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Transcript of Minister Lawrence Wong's Opening Remarks at The Multi-Ministry Taskforce Virtual Doorstop Interview on 20 October 2021

20 Oct 2021

Good evening. We have explained earlier that we can relax the restrictions only if the pressure eases off on the healthcare system. As you heard from Minister Ong just now, the healthcare situation remains under pressure. To give a sense of what the system is like today, I will share two indicators. One, nearly 90% of isolation beds in our hospital system have been filled. Two, more than two-thirds of our ICU beds are already occupied. So, that is where we are with our healthcare system today.

We are trying to add capacity, but it is not simply a matter of having extra beds or purchasing new equipment, because as you heard just now, our medical personnel are stretched and fatigued. While we are trying to reinforce the team, it will take time for these reinforcements to come in, and at the current situation, we face considerable risk of the healthcare system being overwhelmed. That means that we do have to continue with the stabilisation measures beyond 25 October, for another month. It does not mean that all the measures will have to remain frozen or static throughout this entire month, because we will continually review the situation in the coming weeks to see if there is any scope for calibrated easing and, in instances where the risks are acceptable in some of these settings, we will consider moving first on these measures. For example, the Restaurant Association of Singapore has requested to allow members from the same household to sit together in a restaurant in a table of five. We understand where the Restaurant Association is coming from. For now, we think it is still too risky to make such a move because of the pressure on the healthcare system, but it is indeed something we are looking into.

Meanwhile, MOF will provide a further support package to help all affected businesses and workers because of the extension of our stabilisation measures. The components of this package will be similar to the earlier one. In other words, there will be a 25% Job Support Scheme support; there will be a half-month rental relief for qualifying businesses which will include your hawker and market stallholders; and there will be support for taxi and private hire car drivers. The cost of this package is $640 million. It is similar to the last round, and we will fund this package through upside in our revenue, like what we had done previously.

We know this is a difficult time for everyone. In many ways, I would say this is probably the most difficult phase in our journey through Covid so far. But this phase will not last indefinitely. At some point, the wave will peak. We will also have better immunity against the virus as more people get exposed to it, and we will have more people getting boosters over the coming weeks. So let's continue to have faith that the situation will get better, and in the meantime, we seek everyone's understanding of why we need the measures that we have today, and also your support to protect importantly our healthcare system and our healthcare workers. Thank you.