Singapore

World will take years to recover from Covid-19 fallout: PM Lee

PM Lee gives sobering picture of the future at virtual Apec event

The world will take several years to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and even then, some things will change in the new normal, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He does not see Singapore, in the short term, escaping overnight from precautions and risks that exist right now.

Even if there is a vaccine by the start of next year, it will probably be 2022 by the time it gets rolled out to a significant proportion of the population and have an impact on slowing down the spread of the disease, he added during a virtual event associated with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec).

PM Lee also does not foresee international travel returning to normal next year: "Maybe in two years' time, it would be possible to extend in a bigger way. But that is down the road."

PM Lee gave this sobering picture at the Apec CEO Dialogues for political and business leaders in the Apec Business Advisory Council, which meets four times a year to advise leaders in the region on the priorities and concerns of companies.

Other speakers at the event, which is organised by Malaysia this year and ends today, include Chinese President Xi Jinping, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

When asked by moderator and Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit what advice he has for business leaders facing an uncertain future, PM Lee said: "I am not a businessman, I hesitate to preach, but in this situation, you have to look forward - not back to what (it) was... Make an objective assessment of what it means for your business and how you can best advance it."

He said whether businesses choose to pivot, transform or right-size, it is important that they take good care of their workers, who are also stakeholders and an important resource.

"Look after them during this difficult period. Do not just make a short, quick decision - 'I am saving cost and I must drop so many headcounts' - but take care of them, retrain them if possible, redeploy them if possible, and they (will) repay that to you and to your company.

"In the process, we will strengthen our cohesion and one day, we will prosper again."

He noted the Government had stepped up in a major way to preserve jobs and make sure businesses survive as far as possible.

It has unleashed unprecedented fiscal firepower this year to the tune of around $100 billion in Covid-19 support measures, and is looking to draw up to $52 billion from past reserves.

But now the situation is stabilising, "this large infusion of government resources cannot go on indefinitely, and we have to gradually tail this off and get things onto a sustainable footing".

"We have to adapt ourselves for what is to come, rather than freeze a position which reflected what was pre-Covid-19. Otherwise, we will end up with zombie companies and an unproductive economy, and I think that will lead to more trouble for us later on."

coronavirus