Singapore tops up coronavirus relief before 4 weeks of restraint

SINGAPORE/KUALA LUMPUR — The Singaporean and Malaysian governments both announced additional multibillion-dollar coronavirus relief packages on Monday, as pressure continues to mount on businesses and households.

Singapore’s new measures total 5.1 billion Singapore dollars ($3.5 billion) and are meant to cushion the damage from a four-week restraint period starting Tuesday. Most workplaces, except for essential businesses like supermarkets and clinics, must close until May 4, while schools will shift to full home-based learning on Wednesday.

“The primary aim of this budget is to take further steps to save jobs and protect the livelihood of people during this temporary period of heightened measures,” Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in parliament.

Among the key measures in the new package are a 75% wage subsidy for all employers, to be applied to the first SG$4,600 of wages paid in April for each local worker, as well as a SG$600 one-time cash payment for some 2 million Singaporeans aged 21 or over. Heng urged individuals who do not need the money to donate it.

Monday’s announcement adds to two previous stimulus packages, worth about SG$5.6 billion and SG$48 billion, respectively. The total outlay of nearly SG$60 billion is equivalent to 12% of gross domestic product.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, meanwhile, on Monday announced an extra $2.29 billion plan to support micro, small and midsize businesses.

Muhyiddin said the additional funds would help maintain two-thirds of employment in the country, where a “movement control order” in effect since mid-March has many businesses looking to retrench workers and minimize costs.

The government will offer subsidies ranging from $137 to $275 for some 4.8 million employees of these smaller businesses for a period of three months, provided the employers refrain from retrenching anyone for the next six months. The payouts will depend on a company’s size, the prime minister said.

The government will also dish out $480.66 million in financial grants to all registered micro businesses, via disbursement of one-off $687 payments to some 700,000 entities. On top of that, about $45.78 million will be set aside for soft loans to the eligible businesses.

While coping with the economic impact of the pandemic, both Singapore and Malaysia have been struggling to stem a rise in infections.

On Sunday, Singapore reported 120 new cases, the highest daily jump so far. This brought the total in the city-state to 1,309 cases, with six deaths.

Last month, Singapore downgraded its official growth projection for 2020 to a range of -4% to -1%, from the previous -0.5% to 1.5%. The central bank last week eased its monetary policy to support the economy.

Similarly, Malaysia’s central bank last Friday predicted the country’s economy could shrink up to 2% in 2020.

Singapore’s Heng said on Monday that new restrictions affecting major trade partners would reduce exports even more. “We must expect our overall GDP growth to take a further hit.”

Separately, Singapore’s government intends to help restaurants sell through delivery platforms, since they will have to stop dine-in services for the next four weeks, the Enterprise Singapore agency announced on Saturday.

It will fund 5% of the commission fees charged by three major food delivery platforms: Deliveroo, Foodpanda and GrabFood. The platforms typically take around 30% of an order bill.

“This is also a good time for businesses to optimize their business models for online sales,” Ted Tan, the agency’s deputy chief executive, said in a statement. “Enterprise Singapore will be looking at other initiatives to help businesses build new capabilities to navigate the online space.”

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