Singapore will unveil its third stimulus package in less than two months for its virus-battered economy, providing additional support for businesses and households as infections become more widespread in the community.
Confirmed cases rose by 195 over the weekend, the Ministry of Health said Sunday, an 18% increase since Friday. New clusters are emerging or widening, including at two massive foreign worker dormitories that together house almost 20,000 people, prompting further precautionary measures.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will unveil more measures on Monday to help companies and citizens tide through what he called an “extraordinary” time. It comes less than two weeks after he announced a S$48 billion ($33.4 billion) stimulus package to buffer the impact of the coronavirus, and a S$6.4 billion plan in February. He will speak at 2 p.m. in parliament.
Authorities on Sunday declared two affected dorms as “isolation areas” and any individuals residing there will have to stay in their rooms for 14 days to avoid spreading the virus. The measures followed the government’s move on Friday to shut schools and most workplaces from this week for about a month, calling it a “circuit breaker” to stem infections.
“Within the dorms, the workers are like family, they interact with each other very regularly, so the risk of transmissions is there,” said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo. “We will take further precautions to ensure minimal interactions.”
The government plans to waive foreign worker levies for April and boost an existing jobs support program, Heng said in a Facebook post on Saturday, without elaborating on other stimulus measures or how much authorities will spend. On Sunday, he called it a Solidarity Budget that will help “tide us through the ‘circuit breaker’” period.
These are the additional measures announced on Sunday:
Authorities will house workers in essential services separately and move them out of the affected dormsWorkers at dorms who are unwell, even if they haven’t tested positive for the coronavirus, will be housed at “sick bays” to minimize the risk to everyone else; on-site medical treatment to be provided at dormsActivating vacant public housing apartment blocks to house foreign workers in essential servicesThe manpower ministry is working closely with all dormitory operators, to implement precautionary distancing measures within their premises with immediate effect. Efforts are also underway in the larger dormitories to reduce the density of their resident workers, by transferring some among them to alternative accommodation during this periodThe government will convert Singapore Expo -- an events venue with 100,000 square meters of indoor space -- into a community care facility
The government will also be passing legislation on Tuesday 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 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 on Friday deployed significantly stricter safe-distancing measures to curb the escalating number of COVID-19 cases, shutting down the economy even further.
“We are implementing these painful but necessary measures to protect lives,” Heng said on Saturday. “The stronger the measures we adopt, the bigger the disruption and costs on businesses.”
Singapore has seen 1,309 infections and six deaths. Starting on Tuesday, most workplaces, except for essential services and key economic sectors will close.
“This is undoubtedly a difficult month for many businesses,” Heng said. “Additional help is on the way. I hope that businesses can tide through this month, hold on to your workers, and resume activities once the circuit breaker is lifted. Together, we can pull through this crisis.”
On Friday, Singapore reported a 8.6% year-on-year decline in retail sales. Gross domestic product fell an annualized 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.
(Updates with new cases from paragraph two)
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