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Letter from… Singapore

05 May 2020

By Bob Ong, Associate Director, Newgate Singapore

A month has passed since the Singapore Government first announced a “circuit breaker” period, during which schools and workplaces (except for those used by essential services and key economic sectors) have been closed. This period was supposed to have ended on 4 May 2020, but it has been extended until 1 June 2020.

The number of new COVID-19 patients announced each day has decreased over the past two weeks, but has not remained within the target range of low single digits for a sustained period of time. It fluctuated between five and 13 in the past week.

As such, though some businesses, such as barbershops, will be allowed to reopen their premises from 12 May 2020, the government has stressed that the nation should not let its guard down. Restrictions will only be eased gradually and those who are able to work from home have been advised to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.

The way that people work and live has changed considerably in recent months. Many of these changes have been brought about by measures that have been introduced to stem the pandemic. Some are expected to be temporary, but some may result in new norms.

As people here await the end of the “circuit breaker” period, many wonder what the post-COVID-19 world will look like. Countries are likely to seek to be less reliant on imports for key items, such as food and medical supplies, and new strategies in this regard are expected to impact trade and investments.

Structural changes to Singapore’s economy are anticipated. Business models are also being reviewed as companies seek to be more resilient and future-proof. This is due to the accelerated pace of disruption to certain sectors with even more consumers adopting the use of e‑commerce platforms and forming new habits like buying groceries online and ordering meals via food delivery apps. Challenges loom, as do opportunities.

Better ways to take care of the people that have been most affected by the pandemic are being considered as well. The need to ensure that seniors who live alone do not feel isolated while social distancing measures are in place have, for instance, led to greater efforts to equip the elderly with skills to stay connected digitally and to more grassroots initiatives to befriend them. Amid efforts to help foreign workers living in dormitories, a number of which have become COVID-19 clusters with a significant spike in infections over the past month, improvements to their living conditions have been pledged.

The adage “never waste a crisis” has been used by thought leaders in opinion pieces and interviews over the past few days. It may well catch on.