2020 has been an exceptionally testing year for Singapore. At the beginning of the year, all of us had big plans to travel, grow our businesses, spend time with loved ones, get married and start a family, or graduate and take our first jobs. But soon we faced an unprecedented crisis. COVID-19 has been a relentless fight that has tested our resources and resolve to the fullest.
Through enormous effort and sacrifice, we have stabilised our situation in Singapore, even as the virus continues to rage on elsewhere in the world. We have achieved our primary objective to protect lives and keep our people safe. We have kept our fatality rate very low. The number of new local infections has come down to a handful a day, and zero on many days. We do have imported cases, comprising mainly returning Singaporeans and PRs, as well as construction and foreign domestic workers, whom we need to build new housing projects and to take care of our people. These have generally been isolated on Stay-Home Notices (SHNs), and thus pose less danger of spreading the virus to our community, although that can still happen.
Now, we have entered Phase 3. The first batch of vaccines has arrived in Singapore, and vaccinations have already begun. We can now see light at the end of the tunnel. But it will still take some time for enough people to be vaccinated before we are safe from another major uncontrolled outbreak. In the meantime, we must maintain discipline, and continue with safe distancing and all the other precautions that we have been taking.
Now is not yet the time to celebrate. That time will come. Meanwhile, I ask for your support to keep up our efforts, and not to falter in this final stretch.
Economically, we are not yet out of the woods either, but we are beginning to see signs of stabilisation. Employment has picked up, and MNCs are making significant new investments in Singapore. After our most severe downturn since independence, we look forward to a rebound in 2021, although the recovery will be uneven, and activity is likely to remain below pre-COVID-19 levels for some time.
The Government has gone all out to support our workers and companies, to prevent massive job losses and business failures. We passed five Budgets, totalling close to $100 billion. We drew heavily on our past reserves to help businesses and workers through the Jobs Support Scheme, the Self-Employed Persons Income Relief Scheme (SIRS), the COVID-19 Support Grant, and many other schemes. We set up new channels, virtual and physical, to help jobseekers get matched to employers that were still hiring.
The tripartite partners deserve full credit too. Employers did their best to keep their workers employed, and pressed on with transforming their businesses and re-designing jobs for their workers. NTUC and the unions did their utmost to help workers hold on to their jobs, learn new skills, and find new jobs if they lost their existing ones. We will continue to make sure that in these difficult times, Singaporeans get the appropriate support they need.
What has stood out in our response to COVID-19 is the trust our people have in our system and in one another. In many countries, COVID-19 has deepened old fault lines and created new tensions. Singapore has thankfully avoided major divisions among our people, and the pessimism and loss of trust that have happened elsewhere.
Trust in our system remains high. Singaporeans have cooperated with the government and complied with the COVID-19 rules, because the government has been open and upfront about the facts, and justified your faith that it is doing its very best to deal with the crisis. In this year’s General Election, Singaporeans returned the PAP government to power and renewed your mandate, because you were confident that this team would see you through this crisis and take the country forward.
My team and I will strive to continue deserving your trust, to keep on strengthening our social compact, to sustain the promise of Singapore as a fair and just society, and to help you achieve your hopes and dreams. We are determined to give every Singaporean equal opportunity to do well, to prepare you to take advantage of opportunities in a different world, and to help you deal with life’s inevitable setbacks.
What the world will look like post-COVID-19 is far from certain. But Singapore must emerge strengthened by the shared experience of this crisis. Whether we indeed become a more vibrant economy and resilient society will depend on us, and on the decisions that you and I make in this crisis and beyond.
Just as we have come together to overcome the challenges of the pandemic, the defining crisis for this generation, so too we must come together to rebuild better and stronger. A new generation of Singaporeans has shown we have what it takes to make our small island nation survive and succeed, but the fight against COVID-19 is not yet won. In the months and years ahead, we will face new and unexpected hurdles. Things may happen that force us to change our plans. But as long as we stay together as one Singapore, I am confident we will blaze a path forward.
Let us meet 2021 with renewed confidence and hope. I wish everyone a safe and happy new year.