Wuhan outbreak expected to impact Singapore economy: MTI

Businessmen walk along the Marina Bay financial district of Singapore on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Businessmen walk along the Marina Bay financial district of Singapore on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) — The outbreak is expected to affect Singapore’s economy, business and consumer confidence this year as the situation may persist for some time, a Singaporean official said at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force on the Wuhan coronavirus.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) will implement necessary measures to help businesses and enterprises impacted by the Wuhan virus, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said on Monday (Jan 27).

The outbreak is expected to affect Singapore’s economy, business and consumer confidence this year as the situation may persist for some time, Mr Chan said at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force on the Wuhan coronavirus.

In particular, tourism-related sectors are of immediate concern, he said.

He added that MTI will help these businesses and enterprises – including travel agents, hospitality industries, the food and beverage sector, retailers and air transport providers – reduce their business costs, alleviate cash flow problems and retain workers.

The ministry is also working with the Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) to develop necessary support measures for the economy and Singapore’s workers, he said.

He cited as examples several measures that were implemented in 2003 during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak.

For tourism-related industries, some of the measures the government can take and have taken previously include property tax rebates, reduction in the foreign worker levy for unskilled workers and the easing of working capital through a temporary bridging loan, he said.

He said these measures will help reduce the risk of a business going insolvent, leading to retrenchments.

He noted that since the outbreak, economic agencies, in particular the Singapore Tourism Board, has been in contact with TACs to manage the impact and to assess the help necessary.

“Our priority now is to work closely with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and NTUC to mitigate the fallout and support our workers affected to preserve their livelihoods.”

At the press conference on Monday, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who is also on the task force, said life must go on even as additional precautions are being taken.

“Businesses must continue to operate, and our workers must be able to go to work,” she said.

She said her ministry has been working with employers and the unions to keep workplaces safe.

Employers should familiarise themselves with the latest advisories on official channels like the the Health and Manpower Ministry websites and the Gov.sg WhatsApp service, she added.

They should also implement recommended measures and contact the Manpower Ministry for advice if they have concerns or are unsure about what to do.

Several businessmen told The Straits Times on Monday that their companies havealready instituted measures in response to the virus outbreak.

Mr Ho Kwok Choi, who runs a food importing business, said he has advised his friends and employees who have been to China to stay at home for two weeks as a precaution against the virus.

He is also avoiding all travel to China himself, even though he usually goes there frequently.

“The situation looks to be getting more dangerous, the numbers of infected and deaths are increasing day by day,” said Mr Ho.

Another businessman in his 60s, Mr L.J. Foo, said he cancelled his plans to visit the city of Xiamen, in Fujian province, a day before he was due to fly.

“Even though there are no cases there, I have to take the initiative to be responsible,” said Mr Foo, who owns a business in the construction sector.

He has also advised an employee from Wuhan who went home for Chinese New Year not to return to Singapore.

“I told him to stay there till the situation has stabilised, as we have to take the precaution,” said Mr Foo.

“I think the bigger impact is that all those workers who have been to China won’t be able to return to Singapore, and it will affect business to a certain degree,” he added.