Pandemics of viruses such as the coronavirus have long been the subject of many a science fiction film. The truth, unfortunately, is that a pandemic can happen beyond just movies. Viruses are real and can spread quickly across the globe due to fast and accessible air travel. As the fear of this virus spreads, the potential for a global financial panic also increases, which can have a chilling effect on the job market in Singapore and beyond.
What is Covid-19 and How Does It Spread?
This novel virus is a respiratory illness similar to the flu that started in either in animals or a Wuhan biotech facility and spread to the human populace in late 2019. The virus causes fever, coughing, and shortness of breath among other symptoms. It began in Wuhan in China and has spread since then despite many cities in the greater Wuhan area being quarantined.
This virus is particularly dangerous because it has a long incubation period (up to 27 days), and people can pass the virus very easily through droplets formed when they sneeze or cough. It is unknown at this time how long this particular strain lasts outside the body, so precautions must be taken. You should wash your hands frequently and use a hand sanitizer when out in public. Try to avoid shaking hands and sharing food while the virus persists.
Singapore has been hit with one of the highest infection totals outside of China due in large part to travelers and the ease with which the infection can be spread from person to person.
Chinese Travelers in Singapore
One of the largest sectors of the Singaporean economy is tourism, as this island nation has lots of gorgeous beaches and a tropical feel. Each year, around 20% of all tourist visas issued by the government go to Chinese citizens. Due to the increased travel restrictions of its citizens by the Chinese government, fewer visas are being issued for entrance into Singapore.
Also, many travelers from other areas such as North American and Europe are choosing to avoid Singapore as a vacation destination, with many canceling trips that had already been booked after news spread that Singapore has seen a spike in infections.
With fewer tourists from China and around the world, many hotels and resorts are suffering financial losses. If this persists, workers may find smaller pay checks due to shift cuts and even layoffs should the virus continue to spread throughout the country.
With fewer tourists coming into Singapore, people whose livelihoods rely on tourism outside of the hotel and hospitality industry are also feeling the pinch. For example, tour guides who show visitors the sights are seeing smaller groups or no groups at all. Restaurants are seeing fewer diners, hitting their bottoms lines hard. Some estimates say that the drop in tourists may hit 30 to 50% or more.
Coronavirus Infects The Financial Sector
DBS Group Holdings is Singapore’s largest bank with several offices all over the country. An employee at the head office in the capital’s financial district tested positive, leading the bank to send home over 300 staffers as a precaution.
The stock markets (Dow Jones) has begun to plummet (as of today, this is the fastest collapse from an all-time peak since 1928, just ahead of The Great Depression) as fears of a pandemic have caused many businesses to temporarily shutter operations. With no end in sight to the daily rise in infection and death totals, the uncertainty has left investors panicked, which has hurt the bottom line of many publicly-traded Singaporean companies. This may result in future lost wages and possibly job losses, depending on how long it takes the markets to bounce back.
One of the biggest problems facing Singapore’s manufacturing sector in the face of the virus is supply chain issues. China is a huge supplier of steel and other metals, something that many factories in Asia need desperately to continue making their wares. With so many plants shut down by the Chinese government to stem the spread of the virus, factories in Singapore and beyond are seeing a slowdown or complete breakdowns in their supply chains, rendering them unable to meet their production quotas.
According to the Singapore Semiconductor Industry Association (SSIA), up to 80 percent of its members are seeing adverse effects due to a broken supply chain from China. This is just one example of the damage the virus is wreaking on the manufacturing sector.
While in Singapore, many tourists see shows or go to concerts, but many people understandably are not going to public events at the moment, as it only takes one infected person, who likely doesn’t even know they have the virus, to spread it to others.
In fact, on February 7, 2020, the government issued a Code Orange for only the second time in history. This means that event organizers are being encouraged to cancel nonessential events, especially ones that are of a large scale or open to the public.
Caterers, ushers, servers, organizers, and performers who would have worked these events now find themselves scrambling for work to replace the lost wages from those gigs.
A Code Orange in Singapore is rare and very serious. It is a warning issued by the Minister of Health and means that the virus could have a “moderate to high” impact on public health. Minister Gan Kim Yong said that the alert was set to orange to warn people to take precautions against infection, and to inform citizens that additional measures would be taken in the coming days “to minimize the risk of further transmission of the virus in the community.”
Furthering the potential impact of the virus on jobs, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned on February 14, 2020, that a recession could be on the horizon. While he stated that he could not say with certainty that one would hit, he did advise that at the very least, Singapore would experience a financial slowdown.
Relief in Sight?
The government of Singapore released its budget for 2020 on February 18, and it contained several policies that are meant to give a boost to the sagging economy, which had been in a slowdown even before the virus took hold.
Among the announced policies is SG$800,000,000 that has been earmarked specifically to fight the coronavirus in Singapore. In addition, five of the hardest-hit sectors will see cash infusions and other assistance to help them stay afloat until the economy and tourism bounce back. Those sectors include aviation, retail, transport services, food services, and tourism.
Supply Chain Diversification
One of the few silver linings to the disruption in factory output is that now more than ever, manufacturing executives are seeing the folly of relying so much on one country, China, to purchase raw materials from. Chan Chun Sing, the Trade and Industry Minister of Singapore, told reporters that the need to diversify supply chains is heavy on the minds of business owners, who intend to begin buying materials from other countries. This will strengthen supply chains and lessen disruption should another outbreak occur in the future
While this may do little to assuage the immediate needs of out-of-work employees, it does bode well for the future of Singapore jobs in general.
Coronavirus and the Impact on Singapore Jobs – The Good, Bad and Ugly