One year after Circuit Breaker — What has changed?

During the launch of the Circuit breaker on 7 April 2020, the Singapore government had to shut down most public facilities and business operations with various strict restrictions such as no dine-in options and cordon-off public areas. Many personal care services could not provide services in proximity as it would view this as high-risk activities.

The tight capacity limit to entering shopping malls and supermarkets was closely adhered to, and every responsible individual was following the 1-meter social distancing guideline. More face-to-face interactions in offices and public amenities have resumed, and more restrictions have been relaxed.

With high public compliance, it was one of the biggest contributing factors to the successful reopening of the economy. Singapore progressed into Phase 2 in June 2020 and Phase 3 at the year-end.

Fast forward to a year later, what has changed for Singapore?

Rising COVID-19 cases in neighboring countries

While we are currently keeping the infected cases low, neighboring countries like Malaysia and India were taking big hits on daily cases, which forced us to keep its borders tight. To date, more than 158 million COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, and death tolls have reached 3 million across almost 200 countries. This can be worrisome for the global recovery, especially when Singapore is highly dependent on migrant workers and imports.

Uncertainty in Singapore-Hongkong Travel Bubble

The travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong was not progressing well because of rising cases in both countries, which recently brought us back to Phase 2 with the outbreak of Tan Tock Seng Hospital clusters. With the uncertainty from the recent outbreak, we should take precautions towards future outbreaks while living with our getaway dream. We must closely monitor this travel bubble to prevent Singapore from any setbacks to our progress towards economic recovery.

Rolling out of Vaccination exercises

With the rapid progress of vaccine development, Singapore deployed vaccination exercises to different age groups and frontline staff. Over 1.8 million people have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and are making excellent progress in achieving herd immunity. While the government makes vaccination optional, we should not take it for granted as other countries may not have access to it. Before further mutation of the virus, we as citizens should take more responsibility to keep our loved ones safe, and taking vaccination is the first step towards achieving it.

Shortage of migrant workers

While it is an open secret that Singapore depends heavily on our migrant workers for a variety of industries such as construction, the pandemic has significantly tightened the travel of these workers into the country. As Singapore restricted entry for Indian and Bangladeshi workers, many Build-To-Order (BTO) projects were delayed up to a year or more that could trouble for many young couples. As reported that the completion of BTO projects could take up to 6 years, applying for public housing is rendered unattractive as many would like to move in within a short time. A shortage of migrant workers could affect the inflation rate.

Rising costs of Housing

A long delay in housing projects could affect family planning and overall population growth in the long run where many couples could be discouraged. Many will seek other alternatives if they want to go ahead with their initial plans. That may be one of the major reasons that resale flats and private properties are soaring for the first quarter of 2021.

Moreover, many contractors may suffer from high labor costs where they must hire Chinese or Malaysian workers. In return, these costs would be passed on to the buyers, and cause BTO prices to not remain affordable. Interior design works could be more costly if demand exceeds the supply of workers in Singapore.

Like those who could not afford to buy a flat under such unprecedented circumstances, staying with their parents after marriage would be a viable option. When the property market is experiencing a high demand for private and resale properties, we can expect another round of implementing cooling measures.

Restrictions for Wedding events

Since the group events restrictions have been slightly relaxed, allowing wedding events amid a pandemic can be risky, given that it leads to more interactions between different groups of people. Since holding a formal registration of marriage (ROM) is viable in small group settings, restricting weddings could put some couples off to delay their banquets. While this might be one of the least concerned, we would not want to rule out the possibility of couples not proceeding with family planning. When the COVID-19 pandemic recovers, we can expect a strong demand for weddings, which will increase wedding costs in the next few years. This might again put more couples to reconsider their wedding plans.

Downsizing of Offices

As we stay optimistic about the Working from Home (WFH) and hybrid working arrangement, we can expect more companies to reduce office spaces and cater solely for collaborative work. This could be a poor signal for Retail and Food and Beverage (F&B) owners, where they could see a significant drop in traffic in the long run. Until the current situation improves, we expect only half of the usual office crowd during the week, and not ruling out food deliveries.

Competition for Jobs

When WFH arrangement persists, jobs requiring less on-site arrangement would be competitive, particularly for customer service and technical roles. While many companies struggle to stay afloat, it makes only sense for them to hire cheaper workers across the regions, and this brings less edge for those equally capable in Singapore. Though we see more jobs created by the day, we must be aware of the jobs that are created, rather than focusing on the headlines.

With all these constraints, what can we do now?

Go ahead with your plans

As cliché as it sounds, we should carry on with our plans according to the new normal as we should not expect things to return to pre-COVID-19 times. While many are hesitating to progress plans, time is running out for those at their peak or ideal age to settle down. Since traveling abroad is almost impossible, we could still enjoy the vibrant Garden City and explore new areas or neighborhoods in Singapore.

Adjust expectations of rising costs

This can be daunting for many who may look forward to their first big-ticket purchase as they may not have considered the many effects of the pandemic. With the current market situation, many purchases will be more expensive, and this might call for reconsideration. Even if you are financially stable, adjusting your expectations is expected in this unprecedented situation. Good financial planning would be helpful in this context, and more should be done in reducing unnecessary costs.

Taking good care of your mental health

While we couldn’t rule out another circuit breaker (lockdown), taking care of our mental health is of utmost importance. With the prolonged pandemic and increased uncertainty, we would expect the pandemic to continue for the next 2 to 3 years. Given the excellent progress made by Singapore, the recovery should not only be reflected inwards but also abroad around the world. In the meantime, taking care of our mental health should be our top priority, and companies should take the lead in ensuring the mental well-being of staff.

While I deemed COVID-19 an accelerator to many technological and physical developments around the world, we have many changes to deal with, which could be taunting. By understanding the rapid developments, we could adjust our perspective to the dynamic business environment through our good mental state.

With that, I believe that there are many opportunities for us to seize, and we should take this pandemic as a springboard to adapt our expectations for the future. It is never too late for us to start looking at the world with a different lens.

About The Author:

Vince Law is an Accountancy graduate from Singapore Management University. He has worked at one of the Big 4 Accounting firms and having completed a consulting internship with an SME in Singapore. After his graduation, he will be heading to one of the Big 4 Accounting firms as a business consultant. During his free time, he writes on topics related to personal development and current affairs through his lens.

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