What initially looked like a simple flu outbreak in China has quickly spread to the rest of the world, creating a state of fear, confusion, and despair. Being close to China, Singapore has been profoundly affected by the virus too. While the Government is taking all possible steps to minimize the effect of COVID-19 in the country, people continue to live in hopelessness, praying for the situation to improve as soon as possible.
The Condition in Singapore
Singapore has 81 confirmed cases as of February 18, 2020, 1200h. The effect of COVID-19 had a signaficate impact on Singapore. Although the country has been fighting COVID-19 like no other nation around the world, there have been reports of unrest among the people, which is, of course, highly understandable. However, the disorder among the people is under control now, thanks to the efforts made by the Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong. He delivered a 9-minute long speech, talking about measures, monitoring, and effect of the virus on the nation and why the country needs to calm down and stand together for a better future.
The Effect on the Asian Economy
Irrespective of how the Asian countries have been trying to calm down their people, one thing is for sure – Asia is sliding into recession. The Asian countries have been giving signals that economic conditions are worsening by the day, and everyone needs to brace themselves. Japan has made it clear that things are not going to improve for them until December, China has projected a loss of at least 1% in the growth for the first quarter of 2020. Singapore and Malaysia have planned a stimulus package to mitigate the adverse effects of the virus outbreak.
The Government of Singapore set to announce an extensive relief package after the Prime Minister realized the effect of the new novel virus is going to be “significant.” The country will roll out at least S$700 million into the hands of people through various schemes and subsidies to keep the economy alive in the hard times.
Is the Economy of Singapore Failing?
The Prime Minister in his last speech made it pretty clear that the economy of Singapore is going to “take a hit.” Whether it enters a state of depression or not is a different question and will require some time to analyze and understand. The business at the airport has declined after several airlines in and out of China have been canceled. Moreover, since Singapore has banned all visitors from China and any international visitor who has visited Wuhan in China in the last 14 days, the number of business and casual visitors have come down drastically, affecting the industry. In 2018, a total of 18.5 million people visited Singapore from different countries and spent S$27.1 billion in the country. Out of this, 3.4 million were from China. The current year expected a similar trend, but the numbers are going to be pretty low this year.
Ministry of trade and industry revised the country’s growth to -0.5% to 1.5% for 2020. However, based on the final fourth-quarter growth the economists believed that the GDP forecast to range 0.5% to 2.5%. The Covid-19 outbreak has led to this downward anticipated growth.
Being one of the largest communities of the infected people outside China, Singapore has ensured that the infection gets curbed and people are safe in the country. The country has laid down precautions and protocols to be followed to stay safe and enable the country to fight back the infection efficiently.
What Do Business Owners Need to Do?
The first thing that businesses need to do is to calm down, as requested by the Prime Minister, and then start making efforts towards the safety of their employees.
SMEs in Singapore can refer to the DORSCON code and plan their response to the situation as per the color code. On 7th of February 2020 the Government was forced to declare it DORSCON level orange. It means that the infection is severe, spreads quickly, and is hard to contain. Businesses can experience moderate disruptions during this period.
For more information about the current DORSCON level, infected areas, and latest news on Coronavirus in Singapore, businesses can refer to the official website of MOH. You can also subscribe to Gov.sg WhatsApp to get updated news about Covid-19.
Here is a list of things owners and workers need to do to create a safe working environment for everyone involved at the workplace.
- Travel Advisory: The Government has issued a travel advisory to mainland China. An employer should actively seek travel plans of the employees who are either on leave or planning to leave the country in the coming days.
- Visitors Log: If the business is expecting visitors from another country, their details should get recorded and furnished to the authorities in case required. Also, discouraging visitors from affected regions in and outside of the country is recommended.
- Temperature Scanning: Employees on Leave of Absence (LOA) are required to scan temperature twice a day. Also, the employees who traveled in the last 3-4weeks encouraged to examine temperature daily to monitor virus symptoms.
- Personal Protection Equipment (PPE):The offices should keep stock of PPE like face masks, sanitizers, or anti-bacterial hand wash for the personal hygiene of the employees. In case the employees develop any symptoms – Fever, sore throat, cough or runny nose should immediately use the available PPE and advise them to see a GP. GPs to give 5-days MC to those with symptoms.
- Working from Home Policy: Business owners should not force the employees to come to the office if they develop flu-like symptoms. It is a stressful time, and employers need to understand the need to have flexible working hours and alternate arrangements.
- Large-scale Events: If a business is planning to host a large-scale event, it should be called off. In case the Event cannot be called off, the organizers should ensure, the guests are scanned for temperature and the common areas in the venue get thoroughly and regularly cleaned during the course of the Event.
The second thing businesses must do is, reconsider the distribution of power in the company, especially if the decision-making power is invested in the hands of a few stakeholders. This will allow the business to make quick decisions, and be a first mover in case of an emergency. The company can also look at the option of creating co-teams out of one large team for better distribution of workload.
Thirdly, involving other stakeholders, like the suppliers and customers, is also crucial. These stakeholders help the business in maintaining the flow of business transactions like money and material. If required, these stakeholders can also help the companies in establishing or creating newer, safer, and better modes of logistics, information exchange, and communication.
What is the Government Doing?
The Government of the country plans to stand with the businesses and help them fight a hard time. The Government has prepared a plan to support Singaporean firms and their workers by assisting them with the short-term cash flow needs, helping with retaining and training their staff for the future, and also sharing part of the wage cost. The Government announced the budget on February 18, 2020, where S$8.3billion got allocated towards economic growth & transformation.
Enterprise Singapore (ESG), in an official statement, shared that its immediate priority is to assist companies in overcoming the challenges of lower demand, the tension in the supply chain, and restrictions on travel. However, it maintained its stance on SMEs being the future of the nation. ESG wants the SMEs in the countries to continue on their path to innovation and transformation through technology. The agency is also planning an internationalization drive on a large scale after the breakout of Covid-19. As per the statement by an agency representative, the country has learned that it “cannot afford not to seek out opportunities globally.” The agency also said that Singapore plans on diversifying its market to ensure that the future is safe and disruption-free.
For SMEs, business continuity has also become a challenge like no other. The factories in China closed down, and there is no sign of immediate revival soon. China shut its factories for the Chinese New Year holiday season, and the workers have not returned to the factories since then. While SMEs have mixed feelings about the condition in the present day, but thinking about the future raises questions for everyone involved in the trade. This has had a visible effect on businesses in Singapore who rely on China for goods & materials.
STB or the Singapore Tourism Board has announced that the license fees for hotels, travel agents and tourist guides will be waived off until further notice. The agency will also provide financial assistance to hotels that accommodate confirmed and suspected cases of coronavirus infections. The financial aid will cover 50% of the disinfectant and cleaning cost of the hotels, which gets capped at S$20,000 per establishment and S$10,000 per establishment for confirmed and suspected cases, respectively. Businesses seeking relief can apply until April 30, 2020. For SMEs planning to venture into tourism, this could be the time to get licenses and start operations on a small scale.
What Does the Future Hold?
ESG made a lot of efforts in 2019 to ensure productive and profitable 2020 and years to come. It signed many deals and made encouraging advances during the last year. ESG went even more global and extended its Global Innovation Alliance network to 13 cities in 10 markets. They made strategic investments in terms of money, time, and relationships to ensure that SMEs in Singapore can expand to other markets and gain timely traction. However, the sudden outbreak of coronavirus in 2020 limited the efficiency of businesses in Singapore and the efforts of the Government.
Although the Government is expecting a ‘hit,’ it will be too soon to call it a crisis or even a depression. In the budget announced on February 18, 2020, the Government has declared various relief packages for SMEs. (Read our next blog for detailed Budget report for SMEs)
While SMEs have mixed feelings about the condition in the present day, but thinking about the future raises questions for everyone involved in the trade. The businesses are not just hoping to rely on the relief package to keep the business alive, but also a strategic plan that highly focuses on innovation and internationalization.