Despite economic risk, Singapore lockdown looms after Covid-19 surge

Kuala Lumpur - Simon Roughneen, - Announcing an effective lockdown that will run for a month from April 7, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Singaporeans on Friday afternoon that the country needs to "make a decisive move now" to stop the coronavirus.

"We will close most workplaces except for essential services," Lee said, touting the move as a "circuit breaker" aimed at interrupting a startling jump in infections over the past week.
Singapore has seen the number of cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, rise to 1,114. Five people have died, the latest fatality announced on Friday morning.
Most of this week's diagnoses have been described by the Health Ministry as "local," after a period of weeks when most of the new cases originated in homebound Singaporeans and were labelled "imported."
"For half of these [new] cases we don't know where or from whom they caught the virus," Lee said, speaking live on television.
"We now think there probably undetected cases out in the community," Lee warned, citing the likelihood that despite Singapore's meticulous quarantining and "contact-tracing," asymptomatic carriers could be going unnoticed and unaffected but infecting others who later fall ill.
Lee said that schools will close as Singapore emulates neighbouring countries that have already imposed strict lockdowns aimed at stalling the pandemic locally.
Attempting to console Singaporeans that "things will be alright," Lee said that the country has enough food to see it through the lockdown.
"Essential services will keep on running as we batten down to fight this virus," he said.
However the government warned Singaporeans to adhere to the restrictions. "Stay home, go out only for essential services," National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said, during another televised speech delivered after Lee's.
The lockdown is likely to further dent Singapore's economy, after official data released on Friday showed retail and food sales plunging, suggesting that consumer spending had been stunted by the coronavirus even before it spiralled into a global pandemic.
According to Singapore's Department of Statistics, total retail sales dropped 8.9 per cent in February compared to January, with food and beverages sales down 18.3 per cent over the same period.
Year-on-year, the respective drops are 8.6 per cent and 16.6 per cent, with the department attributing the slumps to "the decline in tourist arrivals and lower domestic consumption as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak."
The then-outbreak had infected fewer than 90,000 people worldwide by the end of February, before spiralling in March.
As the pandemic spread, Singapore, one of the world's richest countries measured by per capita income, shut its borders to visitors, a lucrative source of retail spending. 
The numbers hint at worse to come, with the government conceding on March 26 that the country faces recession due to the pandemic, which has infected more than 1 million people worldwide. 
Lee said on Friday that the government "will announce additional support for households and businesses, over and above what was provided in the two earlier budgets." 

Friday, April 3rd 2020
Simon Roughneen,

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