The COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore is part of the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first case in Singapore was confirmed on 23 January. Early cases were primarily imported until local transmission began to develop in February and March. By late-March and April, COVID-19 clusters were detected at multiple dormitories for foreign workers, which soon contributed to an overwhelming proportion of new cases in the country. Singapore currently has the second highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, behind Indonesia.
To fight against COVID-19, a multi-ministerial committee was formed on 22 January with Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong and Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong as the co-chairs and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat as advisors. Singapore also contributed US$500,000 to support World Health Organization (WHO) efforts against COVID-19. In response to the growing number of new cases, Singapore announced on 3 April a stringent set of preventative measures, collectively called the “circuit breaker”, to be applied from 7 April to 4 May. The circuit breaker was extended to 1 June on 21 April following continued untraced transmission within the community. The preventive measures loosened partially on 1 June, with further loosening to be done in two more additional phases. The second phase will start on 19 June.
As of 19 June 2020, there are a total of 41,615 confirmed cases, with 32,712 discharged and 26 deaths the previous day.
COVID-19 cases in Singapore (vte)
Deaths Recoveries Hospitalised In community facilities[i]
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Last 15 days
# of cases
# of deaths
2020-06-05 37,183(+0.71%) 24(=)
2020-06-06 37,526(+0.92%) 25(+4.2%)
2020-06-07 37,910(+1%) 25(=)
2020-06-08 38,296(+1%) 25(=)
2020-06-09 38,514(+0.57%) 25(=)
2020-06-10 38,965(+1.2%) 25(=)
2020-06-11 39,387(+1.1%) 25(=)
2020-06-12 39,850(+1.2%) 25(=)
2020-06-13 40,197(+0.87%) 26(+4%)
2020-06-14 40,604(+1%) 26(=)
2020-06-15 40,818(+0.53%) 26(=)
2020-06-16 40,969(+0.37%) 26(=)
2020-06-17 41,216(+0.6%) 26(=)
2020-06-18 41,473(+0.62%) 26(=)
Based on confirmed cases reported daily by the Ministry of Health correct as of 12pm on the day of the update.
From 25 March 2020 onwards, cases who are clinically well enough to be discharged from medical care but still test positive for COVID-19 are discharged to isolation and cared for at private hospitals such as Concord International Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Hospital and Gleneagles Hospital as well as a Community Isolation Facility at D’Resort NTUC. Since 10 April, another Community Isolation Facility began operating at the Singapore Expo. From 23 April 2020, those with mild symptoms would also be isolated and cared for at such community facilities. The third Community Isolation Facility began operating in Changi Exhibition Centre on 25 April 2020.
On 31 December 2019, health authorities in China reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) a cluster of viral pneumonia cases of unknown cause in Wuhan, Hubei Province,and an investigation was launched in early January 2020. On 30 January, the WHO declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), after mounting evidence that the novel coronavirus had spread to 18 countries and completion of investigation in Wuhan.
Throughout the outbreak, cases were traced to clusters that several cases had visited during a particular time period, with venues including religious institutions, workplaces, construction sites, a number of schools, private events, retail businesses, and a hospital. Imported cases also became a source of infection in March. Since early April, most new cases have been at foreign worker dormitories and construction sites, with 39,082 of 41,473 total confirmed cases being dormitory residents as of 18 June. The highest number of daily cases was reported on 20 April at 1,426 with the last imported case on 14 June.
Internationally, the case fatality ratio (CFR) for COVID-19 has been much lower than SARS in 2003. The transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus powering the COVID-19 pandemic has been significantly greater, with a significant total death toll. However, Singapore has a lower than expected CFR compared to most countries. This may be attributed to the fact that the bulk of the cases are restricted to the migrant workers living in dormitories away from the general population. These migrant workers tend to be younger, with an average age of 30 years and 2 months old when surveyed in 2015. A research by the European Commission suggests that the CFR for SARS-CoV-2 virus picks up in cases 50 years of age and above. The elderly in the general population in Singapore have been advised to stay at home as much as possible, while resident-facing staff in old folks homes are being housed on site or separately in hotels.
Wave 1: Imported cases from China (January 2020)
National authorities began reporting suspected cases on 4 January, however the first confirmed case was reported on 23 January, a tourist from Wuhan. Until 30 January, there were a total to 13 confirmed cases, all of whom were visitors to Singapore from China. The first case involving a Singaporean was confirmed on 31 January after returning from Wuhan. Contact tracing procedures were put in place to identify close contacts of the confirmed cases who were placed under 14-day quarantines in order to ring-fence the potential spread of the virus.
Wave 2: Early local clusters (February to March 2020)
These imported cases eventually lead to clusters of local transmissions being formed. The first cluster was reported on 4 February at Yong Thai Hang, a shop that mainly serves Chinese tourists. It was identified as the locus of the infection where four women without recent history of travel to China contracted the virus. The shop was affected when a tour group from Guangxi, China visited it along with other locations such as the Diamond Industries Jewellery Company at Harbour Drive, where another case occurred, while touring Singapore. The tour group had returned back to China and the Chinese authorities had confirmed that two of the group was infected. Authorities then raised the nation’s Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level from Yellow to Orange after more cases with unclear origins surfaced on 7 February, with Prime Minister Lee expressing his worry about some cases with no known chain of transmission of the infection directly from Wuhan or indirectly via cases traced in Singapore. He suggested that it might become “futile to try to trace every contact”. More clusters emerged at various locations, where there were large scale gatherings such as a business conference, Chinese New Year dinner gatherings and church-related activities. Two clusters were linked when several cases in each cluster was found to have infected each other through serological tests, the first such successful test in the world.
Wave 3: Returning Singaporeans and permanent residents from overseas (March 2020)
In March, as the number of cases began to rise exponentially around the world, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Ministry of Education (MOE) began to encourage Singaporeans to return home. Various institutes of higher learning recalled their students currently on overseas internship or exchange, and the MFA began liaising with airlines to facilitate flights to key cities when necessary during this period, to cater to demand for return flights to Singapore. This led to an increase in number of imported cases, in which over 70% of cases from 16 to 19 March were Singaporeans and long-term pass holders returning from overseas.
Wave 4: Spread among migrant worker population (April 2020 to Present)
In April, the bulk of cases began to shift from imported cases to migrant workers living in dormitories, resulting in the authorities imposing a mandatory quarantine of 20,000 migrant workers in two dormitories gazetted as isolation areas, namely the S11 Dormitory and Westlite Toh Guan. Following which, the number of cases in migrant worker dormitories began to soar as more clusters were detected in other migrant worker dormitories, reaching a single-daily high of 1,396 cases recorded amongst migrant workers on 20 April. On 21 April, MOM announced that all foreign workers in dormitories were to stop work until 4 May to curb the rising spread of the coronavirus among this group that has been hard hit. The number of cases amongst migrant workers living in dormitories continued to increase and remain high throughout the months of April and May with aggressive testing by the authorities.
A few people are charged in court, fined or even jailed for offences due to the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 and its Control Order Regulations 2020 specifically legislated.
The ongoing pandemic is likely to have a significant impact on the local economy. On 17 February, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) downgraded Singapore’s forecast GDP growth to between -0.5% and 1.5%. This is largely due to a slowdown in Singapore’s export markets, disruptions in global supply chains, a fall in tourism and a fall in domestic consumption. On 26 March, MTI said it believed that the economy would contract by between 1% and 4% in 2020. This was after the economy shrank some 2.2% in the first quarter of 2020 from the same quarter in 2019. On 26 May, the Singapore economy contracted 0.7%YoY, which was better than the expected contraction of 2.2%. However, MTI said that it was revising down its expectation for the Singapore economy in 2020 to shrink by 4% to 7%.
On 2 April, the rating’s agency Moody’s downgraded the Singapore banking sector from “stable” outlook to a “negative” outlook on the back of rising bad loans and deteriorating profitability as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. It was estimated by the economist Chua Hak Bin, the lockdown “circuit breaker” beginning on 7 April could impact the economy to the tune of S$10 billion. Kit Wei Zheng at Citigroup argued that the economy would contract 8.5 per cent in 2020 as a result of the extension of the circuit breaker announced on 21 April. With the lockdown imposed on foreign workers, there were concerns that there could be delays in construction work of up to six months. Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat announced that some 3,800 companies had closed in April 2020, only slightly higher than the 3,700 reported on average for the same month in the past 5 years. Though he warned that this would likely rise in the coming months. Despite this only small increase in companies shutting down, the number of companies starting up had declined by about a third from the average April since 2015.
On 6 April, it was announced in Parliament that Changi Airport Terminal 2 will be suspended from 1 May for 18 months due to the ongoing pandemic. The suspension of Terminal 2 will also allow the ongoing expansion work announced in January 2020 to be completed up to a year ahead of schedule in 2023 instead of 2024. In the meantime, four airlines have moved their Terminal 2 operations to different terminals: Singapore Airlines/SilkAir (to Terminal 3), Etihad Airways (Terminal 3); Royal Brunei (Terminal 1) and All Nippon Airways (Terminal 1). 10 other airlines have suspended operations. It was announced that Terminal 4 would shut on 16 May indefinitely as a result of the pandemic, with the aim to restart operations rapidly when demand returns.
Data released by the Ministry of Manpower showed that total employment contracted by 19,900 in Q1 2020, which was the biggest drop since SARS in 2003. Foreign workers were vulnerable to being let go during the crisis as support measures such as the Jobs Support Scheme were primarily targeted as subsidising the wages of local staff not all employees. There were some 22,200 fewer foreign employees (excluding domestic workers) between December 2019 and March 2020. Ministry of Manpower reported that unemployment in the first quarter of 2020 rose to 2.4 percent from 2.3 per cent the quarter previously, the highest in a decade, while among Singaporeans it rose from 3.3 per cent to 3.5 per cent.
According to the latest labour market report released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Monday (Jun 15), the overall unemployment rate crept up from 2.3 per cent in the previous quarter to 2.4 per cent.
The overall inflation dropped to 0.3% in February 2020 on a year-by-year basis. Core inflation, which excludes the costs of accommodation and private road transport, dropped to -0.1%, the first time this decade that core inflation turned negative. This was also due to supply chains being disrupted due to COVID-19.
On 9 March, the Straits Times Index fell 6.03% owing to the impact of COVID-19, made worse by the oil price war. The Index dropped again three days later by 3.8% after more measures are announced with the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) brought forward its twice year meeting from some time in April to 30 March. The MAS has since decided to ease the Singapore dollar’s appreciation rate to zero percent, as well as adjust the policy band downwards, the first such move since the Global Financial Crisis. This makes it the first time the MAS had taken these two measures together. Unusually, on 6 April, the central bank also announced that it would bring forward its disclosure of foreign exchange intervention to 9 April. It was previously scheduled to be published in June.
Tourism and events
As one of the countries highly affected by the pandemic, tourism in Singapore has fallen, with the Singapore Tourism Board predicting a 25 to 30 percent drop in visitor arrivals from the previous year. Several countries have imposed travel restrictions on Singapore. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong encouraged Singaporeans to go on a local ‘staycation’ to mitigate the fall in demand for tourism.
Due to the 2019 Hong Kong protests, many conferences and exhibitions were transferred to Singapore. However, as a result of the coronavirus, many of such events, including concerts, were postponed or cancelled.
Several exhibitors (which eventually numbered to 70) and South Korea’s Black Eagles decided to pull out of the Singapore Airshow. In addition, an aviation conference was cancelled to allow leaders to deal with the coronavirus. Several days later, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon pulled out of the Airshow, while the United States Department of Defense reduced its delegation size. The Global Grain Conference in Singapore was postponed to sometime in June or July. Mediacorp postponed its Star Awards ceremony to the second half of 2020, initially scheduled for 26 April. The Shangri-La Dialogue defence summit that was scheduled to take place between 5 and 7 June at the Shangri-La Hotel was cancelled. The 2020 HSBC Women’s World Championship, a women’s golf tournament initially scheduled from 27 February to 1 March, was cancelled. The 12th session of Pink Dot SG (which was scheduled to be held on 27 June at Hong Lim Park) was replaced by a livestreaming session.
Singer Miriam Yeung postponed a concert that was initially scheduled on 8 February. However, as of 22 May 2020, in light of the Singapore government’s post-Circuit Breaker measures to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, the singer has announced that her concert will no longer be held in 2020. More concerts followed suit, including K-pop concerts by Taeyeon, NCT Group, Got7 (initially scheduled on 22 February), Stage Club play, Welsh singer Novo Amor (postponed to July), 98 Degrees (initially scheduled on 20 February), and First Fleet (a Mandarin play initially from 14 to 23 February, rescheduled to March 2021). K-pop band Winner cancelled its concert, which was scheduled to be held on 8 February. Several Huayi events in Esplanade were cancelled due to travel restrictions.
On 12 June it was announced that the 2020 Singapore Grand Prix, due to be held on 20 September, would be cancelled as a result of 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
The retail and food industry has been significantly affected by the drop in consumer spending. Foot traffic in shopping malls dropped, with some malls choosing to shorten their opening hours. Tenants are pushing landlords for rental rebates, citing significant drops in revenue.
Several malls and landlords including Jewel Changi Airport and CapitaLand have implemented rental rebates. The National Environment Agency (NEA) has also implemented rent waivers and rebates for all stallholders in hawker centres operated by NEA or NEA-appointed operators.
According to CapitaLand in February 2020, foot traffic at malls were almost back to normal. However, on 28 March, after the government reminded the public to remain at home and not to visit places unless it was essential, The Straits Times reported that the Orchard Road shopping area was noticeably quieter. Retail sales in March and April fell 13.3 per cent and 40.5 per cent year-on-year respectively as the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting “circuit breaker” measures led to many businesses being shut. The April figure was the worst since records began in 1986.
In response to the government’s lockdown measures for April, Suntec City announced that it would waive rent for all tenants for the month of April.
In addition, the Great Singapore Sale was cancelled for the first time in its 26-year history due to the pandemic.
Panic buying and price gouging
Panic buying and price gouging of personal protective equipment (PPEs) such as masks began with the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Singapore on 23 January 2020. By 24 January, both N95 and surgical masks had run out at retail outlets. The Ministry of Health assured the public that there were sufficient N95 masks in the event of a surge in demand. This has prompted local retailers including NTUC FairPrice, Watsons and Guardian to impose limits on the number of masks, hand sanitisers and thermometers each consumer can buy. The government had urged the public to only wear masks if they are unwell, citing unsustainable consumption patterns and the possibility of a false sense of security. This position has since been reversed on 3 April, with masks made mandatory on 14 April.
The shortage of masks and other PPEs has caused many retailers to engage in profiteering by price gouging and scalping. This included both local brick-and-mortar stores as well as retailers on ecommerce platforms. The government has applauded platforms Carousell and Qoo10 for threatening to suspend profiteers. The governmental price controller has also issued warnings to retailers who engage in price gouging and requested information from e-commerce platforms on potential profiteers.
Panic buying and hoarding of essentials such as rice, instant noodles and toilet paper occurred with the raising of the DORSCON level from yellow to orange on 7 February 2020, with empty shelves at supermarkets within hours. In response, both the government and local retailers stated that there was sufficient supply of essentials, urging Singaporeans not to hoard. Local supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice imposed limits on the amount of essentials each consumer can buy, with these limits initially set for paper products, rice products, instant noodle packets and vegetables. NTUC FairPrice and Dairy Farm Singapore announced that it would introduce specific hours for those members of the community who were more vulnerable such as Pioneer Generation members.
A second wave of panic buying and hoarding occurred on 17 March when Malaysia announced its lockdown from 18 March, sparked by fears of food shortages. The government has clarified that the flow of goods, cargo and food supplies between Singapore and Malaysia will continue, urging the public not to panic buy. They added that Singapore has diverse sources of essential goods and was not facing an immediate shortage of food or essentials. NTUC FairPrice has expanded its list of items that are limited per consumer to include eggs, vegetables and poultry. 10 days later, NTUC FairPrice expanded its list to include canned food, cooking oil and frozen meat, with reduced purchasing limits for paper products.
In order to deal with the massive increase in online shopping orders, RedMart on 2 April said that it would prioritise daily essentials such as milk powder, flour, eggs and rice while limiting orders to 35 items and reducing its range of goods to focus on the essentials. It also said that it would stop taking orders until 4 April to implement additional measures.
Ahead of tighter measures on 7 April, shoppers queued at shopping malls despite government requests for people to remain at home.
Even when DORSCON was raised to Orange on 7 February, several religious events still took place. One of them was the Thaipusam procession, which took several precautions like temperature taking and the provision of hand sanitizers and masks to assure devotees. The event ended up attracting 11,500 people, the highest turnout since 2013. Another was the Lantern Festival event in Loyang, which attracted half the usual turnout to about 3,000 people.
The Catholic Church of Singapore announced that it was suspending masses indefinitely from noon of 15 February. They were set to resume on 14 March, but continue to be indefinitely suspended in light of the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore has asked Muslims to take precautions to maintain personal hygiene while the Singapore Buddhist Federation advised temples to cancel activities. Some churches have opted to suspend services, live streaming them instead. Religious institutions have stepped up disinfection procedures.
On 12 March, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore announced the closure of all mosques for five days from 13 March for disinfection, coming after two people were infected from a gathering in Malaysia. Prayers were cancelled on 13 March, with activities stopped until 27 March. The closure of mosques is extended until further notice.
Hindu Temples and Sikh Temples also recorded a drop in the attendance. Hindu temples in Singapore have stepped up precautionary measures such as checking temperature of the visitors. Some Hindu temples have put measures to provide livestreaming of puja for devotees. Some Sikh Temples had to suspend their langar services. However, five private temple were providing langar on a smaller scale. Most processions were also cancelled.
Taxi and private hire vehicles were hit by the impact of COVID-19. A S$77 million package was provided to help them tide through this period, co-funded by the Government, taxi and private-hire companies. In addition, a S$2.7 million fund was set up by the Government and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) for drivers who are not eligible. In view of the worsening coronavirus impact, the package will be enhanced from May 2020, extending until September 2020. This will cost an additional $95 million. On 6 April, directors of the ComfortDelGro Group (ComfortDelGro, SBS Transit and VICOM) announced its board of directors would take a voluntary 20 per cent cut in directors’ fees until the end of 2020.
Various banks have suggested that Singapore Airlines will have a loss in FY21, with OCBC credit analysts Ezien Hoo and Wong Hong Wei arguing that the airline will have to tap the markets for more funds and possibly even need state support.
Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and Scoot have announced plans to slash their capacity. Singapore Airlines slashed 96% of its capacity until end-April. The news resulted in STI crashing down by 164.63 (6.83%). Scoot will ground 47 out of the 49 planes they have in their fleet. It was reported on 27 March 2020, SIA received a rescue package of S$19 billion to get over the difficult period. Its major shareholder Temasek Holdings will underwrite the package which contains S$5.3 billion equity and S$9.7 billion convertible note. Singapore’s biggest bank DBS will also lend it S$4 billion to help it get over the crisis and position itself for expansion. With the significant reduction in flights, Singapore Airlines agreed to provide some 300 staff to help with possible manpower shortages at hospitals in Singapore. It was announced that the airline would consolidate all their Changi Airport operations from 1 May 2020 to Terminal 3. On 14 May 2020, Singapore Airlines announced a full year loss for Financial Year 2019/2020 of S$212 million, this was the first loss in its 48 years of operation. On 1 June 2020, Singapore Airlines announced that it intended to restart flights to certain destinations such as Adelaide, Amsterdam, Auckland, Barcelona, Brisbane, Cebu, Christchurch, Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Medan, Melbourne and Osaka, for June and July, subject to regulatory approval. This would bring flight reductions to 94 per cent from the 96 per cent cut reported in March.
The Land Transport Authority announced that all certificate of entitlement (COE) bidding for the month of April would be suspended.
Transport services were gradually reduced in stages. Train service frequency on all lines were reduced during off-peak hours and departure times of last trains brought forward in view of the lower demand. Measures also involve imposition of queuing at station exit points. Cross-border bus services 160 and 170 were amended to serve only local sectors of its route, while Cross-border services 170X and 950 were suspended in lieu of Malaysia’s Movement Control Order. All City Direct, Chinatown Direct, NightRider, NiteOwl and Express bus services were temporarily suspended in tranches from 8 April 2020 until 1 June 2020, with the exception of Express 89e which was reinstated on 24 April 2020 to better serve essential workers at the Changi Airfreight Centre, while Chinatown Direct, NightRider, NiteOwl bus services as well as bus services 188R, 401, 926 and 963R continue to be suspended until further notice owing to the lack of recreational demand. The bus frequency and train frequency will see more improvements from 20 April 2020.
Several parties have engaged in scams related to the pandemic. For instance, scammers have pretended to be MOH officials engaging in contact tracing. The MOH and police clarified that no financial details or transfer of money will be requested during contact tracing. The police have also arrested scammers on e-commerce platform Carousell. On 4 April, SPF announced that they had arrested a man for suspected money-laundering offences in relation to a COVID-19 linked scam which saw an overseas pharmaceutical company defrauded to the tune of €6.636 million (S$10.3 million) over the purchase of surgical masks and hand sanitisers. The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and SPF were investigating possible abuses of the COVID-19 Temporary Relief Fund (TRF), which is supposed to provide financial assistance to those eligible as a result of the coronavirus. There were cases of scammers impersonating the Chinese police force asking for many personal details. The SPF announced that since March, more than S$110,000 had been lost as a result of these scams and that the public should remain vigilant. There have also been false rumours of National Environment Agency and police officers actively checking residential units to ensure that people were complying with circuit breaker rules.
Stranded Malaysia-based workers
On 16 March, the Malaysian government announced a movement control order (MCO) that took effect on 18 March, preventing Malaysians from leaving the country. With approximately 300,000 Malaysians, or almost a tenth of Singapore’s labour force working in Singapore, the MCO is expected to significantly affect Singapore’s economy, including sectors providing essential services.
The MCO caused long queues at immigration checkpoints as Malaysian workers in Singapore scrambled to collect their belongings and return to Singapore, while Singaporeans returned home. Various firms across Singapore rushed to find temporary accommodation for their workers before the MCO took effect. The Singapore government has advised workers to try to stay with relatives, friends, and colleagues, and seek housing in hotels, dormitories and rental flats if this is not possible. The government is also providing $50 for each worker per day, up to 14 days to support employers finding accommodation. As of 17 March, the government announced that 10,000 Malaysian workers have been matched with temporary housing. Some workers could not immediately find accommodations and resorted to sleeping in public areas. Authorities, in addition to the monetary offer above, had other measures in place, Ministry of Social and Family Development repurposed Jurong East Sports Hall into a temporary relief area for remaining Malaysian workers who were unable to find temporary accommodations immediately after the MCO, while the Ministry of Manpower stepped up patrols to look out for such stranded workers. A number of residents also had stepped up to offer their spare rooms to accommodate Malaysian workers at little to no costs.
The MCO resulted in suspension of all bus services between Johor Bahru and Singapore. While train service (KTMB Shuttle Tebrau) continues to operate between the two checkpoints, only citizens returning to their respective countries are allowed to board. The lockdown also sparked fears of food shortages, triggering a second wave of panic buying and hoarding of essential items. On April 26, Malaysia announced that Malaysians wanting to return back to Malaysia will need to obtain permits from the Malaysian High Commission in Singapore. But the number of permits issued is only 400.
Border controls and operations
Singapore began to restrict travellers from entering from 29 January in a progressive manner as a response to localised outbreaks. Travellers from Hubei was banned from entering Singapore on 29 January with all forms of visas held by Hubei residents being suspended immediately on the same day. Any traveller who had travelled to mainland China 14 days prior to 1 February was banned too, with China passport holders allowed entry on the condition they prove they did not visit China recently. At the same time, on 1 February, all forms of visas for China travellers were suspended immediately. When there was a large increase in the number of cases in Cheongdo and Daegu in South Korea, visitors arriving from these two areas were restricted as well from 26 February. Soon, visitors arriving from other territories or countries followed in March, South Korea in general, Iran, Italy, France, Spain, and Germany were banned. Port calls for all cruise vessels were stopped from 13 March as well.
From 17 March, Singapore required all visitors who had travelled 14 days prior to ASEAN countries, Japan, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom to be served with a 14-day Stay Home Notice, with ASEAN travellers required to seek approval before entering Singapore. However, this requirement was waived for Singapore’s sea and land crossings with Malaysia as it was deemed too disruptive to the 200,000 people who utilise the crossings on a daily basis. This exemption was short-lived as the Malaysian government would soon implement a movement control order that would take effect from 18 March, preventing Malaysians from leaving and most foreigners from entering the country. Singapore authorities and businesses quickly made arrangements to secure alternate living accommodations in Singapore for workers living in Malaysia. Both Singapore and Malaysia authorities quickly worked to ensure that the essential goods could still cross the two land checkpoints, with further fine-tuning of transportation arrangement being subsequently conducted as there were still confusion by some of the supplying companies in Malaysia.
Singapore banned all short-term visitors arriving or transiting through Singapore from 23 March onwards, with only people in essential services like healthcare and transport allowed entry during this time.
Due to the reduced number of flights, Singapore Changi Airport suspended operations at Terminals 2 and 4 in April and May 2020 respectively. The suspension of Terminal 2 would also bring forward the renovation plans that the airport has for it, while Terminal 4 would remain suspended indefintely until the demand for flights picks up and airlines seek to relaunch flights. Malaysia would also shorten the operating hours of Sultan Iskandar Building at the Johor Causeway to 12 hours daily from 24 April, effectively limiting the Causeway’s operating hours. The Second Link crossing would remain open round the clock.
As the pandemic spread throughout the world, the Singapore government had organised several repatriation efforts to bring Singaporeans back from various overseas locations. Beginning with Wuhan, Hubei where the virus was first detected, a number of Singaporeans were trapped in Wuhan as the Chinese authorities had locked down the entire Hubei province, thus suspending air links between the city and Singapore. Liaising with counterparts in the Chinese government and its embassy in Beijing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore (MFA) managed to bring back 266 Singaporeans and family members on two separate Scoot flights on 30 January and 9 February. MFA and other governmental agencies subsequently brought back at least 1,000[a] Singaporeans, permanent residents, and family members stranded at other locations where there were similar lockdowns and suspension of flights: Cambodia, Egypt, Fiji, India, Iran, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, and the UK. Most of the evacuees were brought back on direct flights, whilst some in Fiji, Iran, Nepal, and Slovenia saw some assistance from other countries. All evacuees had to serve a 14-day Stay Home Notice or be quarantined at designated locations, such as hotels with cost borne by the government, government quarantine faculties, or at home.
With flights to Wuhan suspended due to the Hubei lockdown, Scoot had offered two one-way flights back to Wuhan for tourists stuck in Singapore. As the travel restrictions began to grow and accumulated into an ongoing ban on short-term visitors arriving or transiting through Singapore started from 23 March, Singapore has allowed visitors to transit through Singapore if they are being repatriated by various governments. India had repatriated some of its citizens from Singapore in May 2020 on two separate flights. In the same flight which Singapore Airlines brought back Singaporeans from Cambodia on 12 April, it also carried Australians heading back to Australia with Singapore being a transit point. It was reported that Singapore and Bangladesh were in discussions to repatriate their respective citizens if necessary.
Assistance to other countries
Both the Singapore government and private sector had sent support packages as a result of COVID-19 to Indonesia. This has included test kits and personal protective equipment.
The Singapore government sent swabs and other supplies to Malaysia in order to help with sample collection and testing.
Temasek Foundation donated 30,000 test kits to India and this was affirmed and thanked by High Commissioner of India to Singapore, Mr Jawed Ashraf. Spicejet, a low cost carrier based in India operated flights from and to Bangalore, Chennai and Singapore to deliver the testing kits.
With the impact of COVID-19 becoming greater, it was becoming clear to analysts that Singapore would need to respond with large scale government spending. As of 26 May, Singapore has unveiled four Budgets that will spend 19.2% of GDP to ensure the impact on the economy is softened and to help the economy recover back to the original state. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has said that based on economic terms, the economic contraction will be the worst ever since Singapore’s independence. The government announced on 4 June that they would be keeping Central Provident Fund contribution rates unchanged as they believed the Jobs Support Scheme would help reduce the burden on employers.
First stimulus package – “Unity Budget”
It was announced on 1 February that the Government will provide help for the transport and tourism sectors as part of the 2020 Budget, being the worst-hit industries by the impact of COVID-19. In the 2020 Budget delivered on 18 February, the Government has set aside S$6.4 billion in support funds, which are a S$1.6 billion Care and Support Package for household expenses, a S$4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package for businesses and workers and an additional S$800 million for efforts including the healthcare sector. In addition, the Goods and Services Tax will not be raised by 9% in 2021 owing to the economic impact, with a S$6 billion Assurance Package should it be raised by 2025.
Second stimulus package – “Resilience Budget”
Less than a month after the first budget support package was introduced, it was announced that the government was working a second stimulus package to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the economy. The package was delivered in a Ministerial Statement by DPM Heng Swee Keat on 26 March, known as the Resilience Budget. COVID-19 has hit the economy so hard that President Halimah had given her ‘in-principle support’ to draw on past reserves for this second package, which will amount to S$17 billion. In addition to S$6.4 billion announced in the first package, the government is prepared to spend a further S$48.4 billion to support businesses, workers and families, amounting to around 11% of GDP.
Among the measures include increasing government co-funding of 25% of wages for all local workers, with those in food services getting 50% support and those in the tourism and aviation sector getting up to 75% support. Self-employed workers would receive S$1,000 per month. These measures would last for nine months.
A $350 million aviation support package was introduced to fund the measures such as rebates on waiving off parking charges.
In spite of this large spending package, several private sector economists were still expecting the economy to contract in 2020.
Third stimulus package – “Solidarity Budget”
It was announced on 5 April that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat would propose a third round of support measures through a “Solidarity Budget” when Parliament returned on 6 April. A total of S$5.1 billion was allocated for the package, with S$4 billion to be drawn from past reserves. Due to the extended Circuit Breaker announced on 21 April, support measures from the “Solidarity Budget” were extended to May, costing another S$3.8 billion.
On 10 May, the Ministry of Finance announced that 32 companies had returned Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) payouts worth S$35 million and had said they would not receive future payments related to JSS. Other companies that had previously received JSS monies, had said that while they retain what they had already received, they would also not receive further payments.
Fourth stimulus package – “Fortitude Budget”
On 19 May, it was announced that Finance Minister Heng would propose a fourth round of support measures at a statement delivered to Parliament on 26 May at 3.30pm. On 25 May, President Halimah gave her in-principle approval for the Government to draw on the reserves for the package, the second time it was done for this crisis. The budget has since been named the “Fortitude Budget”. It was announced that the government would draw an additional S$32 billion from past reserves, bringing the total used to S$52 billion. In addition, another S$13 billion will be set aside for contingencies due to the pandemic. Extending and enhancing the JSS, to include higher tiers of wage subsidies and lasting until August, would cost around S$2.9 billion, bringing the total cost to S$23.5 billion. To thank Singaporeans for working from home during the “circuit breaker”, the government introduced a one off Solidarity Utilities Credit of S$100 for all households. Food and beverage (F&B) and retail companies would receive up to S$10,000 as part of efforts to digitally transform their businesses, as they are likely to be seriously affected by safe distancing rules after the circuit breaker is lifted. S$2 billion was committed to SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package was announced to create close some 100,000 opportunities for workers affected by the COVID-19 economic slowdown; involving around 40,000 jobs, 25,000 traineeships and 30,000 skills training opportunities. The public sector will create more jobs, with the majority coming from the early childhood and healthcare sectors.
After announcing more draw downs of the reserves, Minister Heng warned that Singapore’s financial position would be weaker going forward, but the government would do try to mitigate the negative effects.
Monetary Authority of Singapore Package
In order to help financial institutions and FinTech companies tide over the virus, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) released a $125 million package to help financial institutions and FinTech companies to strengthen long-term capabilities.
Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) Measures
On 14 April, the Infocomm Media Development Authority announced that they will launch Public Service Content worth S$8 million and fund 90% of the course fees for Self-Employed Persons under Talent Assistance (T-Assist) Programme. In order to reduce operating costs, the Film Exhibition and Distribution Licence Fees will be waived from 17 April.
Criticisms and reactions
On 18 February and 10 March, the WHO praised Singapore’s efforts to contain COVID-19 infections through tracing and quarantining close contacts, testing every case of influenza-like illness and pneumonia, and Singapore’s “all-government approach” in the containment of COVID-19. The Singapore Police Force, Singapore Armed Forces and Ministry of Health are coordinating to do aggressive contact tracing. While many international medical experts praised Singapore’s efforts to control the outbreak in Singapore, The New York Times argued that this could well be the continuation of erosion of civil liberties.
Mistreatment of healthcare workers
It was reported in February that healthcare workers faced mistreatment from the public. President Halimah Yacob urged Singaporeans to appreciate the work of healthcare workers. Grab announced that they will be launching GrabCare to transport healthcare workers to and from their work places.
On 12 April, CNA reported that some staff members of Lee Ah Mooi, a nursing home, were evicted by landlords. However, the authorities had also mentioned that landlords who evict tenants on Leave of Absence or Stay-Home Notices would be penalised.
Leaked recording of SCCCI dialogue
On 17 February, a leaked recording of a closed-door dialogue session on 10 February of Chan Chun Sing with business people from the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) went viral in Singapore. In response, SCCCI said that the leak is “deeply disappointing” and a “betrayal of trust”, adding that it was investigating the source of the leak.
Living conditions at foreign worker dormitories
The pandemic brought the living conditions at foreign worker dormitories to media attention. Dormitories were reported to be unsanitary and crowded, making preventative measures like social distancing difficult. Retired diplomat Tommy Koh criticised the living conditions, calling it “third world” and “a time bomb waiting to explode”. Amnesty International called the situation a “recipe for disaster”. Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo vowed to improve the living conditions of foreign workers after the quarantine was handled.
On 9 April, MOM said in a press release that it will improve quality of meals of foreign workers during quarantine and formed a task force to improve the living conditions of foreign workers. As of 25 April, 25 dormitories have been gazetted as isolation areas. Some healthy workers are also progressively being moved to numerous empty premises such as SAF camps, HDB blocks, floating hotels and Changi Exhibition Centre. On 16 April, Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo said that there will be a “three-pronged strategy”; containing the spread, imposing lockdowns and separating workers in essential services.
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong has said that the living standards in dormitories have steadily improved over the years, and suggested that the issue was the dormitories being designed for communal living, where migrant workers ate, lived, and cooked together, and that the initial precautions and safeguards put in place to reduce some of the non-essential activities were not sufficient.
Social distancing on public transport
Many commuters have criticized the Public Transport Operators and Land Transport Authority for not controlling the crowds and lacked social distancing on public transport. This was before the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Control Order 2020 was being enacted by law, which requires the closure of schools and non-essential workplaces. On 9 April 2020, LTA announced that they have pasted stickers in buses, bus stations, trains and train stations to enforce the measures with Auxiliary Officers and Transport Ambassadors enforcing it. Social distancing was stated to be mostly retained after the circuit breaker measures were lifted, and mask wearing will remain compulsory. The stickers were removed on 1 June 2020, as in anticipation of exiting the circuit breaker on 2 June, the expected increase in commuter numbers deemed the practice of maintaining distancing in public transport impractical during typical peak hours.
On 26 April, HDB, URA and MND released a joint statement that home-based businesses would have to suspend operations as part of the circuit breaker measures. This generated opposition among home-based food business operators, particularly those dependent on such businesses for income and those seeking to capitalise on increased demand during Ramadan. Since then, rules announced on 2 May will allow these businesses to resume operations on 12 May.