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Coronavirus has dimmed the outlook of Singapore’s jobs market, says minister

Singapore created more jobs than expected last year — but replicating that performance has become harder now with the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s manpower minister said on Thursday.

The Southeast Asian economy added a total of 63,200 jobs in 2019, according to preliminary data released by the manpower ministry. That’s the highest number of jobs created since 2014, the data showed.   

“Even in 2019, we were looking at a more uncertain outlook and as it turns out, 2019’s employment growth was very strong,” Josephine Teo, Singapore’s minister for manpower, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Thursday.

“But coming into 2020, especially with the COVID-19 outbreak, I think everyone is not so sure whether we can sustain the momentum. I think it’s best not to expect that it will be so,” added Teo, who’s also Singapore’s second minister for home affairs.

The tiny Southeast Asian country, with a population of 5.7 million, was among the earliest locations outside China to report cases of the coronavirus disease.

As of Wednesday noon, Singapore confirmed 112 cases of the coronavirus disease, of which 79 have been discharged from hospitals, according to the Ministry of Health. The country hasn’t reported any deaths.

Singapore has been singled out by several analysts as one of the most economically vulnerable to the virus spread, given its close economic links with China — where the new coronavirus was first detected. China is Singapore’s largest export market and biggest source of international tourists.

But China, in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, has taken drastic measures such as shutting down cities and businesses, as well as restricting travel — threatening the revenue stream of many economies including Singapore.

To counter those economic hits, the Singapore government has set aside 5.6 billion Singapore dollars ($4.02 billion) to support businesses and households through the outbreak. Of that amount, 2.4 billion Singapore dollars are slated for helping companies defray wage costs.

Teo explained that those measures would help businesses to retain workers — instead of letting them go during challenges times — so that they can scale up quickly when the economy recovers.

“The upturn may come, and it may come sooner than you expect,” she said.

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