Friday, 7 February 2020

2019-nCoV: Singapore employers will receive $100 a day for each worker serving the 14-day Leave of Absence (LOA)

Mandatory leave of absence for workers returning from China; employers to notify Manpower Ministry and will get support
Those flouting leave of absence rules face action
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2020

A 14-day leave of absence (LOA) will be mandatory for all workers who are due to return from China, and their employers will have to get in touch with the Ministry of Manpower before they return, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Thursday (Feb 6).

This is to allow the workers' return to be staggered and the flow of workers to be managed better, said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the Government's multi-ministry taskforce on the coronavirus.

Mr Wong said there will also be tighter monitoring and enforcement of the LOA, which is required for all such workers, whether they are Singapore residents or foreign work pass holders.

Employers will also receive $100 a day for each worker serving the LOA, and this is applicable to Singaporeans, permanent residents and work pass holders. This is equivalent to what they are receiving for those on quarantine orders. The foreign worker levy for those on LOA will also be waived for the LOA period.

Details on when these measures will kick in are still being worked out.



Acknowledging concerns raised by employers about workers who have been evicted by their landlords, Mr Wong added that the Government will work with dormitory operators to provide facilities if employers cannot find suitable accommodation for workers to serve their LOA.

He was speaking to reporters during a visit to the Tuas View Dormitory on Thursday (Feb 6) with Manpower Minister Josephine Teo. Both ministers spoke to the operators and visited the dormitory's prepared isolation room and an LOA facility with 32 beds.

The dormitory is also providing such workers with basic necessities like water and food during the LOA period.

When asked about the number of returning workers or employers who were unable to find alternative accommodation, Mr Wong did not give a figure but said it was "quite few".

"I'm glad that Singapore landlords have been cooperative and responsible, and by and large have been prepared," he said.



Details on the stricter enforcement of LOAs are still being worked out among the government agencies, Mr Wong added.

"We already have very strict surveillance measures when it comes to quarantine, whether it is through phone calls, spot checks, video calls and we can make use of similar technologies and measures for monitoring and surveillance," he said. Penalties can be imposed on companies or workers who do not observe the mandated LOA period, such as by revoking work permit privileges.

The Government had previously announced it would take to task errant landlords who evict tenants on LOA or home quarantine, or based on their nationality. These include barring their addresses for use in future work pass applications, and from renting to foreign work pass holders in future.

Travel restrictions on those with a recent travel history to China, including a 14-day LOA for returning Singapore residents and long-term pass holders, kicked in late last Saturday.



Last Sunday, Mrs Teo said that 30,000 work pass holders who are China nationals left Singapore over the Chinese New Year break and have not returned. But not all of them live in housing estates.

When asked for an update on these work pass holders on Thursday, Mrs Teo said the majority were still out of Singapore.

"That's why it's important for us to get in touch with the employers. Depending on their own business needs, they may not all want to bring back their workers."

According to the Manpower Ministry's website, foreign workers may live in dormitories, HDB flats or private properties. Those in construction may also live in temporary quarters.

But they are subject to certain restrictions, depending on their nationality, work pass type and the sector that they are working in. For instance, non-Malaysian work permit holders from the manufacturing sector are allowed to rent bedrooms in HDB flats, but not the whole flat.

Employers who spoke to The Straits Times had earlier said that they were footing the bill for alternative accommodations for their workers who had been kicked out by their landlords. They called on the government to provide more support, including alternative accommodations for workers to serve the LOA.




 





 





QUARANTINE ORDER:

• Directive under Infectious Diseases Act, with legal force and severe penalties. First-time offenders can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for up to six months, or both.

• Applies to recent travellers from Hubei assessed to be at higher risk of infection; residents and long-term pass holders who returned from Hubei in the last 14 days; and virus carriers, suspected carriers or close contacts of confirmed cases.

• To be isolated either at home or at government quarantine facilities. Spot checks, video and phone calls carried out for those on home quarantine to ensure they abide by restrictions.

• Not allowed to leave quarantine site for any reason.




LEAVE OF ABSENCE (LOA):

• Precautionary measure to prevent possible transmission.

• For residents and long-term pass holders who travelled to China in the last 14 days.

• The Ministry of Manpower said yesterday that workers who flout the mandatory LOA period may face penalties, such as revocation of work permit privileges.

• Allowed to leave home briefly to attend to matters but should return home as soon as possible.










Workers who can telecommute not eligible for $100 leave of absence allowance
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 12 Feb 2020

Employers and those who are self-employed should not apply for the $100 leave of absence (LOA) support if they or affected workers can work through telecommuting arrangements, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Wednesday (Feb 12).

Under the LOA support programme for those affected by the leave requirements due to the coronavirus, employers can apply for $100 daily per affected worker for the duration of paid absence period granted to workers.

Applications should only be submitted after the affected person has completed serving his or her LOA, MOM said, as it gave details on how people could apply for the $100 allowance.

The programme is applicable for Singapore citizens, permanent residents (PRs), and work pass holders who travelled to mainland China on or before Jan 31, 2020, and who were placed on LOA when they returned to Singapore on or after end-January.

Eligible employers will also qualify for levy waiver for affected foreign workers for the LOA period, the ministry said.

Self-employed Singapore citizens and PRs who travelled to mainland China on or before Jan 31 and placed themselves on LOA upon return to Singapore after end-January can also apply for the daily $100 support.



The programme is not applicable to those who travelled to China after Jan 31, MOM said, as it is intended to help those “who were affected by the sudden tightening of travel conditions” announced the same day.

The criteria to qualify for the $100 daily support include employers obtaining approval from MOM for work pass holders to enter Singapore from Feb 9.

Employers who wish to apply for the $100 programme must also have granted additional paid leave to the affected worker for the entire duration of the LOA, without requiring the worker to use his or her original paid leave or hospitalisation leave entitlement.

Applications for the programme must be submitted within 90 days from the last day of the LOA.

More details on applying for the $100 LOA support can be found on MOM's website.











Employers cheer new support measures for staff on leave of absence
By Yuen Sin and Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 7 Feb 2020

New government measures, like giving companies $100 a day for each worker returning from China put on the mandatory 14-day leave of absence (LOA), will help pay for the cost of ensuring their employees do not break the rules, companies said yesterday.

Businesses also cheered the Government's swift response to feedback on how the LOA requirement had disrupted their operations.

Mr Vincent Tan, managing director of food service provider Select Group, which will have at least 10 workers on LOA, said: "As they are in front-line roles, such as kitchen crew and service staff, they can't work from home and we have to hire workers temporarily. The $100 allowance can help offset the costs."



Earlier yesterday, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said employers will get $100 a day for each worker on LOA, which is a precautionary measure to prevent the possible transmission of infections.

The sum is equivalent to that given to employers for all workers on quarantine, regardless of whether they are residents or foreign workers. It is also given to the self-employed on LOA.

The foreign worker levy for those on LOA will be waived as well during the 14 days.

Mr Koh Juan Kiat, executive director of the Singapore National Employers Federation, said the $100 daily payout would ease the cost of doing without the workers.

"It will be a great help, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises and those with a significant number of employees on LOA," he added.

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said: "Businesses have been giving feedback on the impact of the LOA measures. It is good to see close communication between the public and private sectors."

Trilogy Technologies' Ms Soong, who declined to give her full name, was pleased with the Government's plan to provide alternative accommodation for workers unable to find a place to stay.

"The $100 will also help to cover some of the accommodation cost we had incurred," said the human resource and purchasing executive of the electronics engineering company.

It had paid each of its two workers on LOA about $100 a night because their landlords had turned them away.



Mr Patrick Fiat, general manager of Royal Plaza on Scotts, said the hotel appreciates the government support.

Two of its Chinese workers had returned recently, with one more due to return today.

He said: "We hope that employees on LOA can be given healthcare kits as it is difficult for them to head out for supplies such as masks, sanitisers and thermometers if they are feeling unwell."

Mr Kenneth Loo of Straits Construction, who has almost 20 workers on LOA, said: "If the virus affects our supply of building materials from China, it could delay our projects, which would have a greater impact on business than manpower. We hope the upcoming Budget can help us with that."











* Work pass holders with recent China travel history need prior MOM approval to enter Singapore after 2359 hours, 8 February 2020
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2020

All current work pass holders with travel history to mainland China within the last 14 days will now have to be approved by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) before they can return to Singapore.

The new rule applies to all such workers regardless of nationality who plan to enter Singapore after 11.59pm today. It also applies to in-principle approval (IPA) holders who have not entered Singapore yet, as well as individuals holding dependant's or long-term visit passes issued by MOM.



The new rule comes after Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said on Thursday that most of the 30,000 China nationals holding work passes who left for the Chinese New Year break have not yet returned to Singapore.

In a statement yesterday, MOM said employers should inform their employees not to make travel plans to Singapore until they have received approval from MOM. Employers must apply for permission three days before the intended arrival date of the work pass holders, in the following online form.

In doing so, employers are required to declare to MOM that they have arranged for suitable premises to house returning employees for the duration of the mandatory 14-day leave of absence. Those on LOA are allowed to leave their homes to buy daily necessities or for urgent matters but should minimise time in public places and contact with others.

The declaration must either include a confirmation by a landlord to house the worker for the LOA period or show that the employer has booked a hotel room or secured a dormitory room.



A letter of approval from MOM will be given to employers for their employees, who must show it to airline staff upon check-in, and at the immigration checkpoint upon arrival to gain entry into Singapore.

MOM warned that it would not hesitate to take action against employers or workers who do not comply with the new requirements, including revocation of work passes and the withdrawal of work pass privileges.

Members of the public can report those who flout LOA requirements to mom_qops@mom.gov.sg, or call 6438-5122. Employers who need help to get accommodation for their employees can e-mail the same address or call 1800-333-9999.




















New guide on Business Continuity Planning for Coronavirus helps firms make contingency plans
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 7 Feb 2020

Firms planning contingency measures to stay operational amid the coronavirus outbreak can refer to a new guide published by government agency Enterprise Singapore (ESG) on its website.

Recommendations include appointing a flu manager to monitor developments and educate employees on the need for infection control measures, and discussing potential contingency measures with suppliers, service providers and customers.

The guide, developed by ESG with the support of the Singapore Business Federation, also recommends identifying critical business functions and essential employees, and setting up alternate teams who can be deployed on different work schedules. For instance, one team can work in the office while the other team telecommutes. The teams should be physically segregated to avoid the risk of infection between them.

The 23-page guide on business continuity planning covers key business operational risks in four areas: human resource management, processes and business functions, supplier and customer management, and internal and external communications. It was produced in response to the coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, in China's Hubei province, last December.



Several large employers told The Straits Times yesterday that they are basing their responses on the latest advice from the authorities.

Singapore's current Dorscon, or Disease Outbreak Response System Condition, status for the coronavirus outbreak is Yellow, but Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Tuesday that it could change to Orange if there is widespread transmission from unknown sources.

The Orange level means moderate disruption to daily life is expected and the public should comply with control measures.

OCBC Bank head of group brand and communications Koh Ching Ching said that if the alert level is raised to Orange, the bank's precautionary measures will be enhanced to include splitting teams to different locations, temperature screening for staff and customers, travel declaration by visitors and suspension of large gatherings.

A Sembcorp Industries spokesman said that temperature checks for all visitors and staff have been implemented at all its offices and facilities here.

Human resource expert Low Peck Kem, who is president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, said a good business continuity plan should have clear guidance on what actions the company needs to take at Dorscon level Orange - such as how teams will be split and who can telecommute - before that stage is reached.

"Employers should give their employees the assurance that they know what to do at the various Dorscon levels and have taken into consideration employees' well-being and safety, apart from just business continuity," she said.

Institute for Human Resource Professionals chief executive Mayank Parekh also said a good plan should provide for regular and transparent information to employees on the company situation, without compromising the privacy of those who could be affected.

It should also make special provisions, if needed, for staff with pre-existing medical conditions such as immunodeficiency, and provide processes to deal with staff grievances.





Budget 2020 measures to cope with coronavirus: Indranee: Indranee Rajah
It will help businesses cope with the economic fallout, as well as support families
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Feb 2020

Budget 2020 will be a comprehensive one that helps companies and workers transform, as well as support families and ensure environmental and financial sustainability, Ms Indranee Rajah said.

Measures will also be in place to help businesses cope with the economic fallout from the coronavirus.

"(Singapore has) a sound financial position and strong fundamentals. We will be able to withstand the current situation, but have to make some adjustments and make sure our companies and workers are supported," said the Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Finance yesterday.

In an interview with Singapore Press Holdings radio station Money FM 89.3, she said the Government had started the year expecting steady growth.

"But the new coronavirus situation will have a global impact. This is something we have to take into account," she said to hosts Elliot Danker and Ryan Huang.



On Feb 1, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat said a relief package is in the works to help the hardest-hit transport and tourism sectors.

But Singapore has been through such a crisis before and companies can take advantage of the slower pace of activity to build their capabilities, said Ms Indranee.

She noted that during the Sars period in 2003, the Government had come up with a response package to help businesses. Six years later during the global financial crisis, it used the slowdown to retrain workers.

Meanwhile, work must continue - not just to address present needs, but also to position Singapore for the future, she said. Businesses can expect targeted support to move into new growth areas and hire those with the right skills.

"Many small and medium-sized enterprises know it's important to tap the digital economy, but they have to make sense of all the things in the market. So we want to look at packages that will help them make those choices," she said.

There will also be initiatives to help smaller companies scale up, and retrenched workers to find new jobs.

Citing the financial services sector as an example, Ms Indranee said there had been "considerable success" with the professional conversion programme.

Those who lost their jobs were retrained and moved into other areas.

Companies will also have more incentives to employ older workers.

"Singaporeans are living longer and healthier. Not all want to work full-time, but people want to be active and do something fulfilling.

"They may choose to work or volunteer, but we want to have the right conditions - the ability to choose what they want to do in their retirement," she said, reiterating her announcement last month that there will be Budget initiatives to promote volunteerism.

From the social sector, there are calls for more support for families, the vulnerable and disadvantaged. "We know that families would like to have greater support with the cost of living. Families looking after younger children and older parents feel the crunch more," she added.

While she did not provide details, she said climate change, too, will be addressed in the upcoming Budget.

She added that the measures are the result of extensive consultations with the public.

More than 10,000 responses were collected during the annual feedback exercise by government feedback unit Reach, the People's Association and the Finance Ministry in December and January.

Responding to concerns that not everyone will benefit, she explained that existing programmes will continue and each Budget builds on previous ones. "Every year we look at what the emerging needs are, and the things that have to be addressed."

DPM Heng will be delivering his Budget speech on Feb 18.










Coronavirus: Impact on aviation sector will be worse than SARS outbreak, says Khaw Boon Wan
China now accounts for larger share of tourist numbers and retail spending here than before
By Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 7 Feb 2020

The impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the aviation sector will be worse than that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.

This is because China is now a much larger market and a much larger source of tourism for Singapore and the region, he said during a visit to Changi Airport.

In terms of retail spending, the Chinese make up one-third of Changi Airport's retail sales.

With this in mind, the Government is working on a Budget that will help support the sector, and measures are set to be announced later this month, he said.

Of particular concern is the retail sector at Changi Airport, with about 7,000 to 8,000 staff employed there, he noted.

Many families would be affected if companies start retrenching their staff, he added.



Mr Khaw said China travellers accounted for 5 per cent of Changi Airport's travelling traffic during the Sars crisis.

"Now, they account for 11 per cent, so it is double in terms of percentage and even more by absolute numbers. But the purchasing power has increased even more... They account for one-third of retail sales in Changi, and the one-third has evaporated."

He said local airlines - Singapore Airlines, Scoot and SilkAir - are also suffering, along with retail shops.

The traffic between China and Singapore has come down significantly because flights have shrunk 70 per cent to 80 per cent, and traffic volume has come down by 60 per cent to 70 per cent, he noted.

"The loading of our own carriers to China has come down a lot. Some flights are below 20 per cent to 30 per cent," he said.



The minister then gave the assurance that the Transport Ministry is working "very feverishly" with the Ministry of Finance to develop a package to help those in the aviation sector.

He did not elaborate on the help package, but said it will be "meaningful and effective".

Mr Khaw said that shops could take this time to upskill their staff to prepare for when the situation improves.

He also suggested that with reduced activity at the airport, Changi could look into speeding up part of the construction of Terminal 5.

Businesses at Jewel Changi Airport said the crowd at the complex has noticeably thinned.

On Sunday, a staff member at a baby clothes shop in Jewel said: "It was the first time the mall was so quiet on the weekend."






















Coronavirus: Cleaning stepped up in areas frequented by public
By Danson Cheong and Amrita Kaur, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2020

Town councils have stepped up cleaning of public areas in a bid to prevent widespread transmission of the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan.

Lift buttons are being cleaned twice a day with disinfectant, and so are other high traffic areas and touchpoints such as railings and letter boxes.

Playgrounds, fitness corners and benches are being cleaned once a day.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) issued an advisory on heightened sanitation and hygiene measures to all town councils on Jan 29.

Similar advisories have also been issued for other areas, including commercial premises, food establishments and hawker centres.



Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said yesterday that the current situation has warranted ramping up hygiene regimens, and urged the public not to be swayed by fear that they should avoid areas visited by infected persons.

"Once we know there is a case, NEA will supervise the owners of the premises to make sure the place is properly disinfected and it is safe for the public to go to," he said.

His comments came as the Government disclosed details on the first cases of local transmission here. So far, 28 confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Singapore.



Mr Masagos was speaking to reporters at a Housing Board estate in Tampines West after he inspected workers cleaning lift buttons, railings and playground equipment with disinfectant. Previously, these areas were cleaned only with soap and water.

The estate's cleaners have been told to wear gloves and sanitise their hands after finishing their work.

Mr Masagos said: "Because of the current situation, it is perhaps more prudent, and also for public assurance, that we step up this cleaning. We think we have to keep this up until such time that the Ministry of Health gives us the all-clear... This is one of the ways to prevent community spread."

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo and National Trades Union Congress secretary-general Ng Chee Meng also visited the Chinatown Street Market yesterday to inspect measures being taken to keep the shops and streets there clean.



They advised business owners and front-line staff to step up the cleaning of areas with high human contact, such as counters where customers are served.

Mrs Teo said heightened precautions are needed to keep workplaces safe. "Employers can play a part by helping employees familiarise themselves with what they need to do if a customer looks unwell and is coughing or sneezing, such as giving him a friendly reminder to see a doctor," she said.

Workers should also be encouraged to seek prompt medical attention if they feel unwell.

Some business owners, such as Mrs Zhao Hongmin, who runs a souvenir shop, have told workers to mop the floor and clean countertops with disinfectant more frequently. "I have also reminded workers to wash their hands after attending to each customer and not to stand too close to customers when speaking to them," said Mrs Zhao, who owns Orchid Chopsticks.

Singapore has been implementing measures to limit the risk of imported cases and curb the spread of the pathogen within the community, imposing restrictions on travellers from mainland China and requiring those with a travel history to mainland China to be put on a leave of absence.



The increased hygiene precautions have given some residents such as retiree Simon Zhao, 72, greater peace of mind. The Tampines resident said: "For us older folk, our health is not so good, so we feel safer with this."
Mr Masagos also emphasised yesterday that the public need to play their part in the fight against the coronavirus.

"What it leaves us to do now is to step up our own hygiene habits. Let's be a First World people and keep this up not only for the purposes of the crisis, but also to make sure Singapore is the kind of place where everyone practises good hygiene habits," he said.

















Dorscon or Disease Outbreak Response System Condition

Change in response if status moves from Yellow to Orange
It could move up to higher level in Dorscon categories if widespread transmission occurs
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2020

Singapore's current status for the coronavirus outbreak is Yellow - which generally means that life can go on as normal on the whole.

But Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Tuesday that the situation could change to Orange if there is widespread transmission from unknown sources.

That would be just one level below Red, which signifies an out-of-control pandemic.


The Dorscon, or Disease Outbreak Response System Condition, is part of Singapore's pandemic preparedness plan that describes the current situation and what has to be done.

In the colour coding system, Green means there are just minor problems.

Yellow - the status now - refers either to a mild infection, or a severe infection that is not spreading here, but about which the community needs to be careful.

Orange means the disease is severe with transmission, but is generally contained, and has moderate to high public health impact - as was the case with severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2003.

Some have argued that with seven local residents infected here, Singapore is already in Orange.

However, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has said the Dorscon categories are not cast in stone, but are general guidelines for action.

So even though Singapore is at Yellow, some of the measures implemented, such as quarantine and temperature screening, are actually Orange measures.

The reason Singapore has not officially moved to Orange is because there is now only one cluster which, if contained, could stop the spread of the virus here, said MOH.

But even at Yellow, the Health Crisis Management Group meets daily to coordinate medical and operational responses.

The purpose of the Dorscon measures is to delay or limit the spread of the disease in the country. Moving to Yellow already alerts the whole of government to stand ready. To handle the current crisis, Singapore has gone a step further and set up a high-level multi-ministerial task force to coordinate a whole of government response.



However, to succeed, every person has to do his or her part, said the authorities. Official measures alone, no matter how stringent, will not be enough.

So far, most of the 28 people who were infected had sought medical help.

The Singaporean tour guide who had accompanied a group of Chinese tourists to the popular Yong Thai Hang medical hall had no signs of illness, but when she heard that two saleswomen from the shop had fallen ill, she went to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.

Tests showed she had the virus.

Mr Gan said on Tuesday: "We continue to be vigilant for more cases. There may be more with exposure to this particular travel group."

The health authorities said others who have had close contact with visitors from China, especially if those visitors appeared unwell, should monitor themselves and see a doctor if they feel ill.










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