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 πŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¬, 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 exchange congratulatory messages with their Chinese counterparts
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."