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Budget 2020: Cost of living package, tax rebates, rental waivers among Covid-19 measures, says Heng

FAMILIES will get help with daily expenses and firms can look forward to tax rebates in the Budget on Tuesday as the nation deals with the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a video message on Sunday that the government will do "all that is necessary" to help workers and firms recover from the health crisis.

"Never doubt that Singapore has the means to bounce back from this outbreak," he added.

Mr Heng, who is also deputy prime minister, said the Budget will have a package to assist households with the cost of living and to address concerns about expenses during this uncertain period.

Other broad-based measures include wage support to help companies preserve jobs for local workers and tax rebates and rental waivers to address cash flow issues.

There will also be support to help firms and workers restructure, train and upgrade in preparation for the eventual upturn.

Sectors that have been harder hit, such as the food and beverage and retail industries, will get more support, Mr Heng noted, adding: "With all these additional support measures, you have my assurance that we will rebound from this, never fear."

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said past Budgets have always included indirect measures for families to pay for utilities or top-ups, for example, to Central Provident Fund accounts.

"With the government's spreadsheet emerging stronger than expected last year, we could see more spending on households through direct cash transfers," he noted, adding that this could help families with costs from the coronavirus, such as buying more medical supplies, or to assist workers in the gig economy.

Associate Professor Lawrence Loh, with the National University of Singapore Business School, said the outbreak has affected jobs and caused some scarcity in household and personal items, leading to price increases. 

Possible measures to address these issues include offsetting healthcare costs, personal income tax relief or GST (goods and services tax) vouchers, and a one-off relief package, particularly for lower-income households to offset expenses.

"Social measures have to be synchronised with the economic measures which affect the ability of businesses to thrive and sustain employment," he said.

Mr Heng recorded his video message on Sunday at the Kallang Fire Station, where he met Singapore Civil Defence Force frontline officers and TeamSG athletes who were there in support.

The message noted that capabilities had improved since the 2003 Sars crisis.

These include setting up the National Centre for Infectious Diseases and better healthcare infrastructure and technology.

Mr Heng said investments in research and development, especially in health and biomedical sciences, have also allowed Singapore to respond better to Covid-19, as the virus disease is now known.

He cited a new diagnostic kit that local researchers developed just over a week after the viral sequence was available.

Mr Heng also stressed the importance of social and psychological resilience in fighting the disease, including personal hygiene, staying updated through credible sources, being socially responsible by staying home if ill and not panic buying, and caring for others.