Monday 28 December 2020

COVID-19 vaccination in Singapore to begin on 30 December 2020, starting with healthcare workers; Singapore residents aged 70 and older from February 2021

Government accepts Expert Committee's recommendations on vaccine strategy
By Lim Min Zhang and Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2020

Singapore's Covid-19 vaccination exercise will begin on Wednesday, 30 December, with healthcare workers at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), followed by those from other healthcare institutions in the coming weeks.

Seniors aged 70 and above will get vaccinated from February next year, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a statement yesterday.

This is in line with recommendations by an expert committee that front-line and healthcare workers, as well as those most vulnerable to severe complications if they contract Covid-19, should be vaccinated first, the ministry said.

The Government has accepted in full the recommendations submitted last Thursday by the Expert Committee on Covid-19 Vaccination on Singapore's overall vaccine strategy, MOH added.

Public healthcare institutions and private hospitals are to arrange for their staff to be vaccinated at their respective premises.

Seniors aged 70 and up will get priority for vaccines as they tend to have worse health outcomes than those aged 60 to 69, MOH said.

Thereafter, MOH will vaccinate other Singaporeans and long-term residents who are eligible.

"Vaccination is not a silver bullet that can end the pandemic immediately, but it is a key enabler to getting us back to a safer state of affairs," the ministry said.

Vaccination will complement other "key enablers" such as testing and contact tracing to mitigate any spread and keep community transmission low, MOH noted, stressing that only vaccines that meet strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness will be used.

The announcement comes as Singapore moves into the third phase of its reopening today, 28 December, nearly six months after the country exited its circuit breaker period on June 1.

Attractions such as Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Zoo have geared up for an increase in visitors as capacity limits are raised to 65 per cent of their full operating capacity, up from 50 per cent.

Groups of up to eight people can now gather socially, up from a limit of five, prompting restaurants to make changes to their layouts to accommodate larger groups.

The risk of more imported cases and community spread will increase as Singapore moves into phase three, said MOH. Getting vaccinated "is especially important in the face of reports surfacing globally about more transmissible strains", the ministry added.

Yesterday, the expert committee released its recommendations, including its assessment that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is suitable for use in people aged 16 and above.

Pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals should not get the vaccine until more information is available, it added.

The committee recommended that everyone living in Singapore who is medically eligible should be vaccinated when vaccines become more widely available, although it should remain voluntary.

At any time, about 5 per cent of available vaccine stocks should be reserved for specific groups of people who are critical to keeping the country going, like those working in essential services, it said.

Measures such as mask wearing and social distancing should continue, it added, until more information is available on the vaccines' ability to prevent infections.

The committee's chairman, Associate Professor Benjamin Ong, said that while Singapore currently has a low rate of local transmission of Covid-19, it remains vulnerable to the threat of a surge in cases. It is thus key to vaccinate as much of the population as possible.

"We strongly encourage all persons who are medically eligible to be vaccinated when the vaccine is made available to them," he said.

Wednesday 23 December 2020

Singapore receives Asia's first batch of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine; details of vaccination programme in January 2021

First shipment of COVID-19 vaccine arrives in Singapore on SIA flight from Brussels
By Yuen Sin and Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 22 Dec 2020

The first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine has landed in Singapore, a crucial first step to vaccinate the population.

The vaccine - the first from Pfizer to arrive in Asia - was carried by a Singapore Airlines (SIA) Boeing 747-400 freighter, SQ7979.

The flight had departed from Brussels, Belgium, on Sunday (Dec 20) and landed at Changi Airport at about 7.30pm on Monday (Dec 21).

The shipment was prioritised for loading into the aircraft in Brussels, as well as during unloading in Singapore, SIA said.

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, Mr Kevin Shum, the director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and the chief executives of Changi Airport Group and SIA were among those who turned up at the airport to witness the arrival of the vaccine.

Ground handler SATS moved the vaccines to its cold chain facility SATS Coolport before they were loaded onto a refrigerated truck that will send them to an external storage facility.

SIA had conducted a successful trial to test its vaccine handling capability along the same freighter flight route on Dec 19, the airline said.

It carried out the trial with cool boxes used to pack the actual vaccine, and had tracked the internal temperature within these boxes throughout the flight. It also monitored the rate at which dry ice within the box turned into carbon dioxide.

SIA senior vice-president for cargo Chin Yau Seng said the airline was honoured to be able to play its part in an important milestone in the fight against Covid-19.

"It also served to demonstrate SIA's and the Singapore air hub's readiness for the very important job of transporting and distributing Covid-19 vaccines internationally," he said.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the first Covid-19 vaccine approved by the Health Sciences Authority in Singapore. There are no details yet on how it will be rolled out.

The vaccine is already being administered in countries such as Britain, Canada and the United States.

Singapore is one of the first countries to obtain the vaccine, and other vaccines are expected to arrive in the coming months, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced last week.

Priority will be given to healthcare and front-line workers, as well as elderly and vulnerable patients.

If all goes according to plan, there will be enough vaccines for everyone in Singapore by the third quarter of 2021.

The Republic has also beefed up its capacity to store and transport Covid-19 vaccines, and is positioning itself to be a hub for the movement of Covid-19 vaccines to the region.

Shipments from Europe are expected to go through Singapore to South-east Asia and South-west Pacific when broader regulatory approval is secured.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and Changi Airport Group have set up a task force to work on the vaccine shipment process. The task force comprises 18 members in the air cargo sector, including SIA and ground handlers SATS and dnata.

Logistic firm DHL Global Forwarding, a division of German logistics giant DHL, said it had arranged for the collection of the vaccines from the manufacturing site in Puurs in Belgium. The vaccine cargo was accompanied by security escorts on the road to the airport in Brussels.

DHL will also handle the final delivery of the vaccine to the designated location in Singapore, it said.

Friday 18 December 2020

Singapore's hawker culture added to UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage

Hawker Culture Is Singapore’s first Inscription on UNESCO’s Representative List Of The Intangible Cultural Heritage Of Humanity
By Clement Yong, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2020

Singaporean to the core, conjuring up sights and smells instantly recognisable to locals everywhere, the nation's hawker culture has been officially added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

In virtual proceedings that took place last night, a 24-member international committee unanimously accepted Singapore's application to have this tradition be internationally recognised.

The process took all of three minutes, after nearly three years of work by the National Heritage Board, the National Environment Agency and the Federation of Merchants' Associations. As Singapore's application fulfilled all criteria, it was decided that there was no need for debate on it at the 15th session of the intergovernmental committee.

The successful nomination means Singapore now has its first item on the intangible cultural heritage list, which currently has more than 460 entries, including yoga in India and Belgian beer.

It is also the country's second entry to any UNESCO list, with the first in 2015 when the Singapore Botanic Gardens was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, in a pre-recorded video, told an international audience after the announcement last night: "Singapore's hawker culture is a source of pride for Singapore and all Singaporeans. It reflects our living heritage and multiculturalism, and is an integral part of the daily lives of everyone in Singapore regardless of age, race or background.

"I thank all our hawkers and Singaporeans for their overwhelming support of this nomination... We pledge to do our part to safeguard our intangible cultural heritage."

Having hawker culture on the list commits Singapore to protecting and promoting it. The country has to submit a report every six years to UNESCO, showing the efforts made to safeguard and transmit hawker culture to future generations.

Both President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took to Facebook to thank those involved in the nomination process.

Madam Halimah said hawker culture has shaped Singaporean identity in many ways, and contributed to the diversity of Singapore's multicultural society.

PM Lee said the nomination journey had been a fruitful one. "The biggest thanks must go to the generations of hawkers for nourishing a nation's stomach and spirits. This recognition would not have come without their sweat, toil and dedication to their profession," he said.

The development is timely for the hawker sector here, which has in recent years found it difficult to attract young people to a trade that calls for 16-hour work days in hot, cramped stalls.

The authorities have sought, through traineeship programmes and monetary subsidies, to lower the barriers to entry for young aspiring hawkers. Since 2013, the median age for new entrants has been lowered to 46, although the overall median age for hawkers nationwide remains 59.

Singapore's submission - Hawker Culture In Singapore: Community Dining And Culinary Practices In A Multicultural Urban Context - was made in March last year, although preparations began earlier, in February 2018.

To celebrate the global recognition, the authorities said a three-week SG HawkerFest will be launched on Dec 26.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, activities will mostly take place online, including treasure hunts and quizzes that can be completed and then used to redeem vouchers that can be used at 29 participating hawker centres.

COVID-19 Recovery Grant: Extra help for workers badly hit by pandemic

Lower- and middle-income workers to get extra support under new COVID-19 Recovery Grant, applications start 18 January 2021
New grant will also cushion impact from other schemes that are ending; taxi and private hire car drivers will get help through the new COVID-19 Driver Relief Fund
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2020

Lower-to middle-income workers who have been hit hard by the ongoing pandemic will get extra help from next year under a scheme announced yesterday.

The Covid-19 Recovery Grant (CRG) will also cushion the impact from other financial support schemes drawing to a close by the end of this year. Meanwhile, cabbies will get help through the new Covid-19 Driver Relief Fund.

In a statement yesterday, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) noted that some people remain "significantly affected" by job or income losses as the pandemic wears on. Targeted support will therefore be given to this group through the CRG, said the ministry.

The new grant is different from the existing Covid-19 Support Grant or Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS), both of which are coming to an end. Applications for the Covid-19 Support Grant will close by Dec 31, while SIRS will lapse by the year end.

Under the new grant, two groups of people will be able to get up to $700 a month for three months.

These are people who are unemployed - either on account of retrenchment or because their contracts were terminated - or those who have been placed on involuntary no-pay leave for at least three consecutive months.

Other groups will get up to $500 a month for three months under the CRG. These are:

• Employees who are facing salary losses of at least 50 per cent on average for at least three consecutive months; and

• Self-employed people facing an average loss in net trade income (NTI) of at least 50 per cent over a period of at least three consecutive months, compared with their average monthly NTI last year or this year.

All these losses must have occurred after Jan 23, when the first case of Covid-19 was found in Singapore. The applicants must still be suffering such losses at the point of application.

In its statement, MSF said the grant is aimed at people with a lower household income, as well as those who have suffered more significant income losses.

Applicants must have had a gross monthly household income of $7,800 or less, or a monthly per capita income of $2,600 or less before being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

They should have been economically active before the pandemic hit Singapore.

To qualify for the grant, applicants will also need to show proof that they have been searching for jobs or seeking to upgrade their skills through government-linked portals, attending job interviews, or participating in career coaching at specific government-linked career centres.

Meanwhile, the Land Transport Authority, which announced a new $133 million relief fund for taxi and private-hire car drivers, noted that ridership in this sector remains muted and fares per trip tend to be lower as a result of shorter commutes.

The new fund, which will give drivers $600 per vehicle every month between January and March, is meant to help with this, it said. The payout will be reduced to $450 a month between April and June.

Its new scheme replaces the existing Special Relief Fund, through which drivers have been getting payouts since February. About 52,000 drivers eligible for the Special Relief Fund will automatically qualify for the new fund.

However, drivers who get payouts under the Covid-19 Driver Relief Fund will not be eligible for the Covid-19 Recovery Grant.

Tuesday 15 December 2020

Singapore to enter Phase 3 of Re-Opening on 28 Dec 2020, says PM Lee in nationwide address; COVID-19 vaccines will be free for Singaporeans

Social gathering size to be raised to 8; higher capacity at places of worship, attractions
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Dec 2020

Singapore will enter phase three of its reopening in two weeks, on Dec 28, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

The permitted group size for social gatherings will go up from five to eight, with capacity limits at attractions, malls and places of worship also set to be increased.

But even as Singaporeans take the chance to reconnect with friends and family, they must continue to keep their guard up as the battle is far from won, PM Lee emphasised in a televised national address.

Around the world, the pandemic is still raging and many countries are seeing recurrent waves of infection with record numbers of daily cases, he said. "The Covid-19 virus has not been eradicated. There is a long way to go."

The increased limits on social gatherings will allow households to receive up to eight visitors at a time. Attractions can start applying to the Singapore Tourism Board to increase their operating capacity to up to 65 per cent, while religious organisations will be able to hold worship services for up to 250 people, split up into groups of 50.

Rules will also be relaxed for marriage solemnisations and live performances.

PM Lee expressed his gratitude to Singaporeans, who have complied with the spirit of the rules imposed to keep Covid-19 at bay.

"With everyone's full support, our enhanced safeguards worked, and we could gradually ease our restrictions. We can be proud of how far we have come."

But PM Lee also stressed that the longer Singapore's borders stay closed to travellers, the greater the country's risk of losing out as an international hub, which will hurt Singaporeans' livelihoods.

Singapore must, therefore, reopen its borders in a "controlled and safe manner", with the knowledge that it will see more imported cases which could spread to the community.

He added that the virus is likely still circulating silently within the Singapore community, and Singaporeans should continue to be watchful and cautious.

"This is absolutely not the time to relax, and let our guard down or to hold a big party, imagining that the problem has disappeared," PM Lee said.

The multi-ministerial task force tackling the pandemic elaborated on some of the announcements PM Lee made, and also gave an update on migrant workers.

Workers in some dormitories will be allowed back into the community once a month, as part of a pilot scheme. To do so, these workers will have to undergo rostered routine testing, wear contact tracing devices and comply with safe living measures.

Rounding up the press conference that was broadcast live, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the risk of infection will go up as more people are allowed to gather, and more social and economic activities resume.

"That means the enforcement, the discipline has to be strengthened and tightened so we can continue to contain the risk and keep the number of cases as low as possible, so we can have a smooth and safe journey through phase three," he added.

Sunday 13 December 2020

RIE 2025: Singapore to invest $25 billion in research, innovation and enterprise over next 5 years

Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025 Plan includes a programme to help nation respond nimbly to future infectious diseases
By Audrey Tan, Science and Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2020

A $25 billion plan charting Singapore's research landscape was launched yesterday, a critical investment that will help the country emerge stronger from the shadow of Covid-19 while ensuring that it shores up its defences against future threats.

This includes a national research programme to help Singapore respond nimbly to future infectious diseases.

The pandemic has accelerated technological trends and structural changes that will reshape the global economy, and has thrown up new challenges for societies, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday during a virtual press conference to lay out the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025 plan.

"Science, technology and innovation will be critical to overcoming Covid-19 and in enabling us to emerge stronger," added Mr Heng, who also chairs the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The $25 billion is equivalent to around 1 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP). This proportion has remained relatively constant over the years, and puts Singapore's public investment into research on a par with other small advanced economies such as Sweden and Denmark, said NRF.

One-third of the budget will go towards basic research, whose benefits may not be immediately obvious. The five-year blueprint will focus on four key areas - health, sustainability, the digital economy and manufacturing, with firm support for basic research.

The scope under each domain will be expanded to meet the broader spectrum of national needs, said Mr Heng.

For instance, research into manufacturing will now also include studies into the air and sea links that connect Singapore with the rest of the world, while urban solutions and sustainability will now include research into the new challenges posed by climate change.

Health and biomedical sciences have been expanded to human health and potential to address a key national priority - a rapidly ageing population, Mr Heng noted. "We seek to bring the best out of every individual by focusing on improving prenatal and early childhood development, learning outcomes in children and adults, and the health and contribution span of our seniors."

Besides the four areas, there will be $3.75 billion set aside for "white space" research, up from $2.5 billion in RIE2020. This is funding dedicated to new or emerging areas of research that may arise and is open to proposals from all agencies.

The commitment underscores the importance of research even during difficult times, said NRF chief Low Teck Seng.

During the current crisis, the scientific community in Singapore rallied even during the early stages of the pandemic, pivoting away from their original research areas and applying their expertise to Covid-19.

"Investments in science and technology are an investment in the future," said Professor Low, noting that such investments could also provide good jobs for Singaporeans, and enhance and contribute to the nation's GDP growth.

For instance, investing in water technologies had not only helped this water-scarce nation overcome its resource constraints, but also built a thriving industry.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the scientific mindset is critical. "The scientific mindset - exploring the world and understanding it rationally and empirically - is crucial to Singapore. This is true not just in R&D work, but more fundamentally to the ethos of our whole society."

PM Lee, who chaired the RIE Council meeting on Thursday night, added: "Our continued investments in R&D will sustain our competitiveness and bolster our status as a tech and innovation hub."

Friday 11 December 2020

Community Care Apartments: Singapore's first assisted living HDB flats for seniors to be launched in February 2021

New Community Care Apartments come with service package that supports ageing in place
By Michelle Ng, The Straits Times, 11 Dec 2020

Singapore's first assisted living public housing in Bukit Batok for seniors aged 65 and above who wish to live on their own and yet enjoy some care, support and communal activities will be launched for sale in a Build-To-Order exercise next February.

Dubbed Community Care Apartments, this new flat type comes with a mandatory service package to support seniors to age in place, said the Ministry of National Development, Housing Board (HDB) and the Ministry of Health in a joint statement yesterday.

Services under the package include 24-hour emergency monitoring and response service, basic health checks, simple home fixes and activities at the communal spaces within the development.

All residents will have to subscribe and pay for the basic service package, which starts at $22,000 for a 15-year lease.

Other services such as housekeeping, laundry, meal delivery and shared caregiving can be added at extra cost.

Seniors must be 65 and above to apply for these flats. They can choose a lease ranging from 15 years to 35 years, in five-year increments, as long as it covers the applicant and his spouse, if any, until they are at least 95 years old.

Prices for these flats start from $40,000 for a 15-year lease to $65,000 for a 35-year lease, and must be fully paid upfront with cash or with Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

Government subsidies such as the Silver Housing Bonus, which gives seniors up to $30,000 cash bonus when they sell their existing flat and top up their proceeds to their CPF Retirement Account, are applicable.

However, these flats cannot be resold or rented out. Owners who no longer need the flat can return it to the HDB, which will refund them the value of the remaining lease of the flat.

Seniors with more pressing care needs, such as those requiring permanent assistance with activities of daily living, will be prioritised for the flats.

The new flats are a step up from Kampung Admiralty, an integrated retirement community development completed in 2017 that connects HDB blocks to a wide range of social and healthcare facilities meant for seniors.

The pilot batch of Community Care Apartments, located in Bukit Batok West Avenue 9, comprises about 160 units and is expected to be completed in 2024.

The flats were scheduled to be launched in May this year but were delayed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Each 32 sq m flat comes with senior-friendly fittings - including grab bars and a wheelchair-accessible bathroom with slip-resistant flooring - to let residents move around in their homes with ease.

The flats have an open layout and come with sliding partitions to separate the living room and bedroom, along with a built-in wardrobe, cabinets and a furnished kitchen to reduce renovation time.

There will be furnished communal spaces on each floor for residents to share meals or participate in group activities, which serve as "extensions of their own living rooms", said the agencies.

A community manager will be on site to organise community activities and link seniors to care services relevant to their needs.

Residents will also get priority for admission to the nearby Bukit Batok Care Home should the need arise.

Other amenities within the development include a precinct pavilion, strolling path, activity centre, hawker centre, community garden and fitness station.

From next Monday to March 31, seniors and members of the public will be able to visit a life-size showcase of the communal space, along with scaled models of the block and flat, at the HDB Hub atrium in Lorong 6 Toa Payoh.

Visitors must book an appointment via HDB InfoWeb before visiting.

In a Facebook post yesterday, National Development Minister Desmond Lee said the new public housing concept "will broaden today's options for seniors who require some care and support within their homes, but are still able to and wish to live on their own".

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said feedback from seniors and their children, service providers, health professionals and caregivers was taken into consideration when planning the new flats.

He said: "Our seniors can look forward to living independently even as their care needs change, and enjoy more opportunities to stay active and take charge of their health through specially curated programmes and services.

"Seniors and caregivers will also be better able to navigate the spectrum of social and health support services with help from the community manager."

Wednesday 9 December 2020

Valuing the wisdom of elders

In today’s disrupted times, “eldering” is a concept that countries – and companies – need to embrace
By Pratap Nambiar, Published The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2020

Almost 40 years ago, I was heading a fishnet manufacturing factory in Nigeria and just could not compete with lower-priced imports. A village elder saw my plight and promised to provide me with insight into the exact size of fish in the surrounding waters each week.

From that moment on, each week, I was able to match the mesh size of my nets with the size of the fish in the water. Result - my nets simply caught more fish.

I quickly designed a unique label, and within a few months fishermen from far and wide would come carrying my label looking for the nets that had special magic to catch more fish. The wisdom of the village elder had saved our company from potential closure.

What is 'eldering'?

Being an elder means a human being who is recognised by the community in which he lives as having some wisdom to offer on a continuing basis which is perceived to be of value.

It is not a function of age. Getting older does not entitle us to become elders. The most critical aspect is the relationship of the elder with the community and the ability to recognise the challenges of the times.

Aborigines of Australia or the Native Americans of the United States have been practising this art for a very long time. Asian cultures, too, have tapped the wisdom of elders.

The Eldering Institute in the US refers to "eldering" as "wisdom in action". The phrase suggests that if we traffic in our experience and the knowledge we have accrued without being in action or without having the capacity to inspire action in others, then our "wisdom" is little more than comforting and recounting of meaningless memories.

When the action stops, we become spectators and begin the process of detachment and inevitable decline. Eldering therefore represents the idea that even as we get older we can continue to improve. This is so long as we continue to be of service, and do not lose the ability to create and sustain relationships with the community we live in.

True elders are change-makers, who can lead by example, creating positive social change and inspiring others to do the same.

Eldering is a vision for growing older. It is an opportunity to live the rest of one's retired or not-retired life in a richer and more rewarding way as a life of contribution.

Of course, a great deal of what can be achieved depends on the ability to engage in conversations that will allow the elder to assess the community's needs and dilemmas and share his wisdom to make a positive difference.

Countries and companies

Elderhood is born out of a culture and a way of life, whether it is a country or an organisation.

It is not something that you can enforce. It has to be a calling, an attitude, a state of mind that allows eldering as a concept to become a tradition built around the telling of stories that are relevant and teach valuable life lessons.

Tuesday 8 December 2020

Singapore to host World Economic Forum Special Annual Meeting in May 2021 instead of Switzerland amid COVID-19 concerns

It is best placed to host first global leadership event on recovery from pandemic: WEF
By Royston Sim, Deputy News Editor, The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2020

Singapore will host the World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual meeting next May, which will see top political, business and academic leaders gather to discuss pressing global issues.

Announcing its decision to shift the annual forum from Switzerland in view of the Covid-19 situation in Europe, the WEF said last night that the meeting in Singapore "will be the first global leadership event to address worldwide recovery from the pandemic".

The WEF said it decided Singapore was best placed to host the meeting in the light of the current Covid-19 situation worldwide.

Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said on Monday (Dec 7) that the WEF's decision reflects its confidence in the country's management of the Covid-19 pandemic and will also boost the Republic's meetings and conferences sector.

Singapore had two community cases in the past week.

Said WEF founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab: "A global leadership summit is of crucial importance to address how we can recover together.

"The Special Annual Meeting 2021 will be a place for leaders from business, government and civil society to meet in person for the first time since the start of the global pandemic. Public-private cooperation is needed more than ever to rebuild trust and address the fault lines that emerged in 2020."

Hosting the WEF will give a boost to Singapore's meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) sector and other sectors like hospitality, said MTI.

The annual forum saw about 3,000 participants gather in Davos in January.

It will be held from May 13 to 16 next year, before returning to Davos, Switzerland, in 2022.

The annual forum will - in a first - include a virtual component to allow greater participation amid the Covid-19 pandemic, said MTI.

This is only the second time the WEF meeting will be held outside of Switzerland since it began in 1971, and the first time it will be held in Asia. The 2002 edition was held in New York, to show solidarity with the United States and the people of the city after the Sept 11 terror attacks the year before.

During the usual "Davos week" next year, the forum will hold a virtual event from Jan 25 to 29. It will also host a global technology governance summit in Tokyo in April, said the WEF.

The MTI stressed that the health and safety of the local community and event attendees will be its "foremost priority".

Singapore has successfully rolled out new protocols at large-scale meetings and conferences like the Singapore International Energy Week, it noted. These protocols include on-arrival tests, pre-event and periodic antigen testing, as well as contact tracing.

"All international conferences held in Singapore will similarly adhere to strict public health and safety measures," MTI said.

In a Facebook post last night, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said the WEF's decision "speaks volumes of the international community's trust and confidence in Singapore's handling of the pandemic thus far".

Singapore looks forward to supporting the WEF in its efforts to effect positive change globally via dialogue and engagement, he added.

"May we be a positive example of how to resume economic activities safely and sustainably," Mr Chan said. "Successful execution of such high-level meetings will help re-establish ourselves as a premier global business hub."

India On Our Minds: Singapore an early believer of India's potential, says PM Lee Hsien Loong at launch of book on bilateral relations

By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2020

In the early 1990s, under the leadership of then Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, India started to liberalise and restructure its economy, unshackling its growth.

Singapore was an early believer in India's immense potential, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, noting that his predecessor Goh Chok Tong had sparked an "India fever" back then.

Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh had urged Singapore to trade more with and invest in India.

Economic ties have deepened steadily since, with Singapore's investments in India increasing five-fold between 1995 and 2000, said PM Lee, who made his first visit to the subcontinent in 1992, when he was Deputy Prime Minister.

He made the point at the launch of a book on Singapore-India relations, titled India On Our Minds, at the National University of Singapore (NUS) in Kent Ridge.

The Prime Minister noted the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) was subsequently signed, and a Strategic Partnership established in 2015, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Singapore.

The partnership reflects the two countries' deep cooperation in defence, finance, culture and other areas, he added.

Today, India is a major player on the world stage, said PM Lee, wielding significant influence at international fora.

"Debates on the major strategic issues of the day - climate change, WTO (World Trade Organisation) reform, security in the Indo-Pacific - are not complete without India at the table and playing a constructive role."

Like many other countries, India is suffering the economic fallout from Covid-19, but its long-term future remains bright and promising, said PM Lee.

And as Singapore starts its term as coordinator of Asean-India dialogue relations next year, it looks forward to deepening the partnership between the regional bloc and New Delhi, he added.

One move Singapore hopes India will take is to revisit the merits of joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, he said, referring to the 15-country trade pact signed last month.

He further said that the book is a "timely reminder that to Singapore, India will always be a valued friend and partner".

"I know these sentiments are reciprocated by our Indian friends, too. I look forward to working with Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi and his government to keep our relationship forward-looking, enterprising and substantial."

The 380-page book features 50 essays by Singaporeans, including Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and president of Yale-NUS College Tan Tai Yong.

The book is edited by Ambassador-At-Large Tommy Koh and the Institute of South Asian Studies' senior associate director Hernaikh Singh.

Sunday 6 December 2020

Cultured meat: No-kill products may be food for the future

Singapore this week approved the sale of a cultured meat product. Such alternative proteins could pave the way for more sustainable food production and better food security.
By Audrey Tan, Science and Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Dec 2020

In a world first, Singapore on Wednesday (Dec 2) approved the sale of a cultured meat product here.

The chicken bites by Californian start-up Eat Just are made by culturing animal cells in bioreactors instead of rearing animals on farms, and are not yet available for sale and consumption anywhere else.

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) said it was allowing the cultured chicken to be sold here after its evaluations determined it to be safe.

The company would not be drawn on a timeline on when the product will be available, but the firm's chief executive Josh Tetrick told The Straits Times on Thursday that it will be soon, and at a "higher-end" restaurant.

The aim is to make cultured meat cheaper than conventionally farmed meat, he added.

Why it matters

Alternative proteins, such as cultured meat, could pave the way for more sustainable food production and better food security.

While a report on land use by the UN's climate science body last year found that plant-based diets were still associated with a lower environmental impact compared with meat-based ones, it may not be feasible to get everyone to go vegetarian.

Culturing meat could be an alternative to rearing livestock, which according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation make up 14.5 percent of emissions from human activity.

Culturing meat involves taking cells from an animal (often done in a harmless way, such as through a biopsy), and then growing the cells in a nutrient broth within a bioreactor.

This process has been associated with a number of environmental benefits.

One, it reduces emissions associated with rearing livestock.

There is less need to clear forests for farms or grow crops for animal feed, and reduces methane emissions from ruminants like cows, which releases a lot of methane during digestion of their food. Methane is considered a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over shorter time spans.

Two, culturing meat can be done in a smaller land area compared with the livestock supply chain.

Three, it allows meat to be produced without slaughter. This avoids the need to confine livestock to small spaces, and reduces the chance of diseases spreading between humans and animals.

On the food security front, cultured meat could also boost the resilience of import-dependent nations like Singapore, which sources more than 90 per cent of its food from overseas.

Eat Just has said its cultured chicken bites will be manufactured in Singapore, and Mr Tetrick told ST on Thursday that the firm aims to produce enough not just for the domestic market, but for the rest of Asia as well.

What lies ahead

The need to feed a growing global population, which could reach almost 10 billion by mid-century, is straining food production systems.

And the impacts of climate change - whether changing rainfall patterns or more frequent extreme weather events - could put further stress on food security.

These trends highlight the need for new ways of producing food, with a smaller carbon footprint.

Critics have said the environmental impact of culturing meat - an energy-intensive process - is not definitively better than rearing animals the traditional way.

Context is important. In Singapore, for instance, most energy is generated by natural gas - a cleaner fossil fuel than coal or oil. Advancements made in renewable energy systems, and scaling up production of cultured meat, could boost efficiency and lower the carbon footprint of cultured meat.

As with many new innovations, more studies are needed to assess the different impacts of cultured meat products.

The SFA has done so on the food safety front. But even as research on environmental impact continues, another hurdle remains: Consumer receptivity to eating meat made a different way.

The impact of climate change can already be felt. Consumers can help, by keeping an open mind.