Singapore — National Development Minister Lawrence Wong has emphasised that Singapore, and indeed the rest of the world, will need to live with the presence of Covid-19 for a long time to come.
He said this on Tuesday (June 9) in the second of a series of six National Broadcasts by Government leaders.
Mr Wong, speaking on the theme Living With Covid-19, said: “We must adjust to Covid-19.” He outlined some of the changes Singapore needs to make at this time, including having the construction industry continue to push for automation and productivity in order to reduce reliance on migrant workers.
Construction is one of the industries most affected by the pandemic, as the vast majority of the country’s Covid-19 cases have been in migrant worker dormitories.
Mr Wong made his broadcast at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), where many Covid-19 cases have undergone treatment. The minister, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, thanked those on the frontlines of the pandemic, especially from NCID, for their tireless work in helping those who had fallen ill.
As the coronavirus is expected to be present for a long time, one of the points Mr Wong made is that Singaporeans need “to change the way we live and work”, including more flexible arrangements, such as working from home, having staggered work hours and divided teams.
He added that even the way offices and buildings are designed must be adjusted, given what we know now concerning the risk of transmission of the coronavirus in enclosed spaces, and that air filtering and ventilation in buildings also needed to be improved.
Mr Wong noted with satisfaction that even in wet markets and hawker stalls, merchants are now learning to adjust to digital solutions such as online payments, in order to attract new business.
The minister talked specifically about the construction sector, which has been “a key vulnerability in this pandemic”. He said that the industry needs to “institute new safeguards” at its worksites, as well as “continue its push for automation and productivity in order to reduce its reliance on migrant workers”.
He said that both local and foreign construction workers will continue to be tested regularly and comprehensively and that the living accommodation of migrant workers needed to be reviewed and improved, adding that the present living conditions of migrant workers are already the product of the improvements that were implemented in the last decade.
“We will tighten the safeguards and build new dormitories designed to be more resilient against infection risks.
“But we have to be mindful that the risks will always be there because of the large number of workers living together and sharing communal facilities.”
He added that all communal facilities, whether they are cruise ships, dormitories or nursing homes, will always be at risk of infectious disease outbreaks.
The minister said that the additional costs for the construction sector that are needed in order to make these adjustments are being shouldered for now by the Government through the Fortitude Budget. Later on, changes will be made to help the sector reach “new productivity levels”, he added.
And while he said he had “no doubt” that the transition would be “very difficult”, he assured everyone in the industry that the Government will “work closely with you to get through this difficult patch and emerge stronger from this experience”.
The series of National Broadcasts by Government leaders is on “Securing Singapore’s Future In A Post-Covid-19 World”.
Mr Wong’s speech can be viewed in full here. — TISG