A Singapore Entrepreneur's Guide to Navigating COVID-19
There are many challenges that small businesses are currently facing, the way the Singapore government has been handling the crisis is impressive.
In response to COVID-19, many countries have resorted to a complete lockdown in order to control the virus spread. For Singapore, this is easier said than done.
Singapore has no natural resources and relies largely on trade to generate the bulk of its economy. Being a global trading hub, Singapore holds the world's highest trade to GDP ratio and people from around the globe come to its borders to ply their trade.
While this is great in peacetime, it has been difficult to balance business as usual with public safety during the crisis. For startups and entrepreneurs, who typically can’t handle drops in consistent cash flow, business becomes a bit more challenging.
Personally, I’ve been very impressed with the way the Singapore government has been handling the crisis. Nonetheless, there are many challenges that small businesses are currently facing. Here is how entrepreneurs and startups can navigate business life during COVID-19.
Current context: Keeping the population calm, safe and under control
Because the GDP of Singapore is based almost entirely on trade and people fly in and out of Changi Airport every day, it’s nearly impossible to do full lockdown without major repercussions. This means that it’s quite a challenge to implement effective safety measures without damaging the economy, but the government seems to be doing well so far.
A major policy from the government has been to slowly lock down at-risk parts of Singapore section by section rather than shutting down everything all at once. This partial lockdown allows certain parts of the community, economy, and nation to remain open and functioning, sustaining the economy and keeping a sense of calm. Of course, this will gradually become a full lockdown if needed—safety is always paramount. Luckily, the Singapore government has been very transparent and has communicated its plans to build trust with its population.
Testing is important for any response to the virus. Singapore currently tests around 2,000 people a day. Equally important is linking people who test positive to the virus so scientists can obtain a better picture of how it’s spreading. When the government realizes there is a cluster, they shut down the area to make sure it didn’t spread in the aforementioned partial lockdowns.
How the government is helping startups and founders
Singapore has instituted several innovative policies aimed to help small businesses to survive during this unprecedented crisis. These policies are mostly geared towards helping people survive, but still provide valuable help towards keeping businesses afloat.
Critically, the government is helping to support freelancers, who have been hit especially hard due to less work within Singapore. To help sustain these vital businesses, the government is handing out S$1,000 each month for nine months to each freelancer and small business with less than S$100,000 in yearly income. Furthermore, Singaporeans and permanent residents experiencing difficulties during the crisis can apply for a S$500 temporary relief fund. Applications can be made through the government website.
Also important to note for entrepreneurs is that all adult Singaporeans are eligible to receive a one-off S$600 solidarity payment in April to help cope with the pandemic.
The importance of social distancing
While the government has helped a lot, there are several things that you can do yourself to get through the crisis, most importantly social distancing. In fact, the government has laid down strict measures for social gatherings, putting a ban on all gatherings of more than 10 people.
If work can be done remotely, companies are encouraged to do so. Those not doing so can be fined or issued a stop-work order by enforcement officers conducting periodic checks for compliance. If a company can't justify not working remotely, the company faces fine or stop-work order. In fact, the government has already issued stop-work orders to 34 companies throughout Singapore.
Those who breach protocol can be fined up to S$10,000, jailed for up to six months, or even face worse penalties if they choose to ignore stay at home policies. A 45-year-old male Singapore Permanent Resident found this out first hand when he breached Stay-Home Notice (SHN) requirements. After attempting to leave the country, he ultimately lost his Permanent Resident (SPR) status and was barred from re-entering Singapore in the future.
If possible, working from home (WFH) is absolutely essential during this pandemic. All companies that can operate remotely should be urging all their employees to do so. While WFH can be a challenge for many, those who buy into it can greatly boost their productivity. Forming a routine and finding the perfect work-life balance is essential to getting the most out of working from home.
How to deal with closed borders and foreign workers
In a hyper-globalized country like Singapore, there are many companies that have to manage foreign workers. Therefore, it’s important to know their rights to effectively manage them in the current crisis. The government is doing its part by trying to keep all foreign workers within the country and is urging all residents outside of Singapore to come home and wait out the crisis within its borders.
A large part of Singapore’s workforce comes from Malaysia—nearly 400,000 people each day. The Malaysian borders are completely locked down right now and most likely won’t open soon, meaning that many foreign workers Singaporean companies rely on are trapped in a no man’s land. These people help keep the economy going—even if they can’t work right now. To keep them in the country, the Singapore government provides an allowance of S$50 to each worker every night they stay.
The Singaporean government has been doing a great job of balancing safety and sustaining the economy—something that much of the rest of the world is struggling with. Currently, the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) of Singapore is at orange—level three out of four. However, with rumors that the government will soon raise it to red, things will likely change for small businesses and founders. However, I have full confidence that any coming response will be equally swift with the goal of supporting local entrepreneurs and small businesses.