prevail, even when the odds are stacked against us.”

He said that tripartism is one of Singapore’s greatest and most sustainable competitive advantages.

Noting how other First World countries have seen industrial relations break down, Mr Wong said Singapore must not allow that to happen.

“Businesses and governments will push back, further fuelling deep divisions in society. Then it becomes a vicious cycle, because once trust is lost, it’s very hard to recover,” he said.

“Fortunately, Singapore is on the right track. We have a lot going for us, and our tripartite approach ensures that Team Singapore has the best chance of overcoming challenges and seizing new opportunities.”

Mr Wong said this was not the first time Singapore has had to respond to grave challenges.

“Each time we were pushed to the limit, we did not fold and crumble. Instead, we gritted our teeth, worked even harder to defy the odds, and bounced back stronger. That’s how we built today’s Singapore, and that’s how we will keep on making it better.”

Friday, 21 April 2023

PM Lee Hsien Loong’s speech at the Debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President in Parliament on 19 April 2023

Amid unprecedented global situation, remain united, be go-getters and uphold Singapore’s reputation: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Apr 2023

Amid an unprecedented global situation that is graver than what Singapore has experienced for a very long time, it is important that the nation should stay united.

Singapore must not allow itself to be divided along fault lines, or turn inwards like what other countries with larger populations and domestic markets are doing, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday.

Instead, Singaporeans must remain united, maintain the go-getting spirit, and uphold the country’s good standing in the world, he added.

PM Lee spent over a third of his 50-minute speech in Parliament laying out the challenges facing Singapore strategically and economically, and the implications for the country.

While Singapore’s relationships with neighbours such as Indonesia and Malaysia are close, stable and encouraging, the situation further afield has turned much more troubling, even dangerous, he warned.

“Singaporeans need to realise the gravity of the external situation. We are facing not just one storm, but several,” he said on the third day of the debate on the President’s Address. The address had laid out the key priorities of the Government going into the second session of the 14th Parliament.

The storms include the Russia-Ukraine war, deepening hostility between the United States and China, and protectionism undermining the multilateral trading system.

PM Lee called for continued unity as he noted that Singaporeans have come through repeated challenges over the past six decades because they have worked together, taken adversity in their stride, and kept faith with one another.

Elsewhere, opposing groups are getting worked up, mobilising their followers, and pitting citizens against one another, said PM Lee.

“In Singapore, when faced with a divisive issue, our approach has always been to find a middle way, bridge the differences, strike compromises and heal divisions. Not grand posturing; not playing cultural or identity politics; not dividing and polarising people,” he said.

“Our instinct always is to keep Singaporeans together. We have to keep on thinking and acting like this. Please do not take our harmony for granted. It is a very precious thing, and very fragile. We must continuously work on it, and build up our social cohesion and national strength.”

The troubled external environment will create new stresses and strains in society, which must not divide Singaporeans along fault lines in society, such as the “haves” versus “have nots”, or “locals” versus “foreigners”, or between different races and religions, said PM Lee.

High inflation from the war will cause difficulties for many households, especially lower- and middle-income families, he said.

Tensions between China and the US will expose the population to “emotional pulls, commercial pressures and influence campaigns, from one side or the other, to take their point of view and support their cause”.

There will also be more uncertain growth and greater disruption with the fracturing of the global trading system.

“In this new troubled world, it is all the more important for us to close ranks. Divided, we stand no chance,” he said.

“We must not shy away from hard choices, but deal squarely with difficult issues based on facts and sound analysis.”

Apart from remaining united, it is equally important that Singaporeans have the go-getting spirit of self-reliance and enterprise, to create prosperity for the nation and achieve the best they can in a very troubled world, said PM Lee.

This is an attitude Singapore has always had and has not forgotten, he noted, citing examples of Singaporeans who have ventured overseas as far as Rwanda.

“But we are not just asking Singaporeans to work harder as individuals. We have a strategy to make a living for our nation as a global city and an international hub. It will be tough, because globalisation is going the wrong way,” said PM Lee.

He noted that larger countries may be able to afford the costs of turning inward, but as a small island state, Singapore cannot.

“Our survival depends on our being able to do business with the world, to deliver value to others. So our strategy must be to double down on staying open and connected to the world, and continue making ourselves useful as a global city and an international hub.”

But staying open and connected means being exposed to competition from the world, so Singapore must maintain its edge by continually upgrading capabilities and building new ones. It must also transform and restructure the economy to stay abreast of new technologies and industries, he added.

The quality of the country’s government and leaders matters, too, he added. As part of leadership renewal, the 4G ministers are increasingly responsible for the safety and well-being of the country, PM Lee said, as he called on Singaporeans to elect leaders they trust to take the country forward.

He also urged people to embrace the outsized ambition and effort of earlier generations for the city-state to be an exceptional place in the world.

This means continuing to uphold Singapore’s good international reputation, turning opportunities into successes and keeping consistent principles.

“This is the way for Singapore to be taken seriously, and to count for more than our size. We may be a small island state, but we are not a small people, and neither are our hearts nor our aspirations. Let us think boldly, aim high, and seek far.”

Thursday, 20 April 2023

The policy shifts and politics of rage in a contested Singapore

In his speech on the President’s Address, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong outlined five key shifts as part of a new social compact. What was equally important was what he said about politics and the role of the opposition.
By Grace Ho, Deputy News Editor, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2023

A new approach on skills, social support, and caring for seniors.

A new definition of success.

A renewed commitment to one another.

These were the five key shifts Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong outlined on Monday as part of a new social compact, on which discussions are well under way with the nationwide engagement exercise Forward Singapore.

The ideas are not dramatically new, but reinforcing them ahead of the Forward SG report, due in the second half of 2023, will keep them fresh in the public consciousness.

More importantly, what the 4G leadership stands for is finally coming into sharper focus after 2018 when succession first became a hot-button issue, while not necessarily signalling a radical departure in policy.

Mr Wong himself took care to disabuse commentators of the view that the 4G team has shifted to the left. He pointed out that it is not a simple case of characterising positions along the traditional political spectrum of left and right, but appealing to a broad base instead of blindly copying models from other countries.

Take broadening meritocracy, for example. Mr Wong and others such as Education Minister Chan Chun Sing spoke on it during Monday’s and Tuesday’s debate on the President’s Address – and before that, Mr Wong at the launch of Forward SG in June 2022.

But even as far back as in 2013, then Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was already speaking of a broader, “continuous meritocracy”, regardless of one’s academic background, in an interview with The Straits Times.

The proof is in the pudding. The raft of policy changes in the ensuing decade, from doing away with the PSLE T-score, to full subject-based banding and lifetime cohort participation rate, are the clearest realisation of this consistency and continuity in policy and messaging.

Ample hints have been given of other substantive changes in the works. These, too, have their early advocates.

Mr Wong’s mention of a targeted re-employment support scheme is something which labour MPs such as Mr Patrick Tay (Pioneer) have pushed for – the latter when he called for a more permanent scheme following the Covid-19 Recovery Grant, which provided temporary financial support for workers experiencing involuntary job loss and income loss during the pandemic.

More social support for vulnerable groups to ease the financial burden on parents of children attending special education schools and care centres, for example, have been prefaced by recent Budget announcements and championed by both sides of the House, including backbenchers.

“We intend to make this shift in our social strategy so every Singaporean can be confident: In this harsh, unpredictable world, we will have your back, and we will support you,” Mr Wong said on Monday.

Role of a responsible opposition

Amid the policy shifts announced, which have gathered broad support, however, the negativity in the Facebook comments on Mr Wong’s speech gives cause for concern.

Social media draws out the most misanthropic segments of the public. Yet, it is this loathing and distrust of anything the People’s Action Party (PAP) government says and does, displayed among some netizens, which I fear will become increasingly hard to stem.

It is what American political journalist Ezra Klein calls negative partisanship, or being driven not by positive feelings about what you support, but bad feelings towards the party you oppose.

Here, the opposition has a role to play. Mr Wong threw down a challenge on Monday when he said that instead of putting forth opportunistic or populist ideas that chip away at trust in the Government, the opposition should offer a serious alternative agenda and be upfront about the trade-offs and funding.

That might be a bridge too far to cross for politicians with little technocratic policy experience, but there are simple ways in which parliamentary debates can remain constructive and helpful.

Thursday, 9 March 2023

White Paper on Singapore’s response to COVID-19

Singapore flags errors, good calls and lessons from the ‘complex and wicked’ COVID-19 pandemic
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Mar 2023

Singapore has looked at how it performed in its fight against Covid-19 and concluded that while it got several big calls right, it slipped up on a few aspects.

The White Paper on the nation’s performance, released on March 8, was not a self-congratulatory exercise but an effort to understand how it can build on its successes and avoid the errors committed in the fog of war, when the next big pandemic knocks on its doors.

The 92-page document listed eight things that Singapore did well, such as not letting the healthcare system get overwhelmed and saving lives and livelihoods, six where there was scope for improvement, including over-calibrating safe management measures which were not always consistent, and near disastrous stumbles in handling outbreaks in migrant workers’ dormitories.

There were also seven lessons listed in preparing for the next crisis.

An important lesson which was weaved in throughout the paper was to not rely on past pandemics to provide the road map for dealing with the next one, but instead, to be flexible enough to cope with nasty surprises.

Some of the problems that dogged Singapore’s response stemmed partly from the Government basing most of its actions on the previous major outbreak, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or Sars – which was caused by a virus in the same family as the one responsible for Covid-19.

The paper stated: “It was soon clear that in building pandemic preparedness on a Sars model, we had not adequately challenged certain assumptions.”

When the first cases appeared in the migrant workers’ dorms, “the prevailing view was that asymptomatic transmission was not possible” – since that was the case with Sars – resulting in insufficient precautions. As a result of that misjudgment, “the dormitory outbreak had every possibility of becoming a major disaster”.

Because Sars did not spread easily, the Government initially said masks were not required unless the person was feeling unwell. This advice was also spurred by the shortage of masks which the Government wanted to keep for healthcare workers.

The White Paper said we could have been less definitive in our position on mask-wearing. Instead, when masks became mandatory in April 2020, the public viewed the policy as a U-turn, contradicting the Government’s earlier position – which “undoubtedly affected public trust and confidence in our handling of the crisis”.

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chaired the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, said at the release of the White Paper: “So while the lessons will help give us a better sense of preparedness, we must never fight the last war.

“We must not allow the lessons to become hard coded into a certain doctrine that might lead us down the wrong path, especially if the next virus turns out to be very different in character and nature from what we have experienced so far.”

Mr Wong noted that while Singapore is now better prepared, it can never be complacent.

But there are things Singapore can and will do to prepare for the next pandemic, no matter how different it might be. These include building strong public health expertise, institutionalising the use of science and technology, strengthening forward planning, and reviewing stockpiling strategies and further diversifying critical supplies.

When the next pandemic hits – and it will, said Mr Wong – the Government needs to decide on what to prioritise and adapt quickly to changing situations. The focus should be “broader brush but more implementable measures, and to guard against the instinct to aim for unrealistic standards of perfection”.

In a complex and fast-moving crisis, the normal government machinery does not have the bandwidth to plan future operations. So a dedicated forward planning team will be set up to ask the “what if” questions, and prepare ahead for situations which have not yet arisen and perhaps may not arise at all.

Covid-19, said Mr Wong, “has been a very complex and wicked problem on a grand scale, with many twists and turns and disruptions and surprises along the way. We had to operate in a fog of war. We had to make decisions amid conditions of incomplete information.”

With the benefit of hindsight, “we probably could have handled certain situations differently”, he added, pointing to the foreign worker’s dormitory outbreaks as one of the most challenging difficulties faced during the pandemic.

This was also highlighted in the White Paper, which draws on an internal review led by former head of civil service Peter Ho. It said: “There were a few close calls, the most dangerous being the outbreak in the migrant worker dormitories that put more than half a million migrant workers at risk with the threat of the infection spilling over into the wider local community.

“Had that happened, Singapore could have experienced a devastating surge of infections that would have overwhelmed its healthcare system. Mortality rates would have been catastrophic. The economy would have suffered even more with a significant proportion of the workforce out of action.”

Although several things could have been done better, the paper concluded: “The quality of governance throughout the crisis has been generally high. Through a strong Whole-of-Nation response to the pandemic, we have effectively preserved lives and livelihoods.”

Singapore’s procurement and roll-out of vaccines for the entire population was a high point of its response, said Mr Wong. It was among the first countries in the world to get the mRNA vaccines, with the first batch arriving in December 2020.

Vaccination was clearly such an important way out of this pandemic for the world and for Singapore,” he added. “Overall, our whole vaccine strategy from procurement, to the rolling out of the vaccines, to the communication to actually delivering jabs to people, I think we have generally done well, and that has enabled us to get through this pandemic.”

With $72.3 billion spent on fighting the pandemic over three years, the resident unemployment rate was kept below 5 per cent, students could continue their education at home with 35,000 computing devices loaned out to them in 2020 and 2021, while the case fatality rate was kept to less than 0.1 per cent. This is among the lowest globally, with the average of about 1 per cent worldwide.

Mr Wong said this spending is being reviewed by the Auditor-General’s Office as he, too, as Finance Minister, wants every dollar accounted for.

So how would he grade Singapore’s fight against the pandemic? His reply: “I can’t possibly give a grade because I was being examined. So it’s for people to examine me and give me a grade.”

The White Paper, on the other hand, concluded: “This crisis of a generation showed us, and the world, what Singaporeans are capable of when faced with a severe existential test.

“It marks a certain maturity of Singapore as an economy, as a people, and as a nation. We can be proud of how far we have come. And we will learn from the experiences of the last three years to be better prepared for the next pandemic.”

The White Paper is available at go.gov.sg/covid-19-white-paper. It will be debated in Parliament later this month.

Wednesday, 15 February 2023

Singapore Budget 2023: Moving Forward in a New Era

Family-friendly Budget offers help to weather inflation, uncertain future
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2023
  • More cash payouts to cope with GST increase
  • Higher Baby Bonus and more paternity leave
  • CPF salary ceiling to go up to $8,000 by 2026
  • Higher taxes for high-end property and luxury cars
Budget 2023 proposes to decisively address the pressing concerns of Singaporeans, such as inflation and long waiting time for flats, while strengthening social safety nets to keep the nation in sound shape over the longer term.

The tax system is also being made more progressive, with changes to the buyer’s stamp duty regime for properties and additional registration fee tiers for cars, to fund the Government’s growing expenses. Buyers of more expensive properties and higher-end cars will have to fork out relatively more.

The Budget unveiled on Tuesday also tackled several longstanding issues such as the low fertility rate and the retirement adequacy of seniors as the Government widened its support for citizens in need. The Central Provident Fund (CPF) monthly salary ceiling is being raised, for example, to ensure that Singaporeans have enough to draw upon in their silver years. Families will also be given more help to offset the expenses of raising children.

At the same time, there will be more measures to reduce waiting times for new Housing Board flats and more monetary support for first-timer families seeking to purchase resale flats.

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, in his Budget speech in Parliament, loosened the Government’s purse strings in a $123.7 billion proposal – about 18.2 per cent of Singapore’s gross domestic product.

This comes amid a mixed and uneven global economic outlook, said Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister.

While a global recession is not expected, there are major uncertainties ahead, he said. These include the possibility that the United States and European Union economies could decline more steeply than expected and tip the world into recession. The prolonged Russia-Ukraine war may also escalate and disrupt global trade, or a new Covid-19 variant may emerge.

Headline inflation is also expected to remain high in Singapore, at least for the first half of the year, said Mr Wong.

To tackle this, the Assurance Package, meant to offset the impact of the goods and services tax hike, will be further boosted to $9.6 billion, up from $8 billion following a November 2022 update and $6.6 billion announced in Budget 2022.

The enhanced package will see increases in cash payouts for eligible adult Singaporeans, and a boost of $100 to the 2024 tranche of Community Development Council vouchers to a total of $300.

Mr Wong also announced new one-off support measures under the package, such as a Cost-of-Living Special Payment of between $200 and $400 for adult Singaporeans aged above 21 who have an annual assessable income of less than $100,000 and do not own more than one property, to be given out in June.

He also unveiled a Cost-of-Living Seniors’ Bonus cash payout of between $200 and $300 for about 850,000 eligible senior Singapore citizens also to be given out in June.

Budget 2023 also had a strong focus on stepping up support for families in terms of housing and financial needs, and sharing the caregiving load between parents.

Mr Wong acknowledged that while the HDB already sets aside the bulk of its Build-To-Order flats for first-timer families, who are given priority in flat applications, the pool of first-timers covers a wide range, such as those who already have their own homes but have not received housing subsidies before.

The Government will focus on first-time applicants who are families with children, as well as young married couples aged 40 and below who are buying their first home, through measures such as giving them an additional ballot chance in BTO flat applications, said Mr Wong. He also announced enhancements to the CPF Housing Grant for resale flats for first-timer families.

To support parents with the costs of raising children, the Baby Bonus cash gift will be increased by $3,000, such that eligible first- and second-born children will now receive $11,000 and subsequent children will receive $13,000.

The Government will also increase its contributions to the Child Development Accounts, which parents can use to directly offset pre-school and healthcare expenses, said Mr Wong.

Paternity leave will be doubled from two to four weeks, with the extra two weeks given on a voluntary basis for a start, to give more time for employers to adjust, said Mr Wong.

The paternity leave allowance was last doubled from one to two weeks in 2017.

Another key move in Budget 2023 was the announcement of the increase to the CPF monthly salary ceiling, meant to help middle-income Singaporeans save more for their retirement.

This move is expected to have wide repercussions, ranging from increased employer contributions and thus business costs, to a larger pool of funds for Singaporeans to tap for housing loans as well as a bigger nest egg for retirement.

The current ceiling, set at $6,000, was last updated in 2016. Starting this September and in January 2024, 2025 and 2026, the ceiling will move up to $8,000 eventually, to keep up with rising wages.

Mr Wong also announced a slew of tax changes – increased marginal buyer’s stamp duty rates for higher-value properties to take effect on Wednesday and increased additional registration fee rates for higher-end cars to take effect from the next round of certificate of entitlement (COE) bidding.

He also unveiled a 15 per cent increase in excise duty on all tobacco products with effect from Tuesday to discourage the consumption of such products. The tobacco tax was last hiked by 10 per cent in 2018.

Mr Wong, who leads the nationwide Forward Singapore engagement exercise launched in June 2022, also provided an update on the discussions.

He noted that long wait times for new flats and rising resale home prices are key concerns for many young Singaporeans, and parents have also called for help to better balance work and family commitments, which are areas that the Government is moving sooner on in rolling out measures.

He added that to achieve shared aspirations of a fairer and more inclusive society, the Government is pursuing new strategies in some key areas – uplifting lower-wage worker salaries, better support for reskilling and upskilling, giving everyone opportunities throughout their lives to uplift themselves, and better care for the growing number of seniors.

“These are important but complex issues which require further exploration,” said Mr Wong.

“It is not just a matter of having the Government do more to provide greater assurance and support… Government actions must reinforce the values of personal effort, responsibility for the family and mutual support in the community.”

Parliament will debate the Budget and the spending plans of various ministries from Feb 22 to March 6.

Saturday, 11 February 2023

Singapore to lift all remaining COVID-19 measures from 13 February 2023

Masks no longer required on public transport from 13 February as Singapore moves to DORSCON green
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 Feb 2023

Singapore will lift its remaining Covid-19 restrictions like requiring masks on public transport from next Monday, when the country adjusts its disease outbreak response to the lowest level.

The lowering of the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) from yellow to green comes as the global and local pandemic situation is stable and the disease is mild, especially among vaccinated individuals, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Thursday, noting that Covid-19 currently poses minimal disruption to healthcare capacity and people.

However, MOH will still require mask-wearing for visitors, staff and patients in healthcare and residential care settings such as hospital wards, clinics and nursing homes, where there is interaction with patients, the multi-ministry task force handling Covid-19 said at a media conference.

Vaccination will continue to be offered free to all Singapore citizens, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and certain short-term pass holders.

Everyone aged five and above should still get minimum protection – three doses of mRNA vaccines or the Novavax vaccine, or four doses of the Sinovac vaccine – while the Government will recommend that certain groups take booster jabs annually, said task force co-chair Ong Ye Kung, who is Health Minister.

However, pandemic subsidies will be further scaled back as Covid-19 is treated as an endemic disease. Treatment will no longer be fully subsidised, and patients will have to pay for any Covid-19 testing.

Mr Ong said Singapore’s high vaccination coverage was a key reason why it could progressively restore normal living while keeping deaths caused by Covid-19 at one of the lowest levels in the world, and arrive at Dorscon green.

About 80 per cent of the population have achieved minimum protection, and around half are up to date with Covid-19 vaccination, said MOH.

Mr Ong noted that Singapore had been worried about three areas of potential risk: the year-end travel season, the Northern Hemisphere winter and China’s shift away from its zero-Covid policy.

“But today, those risks are substantially past. We cannot rule out the future possibility of dangerous variants of concern emerging, but the uncertainties and risks we face now are significantly lower compared with one or two months ago,” he said.

Border measures will also be lifted from next Monday. All non-fully vaccinated travellers entering Singapore will no longer have to show proof of a negative pre-departure test, while non-fully vaccinated short-term visitors will also no longer be required to purchase Covid-19 travel insurance.

Meanwhile, migrant workers will no longer face community restrictions from Monday, as the Government discontinues the Popular Places Pass system meant to manage crowding in four designated popular locations on Sundays and public holidays.

From March 1, workers will also be able to recover from Covid-19 within their dormitories instead of being taken to recovery facilities.

Given the stable pandemic situation, MOH said it will step down its contact tracing systems, which comprise SafeEntry and the TraceTogether contact tracing app rolled out in 2020.

MOH has also deleted all identifiable TraceTogether and SafeEntry data from its servers and databases, it said.

A TraceTogether token return exercise will be held from next Monday to March 12 at all 108 community clubs.

The multi-ministry task force, which was convened in January 2020, will also be stood down from next Monday with the lifting of restrictions. MOH will assume management of the Covid-19 situation.

If the situation worsens significantly, an appropriate multi-agency crisis management structure will be reactivated, the ministry said.

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the task force, said the Government’s pandemic management framework and processes continue to be in place.

“We are standing down, but as many of my colleagues have said in this panel, we are continuing to maintain a high level of alertness and preparedness. So we are operationally ready, to use the words of the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces). Any time the button is pressed, we will stand up again,” he added.

These moves come more than three years after Singapore detected its first case of the coronavirus.

The Republic raised its Dorscon level from green to yellow on Jan 21, 2020, and to orange on Feb 7 that same year. The Dorscon level was lowered from orange to yellow on April 26, 2022, as the local Covid-19 situation improved.

Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, also a co-chair of the task force, said Covid-19 will not be Singapore’s last pandemic or crisis. “We must always remain vigilant and draw on the lessons we have learnt during the Covid-19 pandemic, so that we can be better prepared for future crises.”

In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said battling the pandemic has been a long hard slog, with many unexpected twists and turns.

“This crisis of a generation has profoundly shaken our lives and changed the world. But standing united, we weathered the pandemic safely,” he added.

“We supported and trusted one another throughout this journey, and have emerged stronger and more resilient as a nation. This is a hard-earned achievement.”

Friday, 10 February 2023

Singapore Government is committed to keep HDB flats affordable and accessible for Singaporeans

Singaporeans will not have to worry about having an affordable home to call their own: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Michelle Ng, Housing Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2023

Singaporeans, now or in generations to come, will not have to worry about having an affordable home to call their own, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Giving this assurance in a Facebook post on Tuesday, PM Lee said the Government is working hard to ramp up the supply of flats, cool the resale market and keep Housing Board flats affordable and accessible to a wide range of Singaporeans.

“We are working hard at the problem, and are confident we will solve it,” he said.

His post comes after Parliament debated two motions on the affordability and accessibility of HDB flats for 12 hours over two days. One was filed by National Development Minister Desmond Lee, and the other by Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai.

Noting that public housing is an issue close to the hearts of most Singaporeans, PM Lee said the Covid-19 pandemic greatly disrupted the supply of flats, and waiting times for Build-To-Order (BTO) flats and resale prices have gone up.

As a result, families have had to adjust their life plans. “They are concerned and often anxious about when they can get their flats, and whether they can afford them,” he added.

Responding to calls from MPs to address the BTO supply crunch during the debate, Mr Desmond Lee said HDB has ramped up its public housing programme to meet the current strong demand, with 150 BTO projects to be concurrently under construction by around 2025, up from the current 100.

He added that the Government is studying how to provide more support for first-timers buying HDB resale flats, as well as reduce the high rejection rate for BTO flat applications.

This is to ensure new flats are prioritised for those with genuine and urgent housing needs.

In his post, PM Lee said MPs had presented a range of ideas on how to deal with the public housing issue during the debate.

“Some are promising and well worth exploring further. Others appear attractive, but upon a closer look, turn out to be unworkable, unfair or unsustainable,” he said.

Mr Leong had proposed a housing scheme that would allow Singaporeans to buy a BTO flat at construction cost, plus a notional location premium. They would pay the land cost, with accrued interest, only when they sell their flats in the resale market.

His proposal drew criticism from political office holders and backbenchers from the People’s Action Party, as well as Nominated MPs, with many saying it would erode the country’s reserves.

Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, meanwhile, said the proposal should be studied further.

On Wednesday, PM Lee said Singapore’s public housing system works, with more than eight in 10 Singaporeans owning the HDB flats they live in.

More families are also becoming flat owners as more than 20,000 new flats are completed each year, he added.

HDB plans to launch up to 23,000 BTO flats in 2023, and up to 100,000 new flats in total from 2021 to 2025.