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Singapore Budget 2020

Wuhan virus support package to help firms retain and retrain workers: DPM Heng

THE Singapore government will be unveiling a slew of targeted measures to support businesses affected by the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak at Budget 2020 on Feb 18, even though it is also prepared to support Singapore firms in the event of a broad-based slowdown, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said.

This comprises measures to help companies reskill and retain workers, including through wage support, as well as help in addressing short-term cash flow problems, Mr Heng said, noting that the outbreak will affect Singapore’s economy.

“We have a whole package of measures ready, but I would like to see how the situation evolves before deciding on the final package,” Mr Heng said, adding that the situation is “fast-evolving”.

“I already had a package ready before this outbreak to tackle this slowdown, and in particular the effect from the US-China trade conflict, but with this, we are prepared to do more,” he told reporters on Saturday after a site visit at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Hotel, where Singapore’s first coronavirus patient stayed at previously.

Mr Heng said the most directly affected sectors will be transport and tourism, and targeted measures are needed to address the challenges faced by these sectors.

A joint statement by the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Trade and Industry said there has already been a decline in air traffic through Changi Airport and an increase in hotel room cancellations.

However, Mr Heng said Singaporeans should also be prepared for a broader slowdown across the economy, adding: “For that, we will have a strong Budget 2020 to address these weaknesses.”

Comparing the Wuhan virus support package to the 2003 Sars relief package, Mr Heng said some measures will be similar, although a sharp analysis of the current situation is needed given that Singapore’s economy has grown and evolved since then. For instance, Singapore’s economic linkage with the Chinese economy has grown significantly, he said.

While it is too early to assess the economic impact of the outbreak, Mr Heng said the government’s priority is to ensure that workers remain employed and employable, so the planned measures will help ensure companies remain viable.

He added that the government is also looking at how to help companies make use of this period to restructure some of their operations, adding that it is important for them to continue these efforts so that they can emerge stronger when the recovery happens.

The measures to retrain workers will be made on top of what the government is already planning for the next bound of Skillsfuture, he said.

Mr Heng said: “I want to assure all Singaporeans that the government will take concerted action across all fronts for all of us to manage this situation well.”

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