Let’s Learn From Everyone

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COVID-19 goalnet

WHILE last Saturday’s balcony sing-along of Home may have brought about a nice, warm glow, it would have been transient, lasting a short while before returning us to the reality of the dark situation we are in.

You are still stuck at home.

Sunday’s online Zoom discussion,  The COVID-19 Crisis: Through Medical, Economic And Legal Lenses, organised by the Workers’ Party Youth Wing, offered a more thought-provoking and valuable assessment of where we are at and what could be achieved if we put our heads together to overcome the effects of the pandemic.

Symbolic gestures of patriotism have little bearing in this global war against the Coronavirus. It’s the enemy that carries no flag and invades with impunity. And you can’t see it. But you do feel its rampant effects. Maybe on people you know who have suffered from it, and certainly in terms of the curtailment of some of the liberties you’ve taken for granted.

Meanwhile, the death numbers mount —more than 200,000 deaths (that we know of) globally — and countries remain locked down.

And there still isn’t a globally unified plan of action. The SARS-CoV-2 virus still has the upper hand, and in lieu of a vaccine or a clearer understanding of the behaviour of the virus, experts are playing a waiting game, hoping that time will wear down the virus.

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Meanwhile, we face an additional month of inactivity, as the Circuit Breaker (CB) measures are extended to 1 June.

That means another month that businesses are not functioning and households are forced to make ends meet. For some households, this is an extended time out for introspection. For many others, it’s about figuring out how to put food on the table, whether their jobs will exist, whether their businesses will be viable.

The government has handed out a one-off $600 of taxpayers’ funds to adult citizens as part of the Solidarity payment, in view of the pandemic. That won’t go very far, but it will help to some extent. There will be additional payouts to assist, depending on income levels. With everyone in the same boat floating and waiting, perhaps more immediate needs could be attended to.

Instead of reducing the electronic road pricing (there are fewer cars on the road, anyway), how about reducing the cost of utilities to households until the economy starts picking up, since everyone is supposed to be at home?

Meanwhile, previously overlooked foreign workers are getting full-on ministerial attention as the government tries to repair the ding to its reputation following the spike in COVID-19 cases in the dormitories. Employers of foreign workers are getting a $750 levy rebate for each foreign worker employed, to help them remain operational and to resume operations quickly when the CB is lifted.

Even as the measures to contain the spread amongst the foreign workers is underway, local numbers seem to be coming down. Perhaps the date for lifting the CB could be monitored and phased according to the situation on the ground. As long as the local cases are low to none on a consecutive basis, the gears of society and the economy should be turned on again, albeit with the proper precautions in place.

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It will take a while to assess the impact of this CB and the pandemic. How many businesses would have folded, and how many are on wobbly ground as they stagger to their feet again? How many would have lost their jobs, and how many jobs are available?

Government doesn’t have to take the full load of COVID-19 on its shoulders. There are many other people out there with views and suggestions who could help make the recovery process a lot swifter.

Business Continuity

Over the course of the next few days and weeks, STORM-ASIA will be talking to business owners in a variety of industries about their post-COVID-19 plans.

A sampling of opinions is presented here.

The situation for some.

“The government measures have been helpful in balancing out some of the April expenses, but it won’t keep businesses open; staff still have to be paid beyond that. The government should stop levy payments until things stabilize.” — Paul Joseph, Director of The Song Of India

For the World Gourmet Summit, we’ve had 28 restaurants, and we’ve lost 3 maybe 4 since the pandemic. We’ve moved the event to August/September for now. If we can’t get it going by then, we’ll have a major issue.” — Peter Knipp, Founder, Peter Knipp Holdings

There are opportunities, too.

“With social distancing measures, I think it will take years (and a vaccine) to normalise. People are cutting their own hair and cooking their own food, so I think more people will be managing their own skin care routines. Hence I have launched Your Skin Care Mentor programme, to help more people optimise their skin care regime and understand and use medical-grade skin care products effectively.” — Dr Yanni Xu, Medical Director, The Urban Clinic

But lots more challenges.

“Every one of my businesses globally got hit almost simultaneously. Within the space of two weeks, all our businesses from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere have effectively shut down.” — Loh Lik Peng, Director, Unlisted Collection, Hotels & Restaurants

“Overall, there will be a huge increase in demand for legal services. There are new laws passed to deal with the effects of the Circuit Breaker. This will cause ripple effects in the business community. But, the legal industry should see a decline of 30% in terms of revenue, because clients won’t have the liquidity to pay for services.” — A. Tan, partner in a mid-sized law firm

“We anticipate that we may lose customers. However our products and initiatives have helped companies in their digitalisation and remote work needs. We hope that this, along with the fact that we provide a good value proposition, would give us a positive outcome in time to come.” — Gibu Mathew, VP & GM (Asia Pac), Zoho Corp

“The crisis will embed certain behaviours and new habits will be formed. E-Commerce, which was ubiquitous in China and growing quickly in the rest of the region will be firmly established as the default shopping channel in most countries, including Singapore.” — Guy Hearn, Principal of Fullbeam, a Singapore-based media and communications consultancy

Be mindful of other viruses.

“In APAC, we detected 93 coronavirus-related malware in Bangladesh, 53 in the Philippines, 40 in China, 23 in Vietnam, 22 in India and 20 in Malaysia. Single-digit detections were monitored in Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Myanmar, and Thailand. For those working from home, it is important to note that once devices are taken outside of a company’s network infrastructure and are connected to new networks and WIFI, the risks to corporate information increase.” — Stephan Neumeier, MD Asia Pac, Kaspersky

And on a philosophical note…

“If governments loved their people, and their people loved the Earth, the virus will disappear.” — Ku Swee Yong, CEO, International Property Advisor

If you have a point of view on COVID-19, or think someone you know could present a thought-provoking perspective on the subject, please email [email protected] with your details and a short summary.

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