Wednesday, 14 October 2020

COVID-19: Singapore and Singaporeans As One

As One - Short film series
The “As One” series of short films spotlight how public officers and Singaporeans came together to help Singapore to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inspired by true stories and told through the lenses of four Singaporean filmmakers 🇸🇬, the ‘As One’ short film series shows us how Singapore rose together, in these trying times.

From developing the SafeEntry system that allowed businesses to reopen, to caring for the wellbeing of migrant workers at the dormitories, these films seek to show how everyone has a critical role to play in overcoming this adversity together.

Carmaking returns to Singapore with Hyundai's new smart plant in Jurong

Factory to build up to 30,000 electric vehicles a year when completed by end-2022
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2020

Electric cars will be built at a highly automated factory in Singapore, marking the return of automobile manufacturing here and incorporating first-of-its-kind features.

At a virtual groundbreaking ceremony of the Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Centre in Jurong yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the investment by the South Korean carmaker was a nod to Singapore's strengths.

"I am happy that Hyundai has chosen Singapore to locate your newest facility. It is an investment of almost $400 million, and may produce up to 30,000 vehicles per year by 2025, five years from now," said PM Lee.

The centre, to be completed by end-2022, will serve as an open innovation lab for research and development into mobility concepts, which observers reckon will include autonomous vehicles and new forms of ride-sharing.

Sitting on a 44,000 sq m plot - larger than five football fields - in the Jurong Innovation District, and with a built-up area of some 90,000 sq m, the facility will be futuristic.

It will have a landing pad for passenger drones - which Hyundai is also developing - and employ renewable energy sources such as solar and hydrogen.

When ready, the facility will have a small-scale electric car assembly line which is expected to produce up to 30,000 vehicles a year.

Customers will be able to purchase and customise their vehicles on their phones. Once an order is confirmed, production will begin.

Customers can then watch their cars being assembled at the centre.

The facility will be a "vivid demonstration" that Singapore has what it takes to dream big and reinvent itself, said PM Lee. "We did not think that Singapore would one day be manufacturing cars again. But Singapore is where we have made the impossible, possible."

He said Singapore had a car assembly industry from as early as the 1940s, but abandoned it in 1980 when commercial competitiveness began to favour high-volume plants.

But 40 years on, with the revival of electric vehicles, the game has changed again with growing interest in cleaner, smarter vehicles and cities facing pressure to move people around in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Automotive activities are becoming viable in Singapore again, he said. "Electric vehicles have a different supply chain, fewer mechanical parts and more electronics, which plays to Singapore's strengths."

That is why global companies producing automotive electronics like Delphi and Infineon have been in Singapore for some time, he added.

This will hopefully open up new growth areas for the economy, he said, and create exciting jobs such as Industrial Internet of Things engineers, data scientists and digital supply chain strategists.

Joined virtually by South Korean Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Sung Yun-mo and Hyundai Motor Group executive vice-chairman Chung Eui-sun at the event, Mr Lee added that the facility could pave the way for more South Korean companies to invest here, partner with local businesses and collaborate with universities and research institutions.

Hyundai said the facility will employ various advanced manufacturing and logistical systems, including artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and robotics.

Hyundai will also trial battery-as-a-service, where consumers buy an electric car without its battery - which can account for half its cost - and then lease the cells from Hyundai. This could reduce the cost of an electric vehicle dramatically.

The company would not reveal the number of people the facility will employ, saying it "will be determined later... as the project evolves". Earlier, a spokesman said it would create "hundreds of jobs".

Hyundai's move comes after a bid by British home appliance maker Dyson to make electric cars in Singapore. Dyson, however, pulled the plug on the venture.

Monday, 12 October 2020

What Singaporeans think about foreigners

Most Singaporeans remain open to foreigners here: Poll by government feedback unit REACH
Those who are jobless are more likely to express unhappiness 
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Sunday Times, 11 Oct 2020

More Singaporeans feel positive about the presence of foreigners here rather than negative, although such sentiments are influenced by one's employment status, a poll by government feedback unit REACH has found.

About half of the more than 2,000 people surveyed said they were neutral about non-citizens in Singapore, while 35 per cent felt positive and just 14 per cent were negative towards them.

Those who were unemployed were more likely to express unhappiness, with 26 per cent saying they felt negative or very negative about foreigners here. Job-related concerns about foreigners were also more pronounced among this group, REACH said in releasing its results yesterday.

The majority of those surveyed, or 63 per cent, agreed that it is important for Singapore to remain open to foreigners, with only 10 per cent disagreeing and 25 per cent neutral. Respondents who were unemployed were more likely to be neutral, at 34 per cent.

The findings were based on a telephone poll of 2,100 randomly selected Singapore citizens aged 15 and above in August.

The issue of foreign professionals in Singapore's workforce has been a hot-button topic, as rising unemployment and uncertainty amid a recession have fuelled debate over discriminatory hiring practices.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in Parliament last month that 400 firms are on a Fair Consideration Framework watch list because they may have engaged in such practices.

These companies have an unusually high share of foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians compared with the rest in their industry, she noted.

Until they improve, their work-pass applications will be rejected or held back as the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices helps them hire more Singaporeans, Mrs Teo said.

Respondents in the REACH survey were also presented with an open-ended question on the top three things that bothered them most about foreigners.

Nearly half did not cite any, while 23 per cent mentioned job-related concerns and 16 per cent said they were bothered by the social habits of foreigners, such as talking loudly.

A separate online poll of 1,050 Singaporeans found that the majority felt the country's status as a regional hub is beneficial for job creation. But one in five said it would be better for the Republic to do away with this status in order to reduce the number of foreigners, even if this meant fewer job opportunities for Singaporeans. Respondents who were unemployed were again more likely to indicate this.

REACH chairman Tan Kiat How said in a statement that Singaporeans are understandably anxious over job security and career opportunities during this difficult period.

The Government is committed to helping them keep their jobs or find new ones, said Mr Tan, who is Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office and for National Development.

"Nevertheless, it is heartening to know that many Singaporeans understand the need for Singapore to remain open to global talent," he said of the survey findings.

A spokesman for REACH said it regularly conducts surveys on topics that may be of interest to the public, and, in this instance, the survey was meant to understand public sentiments towards foreigners during this time of economic uncertainty.

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Baby Support Grant: One-off $3,000 grant to supplement the existing Baby Bonus Cash Gift for children born from 1 October 2020 to 30 September 2022

New parents to get $3,000 Baby Support Grant to help defray the cost of raising a child amid the COVID-19 pandemic
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 10 Oct 2020

Parents of Singaporean children born between Oct 1 this year and Sept 30, 2022, can get a one-off $3,000 grant to help them defray the cost of raising a child amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Baby Support Grant will supplement the existing Baby Bonus cash gift - which can be as much as $10,000 - and will be deposited into the same bank account parents have nominated for the cash gift.

Payments will start from April 1 next year or within one month of enrolment in the Baby Bonus scheme, whichever is later.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah, who announced the grant at a virtual media conference yesterday, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy on Singaporeans planning to wed and start families.

While the Government has enhanced support for marriage and parenthood on many different fronts, committing $4 billion annually to the Marriage and Parenthood Package, this year has been especially challenging for many young couples, she said.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has affected lives and livelihoods, and some Singaporeans are delaying their marriage and parenthood plans as a result of insecurity about jobs and incomes," said Ms Indranee, who oversees the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD).

The Baby Support Grant will give a further boost to coaxing couples not to delay their plans to get hitched and start a family, she added, noting that a recent survey shows some couples will postpone their life plans owing to concerns about their financial stability and employment prospects

"The Government will spare no effort to help couples meet their marriage and parenthood aspirations," she said.

Ms Indranee also said that every segment of society plays an important role in supporting Singaporeans on their parenthood journey, including employers and businesses.

The NPTD, which administers the Baby Support Grant with the Ministry of Social and Family Development, said it understands the disappointment of some parents in missing out on the new grant because of the start date.

"We would like to seek the public's understanding that specific start dates are needed for any new measure or enhancement," it added, noting that children born before Oct 1 this year can still enjoy the many benefits in the Marriage and Parenthood Package.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

DPM Heng Swee Keat outlines Singapore's plans to get through COVID-19 pandemic and emerge stronger in Ministerial Statement on 5 October 2020

Economic support measures could save 155,000 jobs, pave way for future: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat
Singpore's plan not just to get through pandemic but gain ground for next lap of growth as well
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Oct 2020

The economic support measures being rolled out during the current crisis could save around 155,000 jobs over this year and the next, cushioning the rise in the resident unemployment rate by about 1.7 percentage points this year, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

More than half of the jobs saved are due to the Jobs Support Scheme alone, he said, adding that there will still be job losses.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore has also estimated that the four combined Budgets will prevent the economy from contracting by a further 5.6 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product this year, and 4.8 per cent next year, he added.

Addressing Parliament ahead of a third Supplementary Supply Bill, Mr Heng said Singapore's plan is not simply to get through the pandemic. The objective at this "critical juncture" is to gain ground that will pave the way for the country's next lap of economic growth over the next five to 10 years, he said.

Laying out the Government's plans for growth, Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Finance Minister, added: "Let me stress that everything this Government does to protect, reopen and grow our economy - we do, not for the economy's sake, but for our people.

"We strive to secure a way for Singapore to continue to make a good living, so that Singaporeans can have a good life. This is our guiding principle."

The third Supplementary Supply Bill, which provides for this, will go through the usual parliamentary proceedings. It is scheduled to be debated by MPs next week, and has to be assented to by the President.

In his speech yesterday, Mr Heng outlined Singapore's progress in its fight against COVID-19. The multi-ministerial task force handling the crisis will release more details on the third and final stage of the country's phased reopening in the coming weeks, he said.

He also pledged to continue supporting households and added that support for businesses and workers will not taper off too sharply, even as Singapore shifts its approach to helping save jobs and firms.

On top of this, several support schemes will be further enhanced to help firms in hard-hit sectors, as well as those which are growing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Heng also laid out Singapore's refreshed, longer-term economic strategy which builds on the existing industry transformation maps to restructure various sectors.

First, Singapore will build up its role at the heart of Asia's growth, while forging connectivity with other key markets, Mr Heng said.

It also includes rebuilding physical connectivity in travel and trade, and strengthening digitalisation.

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung will share more details today in his ministerial statement on Singapore's plans to revive its air hub and restore connectivity.

Second, the country will redouble its efforts to foster inclusive growth. Noting that COVID-19 has revealed vulnerabilities in Singapore's labour market, Mr Heng said it is necessary to better understand its structure, and upgrade jobs and skills across all segments.

But it will still be necessary to bring in global talent to complement local talent, even as Singapore carefully updates its foreign workforce policies, he added.

"By building on complementary strengths, we can build cutting-edge capabilities in our workforce and our firms, and plug into global networks. This will ultimately benefit all Singaporean workers."

Last, it will invest in economic resilience and sustainability as a source of competitive advantage. This includes producing essential supplies locally, and ramping up deployment of renewable energy.

Mr Heng reiterated that there are no plans to draw on past reserves for this latest support package, beyond what was approved earlier.

To fund its COVID-19 response, the Government had obtained President Halimah Yacob's approval twice this year to draw up to $52 billion from past reserves.

"We have dedicated close to $100 billion to support our people and businesses through this difficult period. As we do so, we must be careful not to spend in a way that squanders what generations before us have painstakingly built up," Mr Heng said.

"Our guiding principle is prudence, not austerity. We will continue to invest decisively in our national priorities, with a deep commitment to leave behind a better future for our children."

Saturday, 3 October 2020

30 years of Singapore-China Diplomatic Relations

Singapore leaders send congratulatory messages
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2020

President Halimah Yacob, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan have exchanged congratulatory messages with their Chinese counterparts on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries today.

The leaders' letters were released by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In her letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Halimah noted that the foundations of the relationship were laid decades ago, starting with founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's visits to each other's countries in the 1970s. Diplomatic ties were established on Oct 3, 1990.

Over the past 30 years, the relations between Singapore and China have flourished, marked by close people-to-people ties and substantive cooperation, she wrote. Bilateral cooperation has expanded into new areas, including smart cities, finance, legal and judicial issues, as well as the Belt and Road Initiative.

"I am heartened that even amidst the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic this year, Singapore and China have maintained close and frequent exchanges at all levels, and extended assistance to each other in times of need," she wrote, saying they have opened up new areas of cooperation as they grapple with similar challenges of economic recovery and bolstering trade and connectivity.

In his letter to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, PM Lee wrote that the longstanding bilateral relationship predates the formal establishment of diplomatic ties in 1990, and bilateral cooperation has since grown in depth and scope. He noted that China has been Singapore's largest trading partner and Singapore has been China's largest foreign investor since 2013, and the three government-to-government projects in China in each of the last three decades - in Suzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing - continue to do well today.

He added that people-to-people exchanges have also grown, with more than four million people travelling between both countries in 2018, 40 times the 100,000 travellers in 1990. Both countries have supported each other through the COVID-19 outbreak, and identified new areas of cooperation to propel the relationship forward, he wrote.

PM Lee added that both countries share a strong interest in enhancing Asean-China relations, and upholding free and open trade. "I look forward to working with you to strengthen the multilateral infrastructure that binds our world today, and to bring our bilateral partnership to greater heights."

Writing to Vice-Premier Han Zheng, DPM Heng said Singapore and China enjoy a multi-faceted and mutually beneficial relationship today, underpinned by close cooperation across many domains.

Bilateral exchanges have been institutionalised, with the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) as the apex platform, an important one to review existing areas of cooperation and develop new areas to keep up with the times. The Singapore-China Forum on Leadership, the Singapore-China Social Governance Forum and eight Provincial Business Councils cover other key areas of cooperation.

DPM Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Finance Minister, said: "Through these platforms, we have also built personal relationships that further deepen our bilateral ties. My exchanges with you, including our two telephone conversations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic this year, bear testament to the growing relationship between us and between our countries."

He looks forward to hosting Mr Han and his delegation for the upcoming JCBC this year, and to discuss how they can take relations to greater heights.

Foreign Minister Balakrishnan, writing to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, said both countries have been committed to facilitating economic recovery by championing cooperation in cross-border and supply chain connectivity, and have found new areas of cooperation in public health management and vaccine research and development.

"As we look back on the achievements in our relations over the short span of 30 years, I am confident that our ties will become even stronger as we embark on the next phase of our partnership," he said.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

MediShield Life to offer Singaporeans more coverage and benefits under proposed changes to be implemented in early 2021

Government to provide about $2.2 billion to help Singaporeans with Medishield Life premium adjustments
MediShield Life Council recommendations includes higher annual claim limit of $150,000; premiums set to rise by up to 35%
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2020

The compulsory national health insurance scheme is set to get a massive revamp next year, with wider benefits proposed so it can cover more and larger hospital bills.

The proposal includes raising the yearly claim limit under MediShield Life from $100,000 to $150,000.

To pay for these benefits and rising healthcare costs, premiums are expected to go up next year by as much as 35 per cent.

This will be the first increase in MediShield Life premiums since the scheme was launched five years ago.

At the upper end, the proposed hike will exceed $500 a year.

But given the difficult times Singaporeans are facing now, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the Government will soften the impact of the premium increase with a special COVID-19 subsidy for the first two years.

In the first year, all Singaporeans will get a 70 per cent subsidy on the increase. This goes down to 30 per cent in the second year. This will cost the Government $360 million.

This is on top of the existing subsidies of 15 per cent to 50 per cent given to middle-and lower-income groups, and 40 per cent to 60 per cent for the Pioneer Generation.

The Merdeka Generation receives additional age-based subsidies of 5 per cent to 10 per cent.

In all, subsidies for the next three years will amount to $2.2 billion.

The proposal will allow for wider benefits, including:

• Higher coverage for sub-acute care at community hospitals - such as for someone recovering from a heart attack - as this is 20 per cent more expensive than normal rehabilitative care.

• Higher annual claim limit of $150,000, from the current $100,000.

• Higher claim limits for some charges, such as for intensive care, which will be raised from $1,200 a day to $2,200 a day, dialysis and psychiatric care

.• An additional $200 a day claim for daily ward charges for the first two days of hospitalisation, when most tests and investigations are done. 

• MediShield Life will in future also cover treatment for attempted suicide, self-injury, substance abuse and alcoholism.

• Lower deductible of $2,000 (down from $3,000) for people 80 years and older for day surgery. This brings it in line with their deductible amount in a C-class ward, so patients will not need to be hospitalised just to qualify for insurance cover.

However, the cap on claims for people treated at private hospitals will be reduced from 35 per cent of the bill to 25 per cent.

Based on recent bills, 35 per cent of private hospital care amounts to far higher sums than bills incurred by subsidised patients.

The new claim limits should bring MediShield Life back in line with its original mandate to cover 90 per cent of subsidised bills beyond the initial deductible.

It was revealed last year that only 80 per cent of subsidised bills were fully covered.

These changes are expected to get rolling some time in the first quarter of next year.

MediShield Life Council chairman Fang Ai Lian said: "We have to periodically review and update the scheme benefits and premiums to keep pace with evolving medical practice, healthcare cost inflation and actual claims experience, so that it continues to provide assurance for Singaporeans, while remaining sustainable."

From now, reviews will be carried out every three years.

Dr Tan Wu Meng, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, supports the changes, although he said some of the premium increases are "significant".

He told The Straits Times: "The revised policy year claim limit and the ICU claim limits are consistent with supporting Singaporeans through catastrophic illness."

As for the removal of some exclusions, he said: "This would also be a key statement about inclusivity and the tone we want in our society."

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Singapore Together Emerging Stronger Conversations: Dialogue series with Singaporeans to be more inclusive

Emerging Stronger Conversations: Sessions in more languages soon, will include people with disabilities
Some ideas from recent discussion will also be translated into action, says Desmond Lee
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2020

The Singapore Together Emerging Stronger Conversations (ESC), held in English so far, will soon be conducted in Mandarin, Malay and Tamil.

Efforts, too, will be made to involve persons with disabilities (PWDs), said National Development Minister Desmond Lee.

Mr Lee, who is also the co-chairman of the Emerging Stronger Task Force, gave the assurance that the ESC will be inclusive.

"We will find a way to reach out to communities that may not automatically step forward to sign up for these conversations, including making arrangements for PWDs to participate."

He was speaking to The Straits Times at the end of one such virtual conversation held on Sept 18.

After the session, the participants - including venture capitalists, students, and working adults - continued to engage one another on Zoom chat, and offered to help in areas such as career coaching for youth.

This action-oriented spirit, said Mr Lee, is how Singapore becomes stronger.

"People step forward and say 'well, we like the energy of what's happening, we like the spirit, and we want to play a part'.

"We are going to pursue some of their ideas, and they will be translated into action."

The 17-member Emerging Stronger Task Force, set up in May to help the country deal with the longer-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, aims to share its preliminary recommendations with the Future Economy Council (FEC) by early next year.

The task force comes under the FEC - which drives the growth and transformation of Singapore's economy for the future - and works closely with the council and its six sub-committees.

In June, representatives from social enterprises and arts groups, among others, issued an open letter to the task force, calling for greater representation from women, minorities and vulnerable communities.

Mr Lee said the work of the task force will not end with a one-off report. As the crisis is still evolving, the recommendations will be on a "rolling basis". "We're far from out of the woods. New dimensions will emerge, and new perspectives arise. We should then surface these ideas to the FEC."

Industry-led coalitions have been set up in seven key growth areas - robotics, e-commerce, environmental sustainability, digitalisation of supply chains and the built environment, education technology, and enabling safe travel, and tourism.

These Singapore Together Alliances for Action, which are partnerships between industry players and the Government, will quickly prototype new ideas to grow the economy and create jobs.

Some have already begun doing workshops on ideas.

Citing an example of a trade flow digitalisation workshop held recently, Mr Lee said the scale and energy of the discussion which he observed were remarkable.

The participants in the workshop, he added, were not chief executives but those on the front lines of industry.

"These are the people who are operating the systems and doing the trade documentation, imports and exports - the operators and practitioners who are identifying the pain points, and where the gaps and inefficiencies are."

But it cannot just be a technical exercise, he said. Instead, it has to reflect a collaborative spirit "that will hopefully allow us to be a cut above the rest".

Linking these efforts back to the Singapore Together movement launched by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in June last year to involve citizens more widely in shaping policies, Mr Lee said that it is about changing the way in which Singaporeans and the private and public sectors engage with one another, so as to close gaps and seize opportunities.

"This crisis is monumental. We have to reorientate and focus on the future through action, involving Singaporeans and friends of Singapore."

Separately, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Finance and National Development Indranee Rajah told The Straits Times that the Government is "listening intently" to the views coming through the ESC, including those that are different from current policy positions.

"This process of hearing and engaging with each other is important, so that as a society, we forge a common understanding of the future we want," she said.

"We want Singaporeans to be involved not just in conversation, but also in taking action and implementing ideas.

"I hope many will step forward as the action networks are formed, and find meaningful opportunities to co-create ideas and solutions."

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

COVID-19: How can Singapore reopen its borders and keep people safe?

Balancing the need to reopen country and keep people safe
Experts weigh in as Singapore takes steps to reopen borders in a safe, controlled way
By Clara Chong, The Straits Times, 23 Sep 2020

To stop COVID-19 from entering the country, Singapore shut its doors to travellers. But in the last three months, it has gradually reopened its borders, increasing the risk of infections creeping into the community. To beat the virus while trying to revive the hard-hit travel and aviation industries, the Republic has set up numerous safeguards - to keep cases low, even as numbers surge in some other countries.


The risk from imported cases is not new, and in fact, border controls have always been a cornerstone of the Republic's defence strategies, experts told The Straits Times.

But the challenge now is to reopen borders in a safe and controlled way amid a pandemic that is still raging in other parts of the world, said Associate Professor Josip Car, director of the Centre for Population Health Sciences at Nanyang Technological University's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine. The growing knowledge of how to stop the virus spread would help the country reopen its borders smartly, he noted.

But as more countries experience worsening outbreaks, including India and those in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas, it becomes more important to be prudent and cautious when arranging travel green lanes, to protect the fragile local situation that has been brought under control after much effort, said Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

Conversely, said Prof Teo, priority for travel arrangements should be given to countries with a stable local situation and which have similarly put in place strict public health measures.

The biggest benefit, when it comes to aviation and travel, will be through the resumption of mass market tourism, but it comes at a price: It poses the greatest risk to the country.

"Governments worldwide will really need to decide whether regaining the economic activity from tourism justifies the risk to the rest of the local economy," said Prof Teo.

For some countries, this decision is a difficult one as tourism drives a major segment of the local economy, but for many others, shutting down mass market tourism to safeguard the rest of the economy and allow the rest of the community and society to function is a necessary compromise.

Singapore does not expect "no new cases", and there would be a tolerance for a small number of imported cases, said Professor Dale Fisher, a senior consultant in the infectious diseases division at the National University Hospital.

He said it is crucial that visitors entering the country continue to obey the rules on mask wearing and safe distancing, and not having gatherings of more than five in a group.

Asked about the speed at which Singapore is reopening its borders, Prof Fisher suggested that the country could afford to quicken its pace.

"I am sure there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work between governments, health insurers and those in the travel industry to make it happen. Any country that has few cases, does contact tracing quickly and has few unlinked cases should be 'approved'."

If there are additional risks, stricter restrictions such as a week-long stay-home notice and wearing a contact-tracing device can then be added, Prof Fisher said.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Spanish triathlete shows incredible sportsmanship by giving up medal to rival who went wrong way

Why Diego Méntrida's decency should matter to us
By Rohit Brijnath, The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2020

After a weekend of baskets and goals, after unflappable Liverpool and unstoppable Tadej Pogacar at the Tour de France, after an agitated Novak Djokovic and a bicep-flexing Bryson DeChambeau, here's the real question we should ask:

Would we do what Diego Mentrida did? Would we have stopped?

It's possible you haven't heard about Mentrida yet but it's understandable, for he isn't particularly famous or easily recognisable and yet he produced an act of such simplicity this month, it will shake you up.

In a triathlon in Spain, a British triathlete James Teagle who was in third place, misread the signs, went 50m the wrong way and then, as is apparent in a video, crashes into a metal barrier close to the finish line. In the ensuing chaos, Mentrida overtakes him.

Bad luck, Teagle?

No, good guy Mentrida.

The Spaniard stops before the finish line. He waits. He lets Teagle cross the line before him in third place. "He deserved it," Mentrida said later and yet he had done what athletes are trained not to do. To give way.

Victory every day is helped along by error, by a defender slipping in the rain for instance, but this was different. This was not the normal course of play, not the breaking of strings on a racket but a misreading of directions. Mentrida was aware that if it wasn't for Teagle - who was evidently unaware of the way - running into the barrier the British triathlete would be ahead. The race, he decided, deserved a decent ending.

Still, would we have stopped?

No one would have raised a critical eyebrow had Mentrida taken advantage of his luck. Too bad, he might have told Teagle, and we may have agreed. Nevertheless, in what Teagle called a show of "incredible sportsmanship and integrity", Mentrida halted and it is such an affecting moment that you will rewind the video and watch it repeatedly.

There is no fuss from him, no flourish, just respect for Teagle and the sport he competes in. Mentrida must have been tired for this is the triathlon and yet in exhaustion he found clarity. His instincts, we might say, were beautiful. In the heat of the moment, the greatest excuse for idiocy in sport, he found his finest self.

And so let's ask again, would we have stopped? Is it in us? Do we care enough for sport?

Reports say the organisers gave Mentrida the same prize money as third place, a case of one fine gesture sparking another. But Mentrida did not know this when he stopped for Teagle. He did not think of the cost and always there is one. To give way is to sacrifice prize money, ranking points, a podium place, presumably the very reasons why Mentrida competes.

Winning is now hardwired into young humans, who are instructed that this is what you play for. Coaches scream it, newspapers trumpet it, entire documentaries - The Last Dance - are focused on it. So Mentrida, in effect, is going against the grain, he is proving that an alternative theory exists where there is room for sportsmanship.

This hardly sullies sport, it enriches it and gives it a shine, but it only comes from good schooling. Mentrida wrote on Instagram that "this is something that my parents and my club have taught me since I was little. In my opinion it should be considered as a normal situation". When Teagle thanked him - and he did so repeatedly - the Spaniard shrugged. He made the astonishing look routine.

Thursday, 17 September 2020

SingapoRediscovers Vouchers: All adult Singaporeans to get $100 tourism vouchers in December 2020 for staycations, attractions and local tours

The scheme will last for seven months, from December 2020 to end-June 2021
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2020

Singaporeans aged 18 and above this year will receive $100 each to spend on staycations, tickets to leisure attractions and local tours, in a move to stimulate domestic spending and save jobs in the tourism sector.

The digital SingapoRediscovers Vouchers will be accessible via SingPass from December and can be used to offset ticket purchases and hotel stays until the end of June next year. Permanent residents will not be eligible for the vouchers.

Adult Singaporeans will also be able to purchase up to six subsidised tickets for attractions and tours - each at $10 off - for those under 18.

Announcing the details yesterday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said the duration of the voucher programme is timed to coincide with the March, June and December school holidays, and to spread out demand in between.

The initiative is not a social assistance scheme, he stressed.

"This is an economic scheme to help our tourist attractions preserve their capabilities that have been built up over the years while they consolidate capacity in the interim," Mr Chan told reporters during a visit to Jurong Bird Park.

The $320 million SingapoRediscovers Vouchers scheme was first announced last month and forms part of the Government's efforts to prop up the tourism sector, which has been decimated by travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vouchers, which will come in denominations of $10, can be used at all licensed hotels, leisure attractions and for local tours by operators that have received approval from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to reopen or resume.

There are currently 214 hotels, 40 attractions and 438 tour itineraries that have been given the green light to resume operations with safe management measures in place. They include Singapore's four wildlife parks, a number of activities and hotels on Sentosa and guided tours of Pulau Ubin.

STB also announced that tourist attractions can apply to increase their operating capacity to 50 per cent - up from the current 25 per cent - from tomorrow.

Gardens by the Bay and park operator Wildlife Reserves Singapore are among those planning to do so.

The move to get Singaporeans to support local businesses is gathering pace, with the latest move complementing the $45 million SingapoRediscovers marketing campaign, launched in July to promote holidays at home. The vouchers will provide added incentive for Singaporeans to rediscover their backyard, STB said.

Mr Chan added that while there are other support schemes for tourism businesses, the vouchers will encourage consumers to support fellow citizens employed in the industry.

He said businesses outside the tourism sector are expected to see a boost as well, as spending spills over into food and beverage, for example. "As to the exact extent of the catalytic effect, it will be a bit hard to predict at this point in time, but we hope that it is at least a few times what we have provided for in the Budget," he added.

The STB said specific details on how the vouchers can be redeemed will be announced in November.

It called a tender yesterday to appoint platforms to facilitate the redemption of vouchers.

While the tourism board expects that the redemption process "will adopt a digital mode by default", it will provide support for those who have difficulty using such methods.

Observers said the $100 credits will drive interest in leisure activities that Singaporeans may have previously overlooked, but operators need to boost their offerings to spur additional out-of-pocket spending.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

12 September 1945: Why we must not forget

Japanese surrender marks radical break from the past, starting a process where Singapore gains independence 20 years later
By Clement Yong, The Sunday Times, 13 Sep 2020

It was 75 years ago yesterday that Singapore ushered in the post-World War II era, starting a process which would see it gain independence 20 years later.

On Sept 12, 1945, thousands gathered to hiss at the Japanese around the Municipal Building of Singapore - now known as City Hall.

General Seishiro Itagaki of Japan signed 11 copies of the Instrument of Surrender that day, marking the end of nearly four years of the Japanese Occupation of South-east Asia.

An eyewitness account in The Straits Times on Sept 13 observed that the Japanese delegates at the surrender ceremony were "immobile, except (for) one who twiddles his thumbs and twitches his feet".

It further noted that the Japanese representatives were bareheaded, perhaps recently shaven. "The lights glint on bald pates," it said.

The time of Gen Itagaki's signature: 11.10am. Nine minutes later, the Japanese stood, bowed and shuffled out to "jeers and catcalls" from the crowd.

Perhaps intoxicated by the moment, the journalist wrote: "All Singapore turned out to see the pageantry."

These days, however, the occasion is hardly remembered, much less commemorated enthusiastically.

Checks with the National Library Board, the National Heritage Board and the Singapore Armed Forces Veterans' League (SAFVL) show no events have been planned, in part because of the coronavirus.

While the SAFVL organises a memorial and school trips on Feb 15 each year - when the British surrendered Singapore in 1942 - it said Sept 12 is significant but not as "compelling to illustrate the national values we wish to instil in our children".

The National Museum of Singapore is holding a talk in commemoration of the end of WWII only on Sept 28.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 led to the cancellation of a ceremony originally planned to take place at the Kranji War Cemetery, leaving representatives, including high commissioners and ambassadors from seven former combatant nations - Australia, Canada, India, Japan, New Zealand, Britain and Singapore - to separately lay wreaths at the Cenotaph yesterday.

Students of The Japanese School Singapore also made 2,000 tsuru, or paper cranes, to symbolise peace and reconciliation.

In part, the lack of locally organised events reflects how Sept 12 continues to be a hard date to pin down when it comes to what it means for Singaporeans.

It is indisputable that residents received a reprieve with the departure of the Japanese, whose violent reign included campaigns such as Sook Ching, which killed 40,000 to 50,000 Chinese in Singapore and Malaya.

But the years when Singaporeans could decide their own fate were still to come.

It was "Rule Britannia" which sounded at the 1945 ceremony, and the Union Jack that was hoisted.

Peace was also only slowly re-established and scarcity continued.

It was neither a trough or a crest of Singapore's history.