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Transcript of Minister Lawrence Wong's Opening Remarks at The Virtual Doorstop Interview on Enhanced Support Measures for Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) on 28 May 2021

28 May 2021

Good afternoon. It has been nearly two weeks since we last announced the current round of measures to deal with the outbreak of cases in Singapore. Our assessment is that the measures are working, and they are having an effect in controlling the spread of the virus. We are continuing to monitor the situation very closely, and we will give a fuller update on our latest assessment of the public health situation, as well as our next moves at the MTF press conference which we have planned on Monday.

Meanwhile, for today's conference, I wanted to give an update on the support package by MOF. When we last introduced the tightening measures, we have also at that time, rolled out some assistance measures to help businesses that were directly impacted. Since then, I further engaged our workers, union leaders and business leaders to hear their feedback and to understand their concerns. And so over the past week or so, the MOF team has been working on a broadened support package to provide short term relief, and to help our businesses and people tide over this period. I should say, from the onset that this package is not of the same scale as what we had done last year.

Because most parts of the economy are still operating, businesses and individuals have learned to adapt. We now also have more government support schemes like the Jobs Growth Incentive, and the SGUnited Jobs and Skills package, which are continuing to support new jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans. So, our circumstances today are very different compared to last year.

Under such a circumstance, I do not think we should be going to the President to seek permission to draw on our past reserves. In fact, we must expect to run into situations like these from time to time, when we experience an occasional outbreak of cases in our community, and we will then need to tighten restrictions temporarily to control the spread of the virus. So, we will have to learn to adapt to such situations, using our own resources rather than to dip into our past reserves. And it is on that basis that we are able to set aside some funds for this package. 

Let me cover three broad areas of this package. 

First, we want to secure jobs and so we will enhance the Jobs Support Scheme in several affected sectors to help enterprises retain their local workers. Earlier, we had announced enhancements of JSS support for the F&B sector to 50%. We will enhance JSS support to 50% for sectors where the tightened measures have led to them suspending many, if not all, of their activities. This will include gyms, fitness studios, performing arts organisations and arts education centres. 

Next, we will enhance JSS support to 30% for sectors that may not be required to suspend operations, but are significantly affected by the restrictions. This will include the retail sector, affected personal care services, museums, art galleries, cinema operators, indoor playgrounds, and other family entertainment centres. Some retailers though, like the supermarkets, convenience stores and online retailers, will not be eligible for this enhanced support. I will encourage businesses to make full use of the enhanced JSS to retain and pay their workers during this period, and to use the lull period to invest in workers through training and upskilling programs. 

Second, we will help businesses with cash flow concerns by supporting their rental costs. Earlier, I had announced a one-month rental waiver for hawker stalls and coffee shops in government-owned properties. I will now extend this one-month rental waiver to SMEs and non-profit organisations who are tenants of government-owned commercial properties. So, it will go beyond hawker stalls and coffee shops. 

SMEs and non-profit organisations who are tenants of government-owned commercial properties will enjoy this one month's rental waiver. For SMEs and non-profit organisations that are in privately-owned commercial properties, we will extend to them a half-month rental payout under a new Rental Support Scheme. So, the tenants can expect to receive cash payouts directly from IRAS, which will be providing more details on this new scheme. And I also urge landlords to match the half-month rental relief. In fact, I am glad that key landlords like CapitaLand and CDL have already put out statements, even prior to today's announcements, to assure their tenants that they will provide additional support. I would urge all landlords to do so. 

Finally, we will provide direct targeted help to individuals in need. Last week, we already did something when we announced the COVID-19 Driver Relief Fund – that was announced by the Ministry of Transport. Beyond that, for this particular period, I will introduce a COVID-19 Recovery Grant (Temporary) Scheme or CRG-T scheme. This will provide one-off support for lower to middle-income employees and self-employed persons who are financially impacted by the tightened measures. It will provide up to $700 for applicants with at least one month of involuntary no-pay leave, and up to $500 for applicants who experienced significant income loss, and MSF will provide more details in due course on how individuals can apply for this scheme.

I have provided some key highlights of what the package consists of, and the details will be in MOF’s press release. 

The support package will cost $800 million, and it will be funded by a reallocation of spending. So, there will be no draw from past reserves for these enhancements, and I will table a Supplementary Supply Bill at the next parliamentary sitting in July to effect the reallocation. But given the circumstances, and given the fact that many businesses are already needing help, we thought that we should announce the measures first and explain what we are doing, and then we will effect the necessary changes in the Supplementary Supply Bill in Parliament, in July.

To conclude, COVID-19 is likely to be around for some time, and we will all have a role to play to develop more resilient strategies to adapt to this new environment. The government will continue to help businesses and individuals to adapt and transform, and create and seize new opportunities. In the private sector, enterprises themselves will need to take a sustainable and collaborative approach to strengthen their industries in the face of major disruptions. 

I was very encouraged to see this positive attitude and mindset, amongst many businesses in my engagements. For example, landlords and tenants have come together under the auspices of the Singapore Business Federation to develop a code of conduct for the leasing of retail premises. And the key landlord and tenant association groups have pledged to support the code. I think initiatives like this are steps in the right direction.

Working together, I am confident that we can overcome this current setback and emerge stronger, more resilient, and more united than before.