Singapore – We tried whatever we could to revive travel, even as Singapore’s borders remained closed to most of the world, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
Speaking at a virtual dialogue with the European Chamber of Commerce in Singapore on Friday (Aug 20), Mr Ong talked about Singapore’s openness in the Covid era.
He noted that the country only had two advantages: a good geographical location and a people that is responsible, resourceful and reliable, willing and able to work hard to make miracles happen.
“We will continue to be a hub for manufacturing, trading, maritime, aviation, financial services, ICT (information and communications technology) and R&D (research and development),” said Mr Ong. It will continue to be the Western countries’ springboard to connect with the ASEAN region.
However, Mr Ong admitted a couple of discomforts among Singaporeans regarding globalisation.
The first is the ongoing domestic debate on whether foreign manpower and free trade would harm the interest of Singaporeans.
“In Singapore, there have been attempts to use free trade agreements – especially CECA (India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement) – to whip up anti-foreigner sentiments and seed xenophobia in our society,” said Mr Ong.
“We presented the facts, explained the importance of free trade to Singapore and proved that while our workers are facing challenges, their problems were not caused by free trade agreements, let alone CECA,” said Mr Ong.
The other concern is external, namely the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy, especially on the food and beverage industry.
Each time there was a significant rise in infections, dining in at F&B outlets were suspended given their high-risk settings.
“Each time that happened, it affected the daily lives of Singaporeans in tangible ways.”
Amid disruptions in cross border activities, Mr Ong noted that the country “stayed true to our long-standing commitment of staying open.”
Supply lines were kept open, and the Port of Singapore and air cargo operations were uninterrupted.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis involving half a million stranded sea crew was addressed by facilitating a crew change in Singapore.
To date, Singapore has facilitated over 160,000 crew changes and up to 300 a day over the past five months, said Mr Ong.
Lastly, he mentioned the concern regarding the supply of workers due to countries imposing lockdowns, such as the Movement Control Order in Malaysia.
“Literally overnight, we made arrangements with hotels to help the Malaysian workers find accommodation in Singapore so that they could continue to work, and operations here were not affected.”
Mr Ong then touched on travel disruptions, noting the pandemic has dealt the country a severe blow.
“We are a hub and a key node in the world. If people from different parts of the world cannot come here to do business, exchange ideas, collaborate, create sparks and make things happen, we are diminished,” he said.
However, the country cannot simply reopen borders as this would lead to massive outbreaks.
“Instead, we tried whatever we could to revive travel, step-by-step,” said Mr Ong.
He noted that key personnel, senior executives, board members of major companies and experts needed to maintain, repair, or install critical equipment were allowed to travel in and out of Singapore, with controlled itineraries and frequent testing instead of a quarantine.
Mr Ong highlighted that the recent efforts to control the spike in Covid-19 infections from the Jurong Port Fisher cluster worked.
Through re-tightening measures and “with the time we bought ourselves, we became one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world,” said Mr Ong.
“We adopted a middle course in Singapore. While there were many inconveniences due to social restrictions, life could carry on normally,” he said.
“We believe this approach was right and prudent. People value and love Singapore not because we adopt a laissez-faire attitude about anything, let alone public health. People value us because the city is well-governed; everything works; we are stable, secure and safe; and above all, because we take care of everyone in Singapore, even in a pandemic.”/TISG
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