Monday, 13 April 2020

$9 billion in support payouts for families, businesses in April 2020 to help them cope with COVID-19: DPM Heng Swee Keat

90 per cent of Singaporeans to get one-off $600 Solidarity Payment on 14 April
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 13 Apr 2020

About $9 billion in support measures will be rolled out to families and businesses this month, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

This includes a one-off payout of $600 which nine in 10 Singaporean adults will receive tomorrow through their bank accounts.

The rest can provide the Government with their bank account details by April 23 and get the money by April 28, or receive this "Solidarity Payment" by cheque from April 30.

In a radio interview with CNA938, Mr Heng said he fully understood the difficulties facing businesses beset by the coronavirus pandemic, but urged them to use the Government's support packages to retain their workers.

He recapped the measures under the Unity, Resilience and Solidarity budgets - three support packages which combined amount to a $59.9 billion war chest against COVID-19.

Businesses hit by the pandemic's economic fallout, and more recently by strict circuit breaker measures, have called on the Government to provide more help sooner, as have trade associations and MPs representing them.

Mr Heng noted that all companies will get 75 per cent of the first $4,600 of each local worker's monthly wages subsidised by the Government for this month, under the Jobs Support Scheme.

"This is a very significant support and I hope that businesses do their part in keeping their workers, retaining them, so that we can emerge stronger after this."

The Government is also looking at various indicators to see how much more might be needed from past reserves, he added.

But he urged Singaporeans to focus on how to make the best use of the amounts already allocated to ride out this difficult period.

In fact, some of the measures already announced will go on for several more months, he noted, with some until the end of the year.

"After this month, we will then consider what else needs to be done, and we will look at what the measures are," said Mr Heng.

For now, containing the spread of the virus is the top priority, he said. Singapore confirmed 233 coronavirus cases yesterday, 12 April, bringing the total to 2,532.

"Enhanced distancing measures may be inconvenient, but it is far more important to protect one another and bear with the inconvenience," said Mr Heng.

He noted that more people were obeying circuit breaker rules in public places after Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli announced that first-time offenders would be fined.

In a Facebook post, Mr Masagos thanked Singaporeans who stayed at home, noting that about 200 fines were issued yesterday, far fewer than the 3,000 written warnings given out the day before.

But he said the situation cannot be maintained by "having a large force on the ground all the time".

Mr Heng also addressed rising cases of COVID-19 at foreign worker dormitories.

There were 207 cases who were work permit holders and dormitory residents yesterday, and four new clusters at dormitories, bringing the total number of such clusters to 15.

A joint task force headed by Brigadier-General Seet Uei Lim, Chief Guards Officer, is now in place, he said, to tackle issues like hygiene, cleanliness and reducing the concentration of workers.

In the longer run, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo has said Singapore will have to look at what else needs to be done to take care of foreign workers, Mr Heng noted, urging employers to work with the Government in doing so.

One thing that COVID-19 will change fundamentally is attitudes towards managing risk, he said.

"This episode reminds us that risk is always present, and we need to manage this risk well," he added.

"We need a good risk management system, and we need to take it seriously. We need to prepare for it so that we can be very resilient, even when crisis strikes."

Nine in 10 Singaporeans to get $600 Solidarity Payment on 14 April 2020
By Malavika Menon, The Straits Times, 13 Apr 2020

Nine in 10 Singaporeans will each receive a one-off payout of $600 tomorrow as part of measures by the Government to help families tide over the coronavirus pandemic.

The payout, which Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced last Monday and dubbed the Solidarity Payment, will be credited directly to the bank accounts of all adult Singaporeans.

In February, the Government announced payouts of between $100 and $300 for every adult Singaporean. This was tripled to between $300 and $900 last month, with payouts due to be distributed from August to September.

Last Monday, Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said $300 of that payment has been brought forward to this month and supplemented with a further $300 to form the Solidarity Payment.

Those who qualify for the higher tiers will receive a further $300 or $600 in June.

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) said yesterday the Government had received bank account details of about 90 per cent of the recipients who previously received payouts, including the SG Bonus in 2018.

The ministry asked the remaining 10 per cent of adult Singaporeans to provide their bank account details via the secure form before April 23.

Recipients who fill in their bank account details before April 23 can expect to receive the payout in their bank accounts on April 28.

SingPass access is required for the form.

By providing their bank account details, recipients can receive their payment quickly and safely without having to leave their homes while circuit breaker measures are in place, MOF said.

Adult Singaporeans who have not provided bank account details by April 23 will receive their payout through cheques sent to their NRIC-registered addresses in stages from April 30 onwards.

The Government will also provide a one-off payout of $300 to permanent residents aged 21 and above this year who have a Singaporean spouse, children or parents.

Long-Term Visit Pass-Plus holders aged 21 and above, who are foreign spouses of Singaporeans, can receive the payout as well.

Eligible permanent residents may sign up for the one-off pay-out using their SingPass from now until May 10.

Those who provide their bank account details while signing up can expect to receive the payout in their bank accounts on May 19.

Those who do not provide their bank account details when signing up will receive cheques in stages from the end of next month.

Long-Term Visit Pass-Plus holders who are eligible will receive their payout through cheques in stages from the end of next month, and no application is needed, the MOF said.

$300 fine for first-time offenders of circuit breaker measures
No more warnings will be issued; beaches closed under tougher social distancing steps
By Goh Yan Han and Lester Wong, The Sunday Times, 12 Apr 2020

From today, 12 April, anyone flouting the circuit breaker measures will be fined $300 right away, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli yesterday.

This means no more warnings will be issued beforehand.

The move comes as all beaches were closed yesterday to curb the spread of the coronavirus and rules to get Singaporeans to stay home were tightened further.

Enforcement officers reported that there were still too many who were not taking the measures seriously, said Mr Masagos.

More than 3,000 stern warnings and 50 fines were issued yesterday, said the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

On Friday, more than 2,900 stern warnings and 40 fines were issued. In total, more than 6,200 stern warnings and 90 fines have been issued since April 7, said the ministry.

It also said police assistance was required in about 20 cases where members of the public were not cooperative when asked to comply with the safe distancing measures.

Two men are being investigated for offences under the Liquor Control Act and COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 for drinking at an HDB void deck in Marsiling Road at about 1.20am yesterday.

"Stiffer penalties are clearly needed," said Mr Masagos of people flouting safe distancing rules. "From (today), we will no longer issue written warnings. Any offender encountered by our enforcement officers will be asked for (their) particulars immediately."

First-time offenders will be fined $300 and repeat offenders will face higher fines or prosecution in court for egregious cases.

Previously, first-time offenders were issued a written warning, while second-time offenders were fined $300, and those nabbed a third time were charged in court.

"The health and safety of Singaporeans are at risk. It is therefore our top priority and collective responsibility," said Mr Masagos, who added that many had shared photos and videos of young and old people not complying with the elevated safe distancing measures.

He also asked members of the public not to send in photos that they did not take themselves as some of these would cause enforcement officers to waste time pursuing past events.

"The simplest thing everyone can do is to #StayhomeforSG. Let us get through this together," said Mr Masagos.

In announcing the closure of beaches, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said the Government has to do what is right and necessary to protect Singaporeans in a public health crisis.

"In theory, we could keep most places open, so long as safe distancing measures are strictly adhered to. But increasingly, we see that this is hard to achieve. So tougher measures are necessary," said Mr Wong, who is co-chair of the multi-ministry task force against the coronavirus.

Mr Wong reiterated that Singaporeans must drastically reduce contact with others for the circuit breaker to be effective, even as he acknowledged that there are people who "genuinely find it hard to adjust".

"I continue to receive a lot of feedback on the circuit breaker measures... Some say that it's only a partial lockdown and ask for a full lockdown, which they think will be more effective," he said.

"Others say the current measures are already too restrictive and causing mental and social problems for themselves and their families... We will do our best to support them."

He added: "We have to sustain this effort not just for a few days but till the end of the month at least. So stay home as much as possible."

All shoppers must wear masks in supermarkets and malls from 12 April 2020, or be denied entry
By Prisca Ang, The Sunday Times, 12 Apr 2020

Shoppers in supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies and malls must wear masks from today or they will be denied entry.

The measure is to safeguard the well-being of customers and staff, Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said in a joint statement last night.

Supermarkets have been putting up signs in recent days encouraging shoppers to put on masks before entering the store.

They have also implemented measures such as having queue markers and regulating entry to ensure that the number of customers inside remains manageable.

FairPrice said last Thursday that it was limiting the number of shoppers within its stores, while all its employees have been told to wear masks.

The statement by ESG and STB last night urged people to do their shopping on weekdays or during non-peak hours on weekends when possible and to make purchases quickly and not to linger at the premises.

They should also refrain from bringing family members, especially the young and the elderly, to supermarkets.

Customers can visit the website to check the crowd levels in malls and supermarkets.

The ESG and STB said they and other government agencies will continue to step up enforcement efforts during the circuit breaker period and urged members of the public to practise safe distancing and be socially responsible.

All commuters have to wear masks on public transport, even after circuit breaker period, says Khaw Boon Wan
By Prisca Ang, The Sunday Times, 12 Apr 2020

Commuters will soon have to wear masks on public transport, even after the circuit breaker period ends, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a Facebook post yesterday. "We will make mask-wearing compulsory for public transport. This will minimise transmission during the post-circuit breaker period when safe distancing is compromised," he wrote.

Mr Khaw said trains and buses are not crowded and safe distancing is possible for commuters now that circuit breaker measures are in place.

But when large numbers of people return to buses and trains, safe distancing rules will push waiting crowds onto the platforms and outside of stations, with long queues.

"I can imagine impatient, and even angry commuters. I think a practical compromise is for all commuters to wear masks when they use public transport," Mr Khaw said.

The authorities will prepare commuters for the new rules by getting them to start wearing masks. Transport ambassadors will remind them to do so.

Mr Khaw urged commuters who do not have a mask to visit a community centre as soon as possible to get one, as today is the last day for the Government's free reusable mask collection.

"But when you do, please don't loiter. Collect your mask and go home. And stay home, please," he said.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary also said on Facebook yesterday that safe distancing on public transport will be challenging once Singaporeans start commuting again after the circuit breaker. "Be responsible, wear a mask - on public transport, at the market or when you're out near people," he urged.

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