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Saturday, February 4, 2023
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PM LEE – IF THINGS REMAIN STABLE, WE CAN REMOVE REMAINING COVID RESTRICTIONS

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong issued a new year message to Singaporeans on Saturday as the country ushered in 2023.

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He summed up what happened over the last year and provided an optimistic outlook on the upcoming year, noteworthily stating that if “things remain stable, we can take the final steps to lift the remaining social restrictions, to establish post pandemic normalcy.”

PM Lee’s New Year Message

We have a lot to be thankful for in 2022. After battling COVID-19 for nearly three years, things are getting back to normal. We held our first full-scale National Day Parade since the pandemic. Singaporeans can again celebrate our festivals, and reunite with family and friends at home and abroad.

I made several overseas trips recently and was happy to see Changi Airport buzzing with life. Singaporeans are travelling once again. Singapore Airlines flights are full. Cabin crew are back from being care ambassadors and flying again. As we welcome visitors from around the world, our recovery is extending beyond the airport and airlines to the hotels, shops, F&B, and service sectors too.

We resumed hosting flagship international events, including the Shangri-La Dialogue and the Bloomberg New Economy Forum. And we heard the roar of the Singapore Grand Prix again, energising our city with the rush of exhilarating races and live performances, and sending a strong signal that Singapore is back in business.

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Still, I strongly encourage everyone to keep your vaccinations current, and protect yourselves with the latest bivalent vaccines. We are watching the COVID-19 situation closely, particularly how the year-end travel season and the surge in cases in China may affect us. If despite these risks things remain stable, we can take the final steps to lift the remaining social restrictions, to establish post pandemic normalcy.

We would not have got here without the support and trust of Singaporeans, and the valiant efforts of our frontline workers. We have just announced the COVID-19 national awards list – including the newly created COVID-19 Resilience Medal – honouring all those who directly helped in this fight. In a crisis, they answered the call of duty and more. They stepped forward to protect us all, often at considerable risk and sacrifice to themselves and their families. When the situation improved, they toiled on behind the scenes so that the rest of us could return to normal lives. They represent the best of Singapore and deserve our deepest gratitude.

Our experience with COVID-19 has taught us valuable lessons for future crises. We will enhance our preparedness for future pandemics, as well as strengthen our healthcare system and community networks more broadly. We will push ahead with Healthier SG to mobilise GPs, who were invaluable during the pandemic, to partner Singaporeans to live longer and healthier. Healthier SG will emphasise preventive health, and improve the provision of care to Singaporeans, especially our elderly.

Providing healthcare and social services for a rapidly ageing population will require considerable resources. To help finance our growing healthcare budget, from 1 Jan 2023 the GST rate will go up by one percentage point. We are also implementing a comprehensive package to help households cope with cost of living pressures and cushion the effects of the GST hike, including utilities rebates and Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers. Over the last month, nearly three million Singaporeans received up to $700 in cash. More assistance is on the way in the new year. I thank everyone for contributing our fair shares to public revenues. This will help us greatly to take proper care of fellow Singaporeans, especially our more vulnerable seniors, both for today and for our children’s generation.

We are planning and building for Singapore’s future in many ways. Major projects are progressing. I spoke about Tuas Port and Changi Airport Terminal 5 at the National Day Rally. Recently, another 11 MRT stations on the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) opened. When fully completed in 2025, the TEL will serve one million commuters daily, connecting residents in the East with the North-South corridor.

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On housing, we have been working hard to catch up on construction delays caused by COVID-19. We are sparing no efforts to build more HDB flats, and keep public housing affordable and accessible for Singaporeans, especially couples starting families. Last month HDB launched close to 10,000 new flats, its largest ever single BTO offering. Next year HDB will launch another 23,000 new flats. We will maintain this high tempo to meet the strong demand for housing, and expect to build up to 100,000 new BTO flats from 2021 to 2025.

We have also made strides towards a more inclusive society. We announced policies to ensure that both genders are protected and treated equally, whether at home or at work. We are working with unions and employers to secure CPF contributions and work injury compensation for platform workers. The Enabling Masterplan 2030 will help persons with disabilities find jobs and live with dignity.

We repealed Section 377A of the Penal Code. This is a longstanding and difficult issue, with views strongly held on both sides. But I am heartened that Singaporeans have responded with restraint and supported our balanced approach – to decriminalise male homosexual acts, while protecting the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman from being challenged in the courts.

The international outlook remains troubled. US-China tensions are likely to persist. How quickly China recovers from COVID-19 remains to be seen, while the US and EU may well enter recession. Our economy will be affected. MTI expects slower growth in 2023 – between 0.5 to 2.5 percent. We must brace ourselves for the uncertainties ahead.

In such testing times, we must above all stay united as one people. DPM Lawrence Wong and the 4G team have been busy with the Forward Singapore discussions, partnering Singaporeans to refresh our social compact and chart new directions forward. Many Singaporeans have gone beyond actively sharing their feedback and views, and stepped forward to volunteer in areas where they can contribute and partner with the Government. This collective sense of ownership and responsibility is crucial to renewing and strengthening our social compact. We look forward to the outcomes of the discussions, and to completing the exercise in the second half of next year.

Even the darkest of clouds have silver linings, but only for those bold enough to seize opportunities. We have weathered the pandemic safely and emerged stronger. Our COVID-19 response has enhanced our international standing. There is great interest in Singapore – many businesses and individuals want to set up shop here and in the region. We must seize the moment. Welcome promising investments and talents of all nationalities to Singapore, while building up our own skills and capabilities, venturing forth to chase our dreams in the region and the world. Together, we will build a brighter future for Singapore and all Singaporeans.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year!

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