Wednesday 30 June 2021

A 'silver tsunami' looms. What can Singapore do about it?

The issues of the elderly in a few years' time may not be the same as what we are worried about today.
By Royston Sim, Deputy News Editor, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2021

Singapore is greying rapidly.

While this development has been flagged on multiple occasions in the past, the release of population census data earlier this month provides a stark illustration of the looming silver tsunami.

Census 2020 showed that residents aged 65 years and above formed 15.2 per cent of the resident population last year, up from 9 per cent in 2010.

Meanwhile, the old-age dependency ratio increased from 13.5 per cent to 23.4 per cent in the same period.

Institute of Policy Studies head of governance and economy Christopher Gee notes that in the span of 10 years, Singapore has gone from being classified as an ageing society (defined by the United Nations as one in which more than 7 per cent of the population is aged 65 and over) to an aged society (above 14 per cent).

By 2030, going by projections, Singapore will be classified as a super-aged society (above 20 per cent), joining the ranks of countries like Japan.

This means there will be fewer children to take care of ageing parents, and more seniors will end up living alone.

The burden on those of working age will grow, while spending on healthcare and long-term care for the aged will rise as people live longer.

There is also the risk of Singapore's economy losing its dynamism and competitiveness, as its overall pool of workers gets smaller.

Bringing in migrants to offset the declines in population size and overall ageing - a politically charged issue that has already given rise to social tensions - will have to be carefully managed.

Other countries are facing the same challenge of a shrinking working population.

The 2021 ageing report by the European Commission projects that the labour supply for those aged 20 to 64 in the European Union will fall by 2.8 per cent by 2030, and by a further 13.1 per cent between 2030 and 2070.

The report also projects that by 2070, the EU would go from having about three working-age people for every person aged over 65 years, to having only less than two.

Assistant Professor Tan Poh Lin from the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy says Singapore's combination of a greying population and very low fertility rate "reduces the timeframe for society, the economy and public policy to catch up, and increases the risks of unmet needs and inability of the economy to adequately adjust".

What steps should Singapore take to address this pressing issue?

Sunday 27 June 2021

Lawrence Wong at IPS-RSIS Forum on Race and Racism in Singapore

Singapore has to keep working to improve multiracial society, majority should be sensitive to minorities' needs

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong says all races must do so, with trust and compromise
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2021

Singapore’s multiracial society is a work in progress, and all races have to make efforts to accommodate and engage one another in a spirit of trust and compromise.

Making this point in an impassioned speech on the state of race relations Friday (June 25), Finance Minister Lawrence Wong added that the Government will continue to engage Singaporeans and update its policies on race and racial harmony.

“No community has gotten everything it wanted, but collectively, we have achieved more together than what we would have otherwise by just focusing on our individual agendas,” he said at a forum on race organised by the Institute of Policy Studies and S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

In his speech, he set out Singapore’s philosophy of multiracialism and gave suggestions to improve its system, noting a delicate balance has been struck through mutual compromise thus far.

He noted recent worrying incidents that have caused Singaporeans to consider the state of its racial harmony. The cases, which were highlighted on social media, have raised awareness of racism, and opened up conversations about how Singaporeans can hold themselves to higher standards on this issue.

Outlining three ways that Singapore can keep working at multiracialism, Mr Wong stressed the role that the majority community has to play by being sensitive to the needs of minorities, as it is harder to be a minority in any multiracial society.

This applies to all aspects of daily life, he added, highlighting those who face discrimination when looking for a job, potential tenants who learn that landlords do not prefer their race, and those who have to deal with stereotypes about their race or insensitive comments.

"These things do happen, not always, and perhaps not even often, but sometimes. And when they do happen, they cause real hurt, which is not erased by lightly dismissing them as casual remarks or jokes," said Mr Wong at a forum live-streamed from the University Cultural Centre Theatre at the National University of Singapore in Kent Ridge.

He noted that society's attitudes and conditions continue to evolve and change over time, and there are Singaporeans who feel it is time to take a different approach on race relations - namely that the Government should work on the basis that Singapore is a race-blind society, and remove all rules and practices that underline race in various ways.

These are aspirations that he shares, said Mr Wong. “Perhaps I am young enough to feel the idealistic instincts of the millennials, and old enough to understand the caution born of experience of my parents’ generation.”

Besides the majority community taking the extra step to consider the needs of minorities, he called on Singaporeans to continue with the approach of mutual accommodation, trust and compromise.

'Treat others in the way you would like to be treated'

Mr Wong said he believes the majority community in Singapore recognises the difficulties that minorities may face.

"I ask that we do more and take the extra step to make our minority friends, neighbours, co-workers feel comfortable.

"Treat others in the way you would like to be treated; and by your actions, teach your children to do the same. Remind those among your family members or friends who may slip up from time to time," he said.

At the same time, minorities have also reciprocated by recognising that the majority community has legitimate needs and concerns, he added.

Noting that people sometimes discuss "Chinese privilege" in Singapore, he stressed that it is important to recognise that the Chinese community in Singapore is not monolithic.

The term "Chinese privilege" is adapted from the concept of "white privilege" used in the United States, where privilege gives someone dominance in a society because of identity markers such as one's race or sex.

"There may well be biases or blind spots that the Chinese community should become aware of and to rectify," Mr Wong acknowledged.

At the same time, he said, there remains an entire generation of Chinese Singaporeans who are more comfortable in Chinese than English, and who consider themselves at a disadvantage in an English-speaking world.

"They feel that they have already given up much to bring about a multiracial society: Chinese-language schools, Nanyang University, dialects, and so on. 'What do you mean by 'Chinese privilege'?' they will ask, for they do not feel privileged at all," said Mr Wong, explaining that many of them will naturally object to being characterised in such a manner.

'Don't construe every compromise as an injustice'

Singaporeans must continue to speak up and even be prepared to have uncomfortable discussions about race, Mr Wong added. This is not to start arguments, but to begin civilised discussions, listen to one another, and understand all points of view.

"We should be upfront and honest about the racialised experiences various groups feel, and deal squarely with them," he said.

"But we should not insist on maximum entitlements and rights for our respective groups; construe every compromise as an injustice that needs to be condemned; or put the worst interpretation on every perceived slight or insensitivity," he cautioned.

The minister made clear that he was not saying Singaporeans should refrain from voicing their unhappiness, or that minority Singaporeans should stop talking about the prejudices they experience.

But when one group jostles aggressively to assert its identity and rights over others, it will not take long before other groups feel put upon, and start to jostle back, he said.

He pointed to trends in other countries, where one side uses identity politics to push its cause, which invariably emboldens another to up the ante and make greater demands.

"We end up fuelling our worst tendencies - our tribalism, hostility and vengefulness," said Mr Wong.

"If we go down this path, insisting on differences over commonality, minority groups will not win, and the outcome will be most unhappy for the majority community too."

He called on groups advocating change to be conscious about how they approach the matter, and do so in ways that expand the space for agreement, and not narrow it.

In doing so, they should also deepen cross-cultural understanding and not cause defensiveness and suspicion, and appeal to the "better angels" in all instead of instigating a "them versus us" dynamic, he said.

Updating racial policies

Making the point that Singapore's policies on race are not cast in stone, Mr Wong said the Government will continue to engage widely on the issue.

"For any policy - be it GRC, ethnic integration policy, self-help groups, or SAP schools, we continually ask ourselves: What is it that we are trying to achieve? Is the policy still relevant today? If so, can it be further fine-tuned or improved?" he added.

Mr Wong cited the ongoing review on whether Muslim nurses should be allowed to wear the tudung with their uniform. This process entails detailed study and extensive dialogue between the Government and various communities, he said.

"It cannot be rushed, nor should things be changed simply based on who shouts the loudest," said Mr Wong, adding that any policy change must ultimately expand Singapore's common space and strengthen racial harmony, while allowing each community as much room as possible to go about its way of life.

On immigration, he noted that a transient population of work pass holders has been gathered around the Singapore core, which enables the country to stay competitive, attract investments and create good jobs for Singaporeans.

"We control the inflow of these migrant workers. However, it is not possible for us to ensure that their ethnic mix matches our resident population, nor that they meld seamlessly into our social fabric. So from time to time, this creates frictions and issues within and among our communities."

Mr Wong said the Government understands these concerns, and thus continues to review and update work pass policies too, to ensure they meet Singapore's economic needs and also fit into the social context.

Like Singapore’s forefathers of all races, this Government is convinced that it must continue to strengthen a “Singaporean Singapore” and build an ever more perfect multiracial society, he added.

“Even when some of our compatriots fall short, or neglect to play their part in this vital national project, let’s see them as fellow citizens to be brought along, not adversaries to be shouted down or cancelled out.”

He urged Singaporeans to move forward with a spirit of mutual respect and fellowship by helping one another understand their different cultures, and finding the common stake they have in one another.

"We must have the humility to acknowledge our multiracialism is still a work in progress, the honesty to recognise that not everyone will want to move at the same pace, and yet persevere to protect our multiracialism - cherish it, nurture it, strengthen it."

Friday 25 June 2021

Living normally, with COVID-19: Task force ministers on how Singapore is drawing road map for new normal

Singapore preparing road map for living with endemic COVID-19
With vaccination, testing, treatment and social responsibility, in the near future, when someone gets COVID-19, our response can be very different from now. We are drawing up a road map to transit to this new normal.
By Gan Kim Yong, Lawrence Wong and Ong Ye Kung, Published The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2021

We are continuing with our efforts to control the worrisome Delta variant of Covid-19. Given its high transmissibility, it will be hard to bring infections down to zero. Instead, we are adopting an aggressive ring-fencing strategy - casting a wide net to isolate contacts of infected persons, and testing tens of thousands every day. The aim is to minimise the risk of large clusters forming.

But it has been 18 months since the pandemic started, and our people are battle-weary. All are asking: When and how will the pandemic end?

Endemic COVID-19

The bad news is that Covid-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live normally with it in our midst. This means Covid-19 will very likely become endemic. But what does that mean?

It means that the virus will continue to mutate, and thereby survive in our community. One example of such an endemic disease is influenza. Every year, many people catch the flu. The overwhelming majority recover without needing to be hospitalised, and with little or no medication. But a minority, especially the elderly and those with co-morbidities, can get very ill, and some succumb.

In a large country, the number hospitalised from influenza can be huge. For example, in the United States, hundreds of thousands are hospitalised every year because of the flu, and tens of thousands die.

But because the chances of falling very ill from influenza are so low, people live with it. They carry on with their daily activities even during the flu season, taking simple precautions or getting an annual flu jab.

We can work towards a similar outcome for Covid-19. We can't eradicate it, but we can turn the pandemic into something much less threatening, like influenza, hand, foot and mouth disease, or chickenpox, and get on with our lives.

Doing so will be our priority in the coming months. We already have a broad plan.

Vaccination is key

First, vaccination. During his broadcast on May 31, the Prime Minister said we aimed to have two-thirds of our population take at least their first dose by early July. We are on track to achieve that target. Our next milestone will be to have at least two-thirds of our population fully vaccinated with two doses around National Day, supply permitting.

We are working to bring forward the delivery of vaccines and to speed up the process.

The evidence is clear: Vaccines are highly effective in reducing the risk of infection as well as transmission. Even if you are infected, vaccines will help prevent severe Covid-19 symptoms.

Israel's experience shows that the infection rate among vaccinated persons is 30 times less than that of the unvaccinated. The hospitalisation rate for the vaccinated is also lower - by 10 times.

In Singapore, of the 120 plus fully vaccinated individuals who were nevertheless infected with Covid-19, including some aged above 65 - and were not resident at hospitals or nursing homes - all had either no or mild symptoms. In contrast, about 8 per cent of the unvaccinated developed serious symptoms.

To sustain a high level of protection, and to defend against new mutant strains resistant to current vaccines, booster shots may be needed in the future. We may have to sustain a comprehensive, multi-year vaccination programme.

Early evidence suggests that with vaccination, we can tame Covid-19. Again, the experience of Israel - which has vaccinated 60 per cent of its population, the highest vaccination rate in the world currently - is pertinent.

Across all age groups, the hospitalisation rate due to Covid-19 in Israel among those fully vaccinated is 0.3 per 100,000 persons daily, and the mortality rate is 0.1 per 100,000 persons.

In comparison, in 2018/19, the hospitalisation and mortality rates for influenza in the US were 0.4 and 0.03 per 100,000 persons daily, respectively. In a severe flu season, like in 2017/18, the rates were 0.67 and 0.05, respectively.

Essentially with a high rate of vaccination, Israel has brought the clinical outcomes of Covid-19 close to that of seasonal influenza in the US. These are very promising outcomes.

Testing will be easier

Second, testing and surveillance will still be needed, but the focus will be different. We would still need rigorous testing at our borders to identify any person carrying the virus, especially variants of concern.

Domestically, testing will be less of a tool for ring-fencing and quarantining people exposed to infected persons. Instead, it would be to ensure that events, social activities and overseas trips can take place safely; as well as to reduce transmission risks, especially to those who are vulnerable to infections.

We cannot rely only on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which can be uncomfortable and takes many hours to produce results. We need to make Covid-19 testing fast and easy. We have rolled out antigen rapid tests, including self-tests, to polyclinics, private clinics, employers, premises owners and pharmacies.

There are even faster test kits in the pipeline, such as breathalysers, that take about one to two minutes to produce the results and do not involve swabbing. In time, the airport, seaport, office buildings, malls, hospitals and educational institutions can use these kits to screen staff and visitors.

There is also wastewater testing, which is useful to find out if there are hidden infections in dormitories, hostels or housing estates.

Treatments will improve

Third, scientists around the world are working on treatments for Covid-19. Today, we already have a range of effective treatments, which is one reason why Singapore's Covid-19 mortality rate is among the lowest in the world.

Eighteen months after the pandemic started, we now have many therapeutic agents that are effective in treating the critically ill, quickening recovery, and reducing disease progression, severity and mortality. The Ministry of Health tracks these developments closely, ensuring that we have adequate supplies of these drugs. Our medical researchers actively participate in the development of new treatments.

Social responsibility remains critical

Finally, whether we can live with Covid-19 depends also on Singaporeans' acceptance that Covid-19 will be endemic and our collective behaviour.

If all of us practise good personal hygiene, we are less likely to be infected. If all of us are considerate to one another, staying away from crowds when we feel unwell, we will reduce transmission. If all of us shoulder the burden together - workers keeping their colleagues safe by staying at home when ill, and employers not faulting them - our society will be so much safer.

Towards a new normal

With vaccination, testing, treatment and social responsibility, it may mean that in the near future, when someone gets Covid-19, our response can be very different from now.

The new norm can perhaps look like this:

Friday 18 June 2021

Census 2020: Singapore population growth at slowest pace since 1965

More staying single while those who marry are having fewer babies, latest census shows
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Jun 2021

Singapore's population grew at its slowest pace since independence, with more residents staying single and even those who marry having fewer babies.

The nation's sixth census since independence in 1965 also found other key trends set in motion decades ago to have solidified further. Singapore residents of all ages and races are now better educated and more do not consider themselves as having a religion.

Conducted once every 10 years, the census is the largest national survey undertaken here on key characteristics of the population such as demographic, social, economic and employment trends.

More findings from the Census of Population 2020 will be released tomorrow.

Over the past 10 years, Singapore's total population grew by 1.1 per cent each year - the lowest decade of growth since independence.

The number of citizens grew from 3.23 million to 3.52 million, while the number of permanent residents held steady at around half a million.

The population is ageing. Those aged 65 years and older formed 15.2 per cent of the resident population last year, a marked rise from 9 per cent in 2010.

In a trend that has implications for continued population growth, the proportion of singles rose across all age groups over the past 10 years, with the sharpest increase among younger Singaporeans aged 25 to 34 years.

Less-educated men were more likely to stay single, whereas the opposite was true of women.

Women, especially if they were more educated, had fewer children. The average number of children born per resident woman aged 40 to 49 years who had ever been married fell from 2.02 in 2010 to 1.76 last year.

Within this age group, women who were university graduates had an average of 1.66 children last year - marking a steady decline from 1.74 children 10 years ago and 1.95 in 2000.

Singaporeans are also better educated. Among residents aged 25 years and over, almost six in 10 (58.3 per cent) attained post-secondary or higher qualifications, up from less than half (46.5 per cent) in 2010. The Chinese, Malay and Indian communities all saw improvements.

Women closed the educational gap with men in each successive cohort. When it came to those aged 25 to 34 years, the proportion of women (90.2 per cent) with post-secondary or higher qualifications exceeded men (90 per cent).

English was the language most frequently spoken at home for 48.3 per cent of residents aged five years and over last year, up from 32.3 per cent in 2010. Most of them also spoke a vernacular language at home.

There are growing numbers of Singaporeans who cite no religious affiliation.

The proportion was 20 per cent last year, up 3 percentage points from a decade ago. This number was 15 per cent in 2000.

The increase took place across all age groups and most types of educational qualifications.

At a media briefing on Monday, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah said the census data showed Singaporeans had enjoyed significant progress over the past 10 years, and that the country remains multiracial, multi-religious and multilingual.

Observing that Singapore citizens account for a greater proportion of population growth in this decade, she said: "Singaporeans who wish to start and raise families remain a priority because we want to grow the Singapore population, the Singapore core. At the same time, we have to supplement our population with some immigration, because we also need to support our economy. But that has to be very carefully calibrated."

Saturday 12 June 2021

The 3Cs of Racism in Singapore: CECA, COVID-19 and Culture clash

Fighting racism means calling it out, in public and online, rather than shrugging it off to keep up the pretence of getting along.
By Chua Mui Hoong, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2021

Racism has been much in the news after a video was widely circulated of a Chinese man scolding an Indian man, who was out with his girlfriend, for preying on Chinese girls. The Chinese man was heard on video calling their relationship a disgrace and saying they should date within their own race.

Mr Dave Parkash, 26, is of Indian-Filipino descent and his girlfriend Jacqueline Ho, 27, is half-Thai and half-Chinese Singaporean. The encounter was filmed by Ms Ho and made public by Mr Parkash, and rapidly went viral.

This came after an incident last month, when a Singaporean Indian woman out exercising with her face mask on that left her nose uncovered, was asked to wear her mask properly, and then reportedly kicked in her chest by a Chinese man uttering racial slurs.

Many have spoken up against these incidents, which are being investigated by the police.

Watching the latest video, I wondered what was on the Chinese man's mind when he accosted Mr Parkash thus in public. If you listen to his words, he appears to be making an assumption that many other Chinese Singaporeans will agree with him - that it is a disgrace to date outside one's race.

What struck me was not his sentiment - many of us would have heard similar comments on social media, or from relatives and friends. What struck me was how such bigoted views, once privately expressed in closed groups, were being expressed in public. As Irish writer Oscar Wilde observed, hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue, so keeping mum on one's private bigoted views at least acknowledges the virtue of social norms that frown on the expression of such unsavoury views.

That the lecturer felt able to confront Mr Parkash publicly with his own bigoted views made me wonder if he felt others in society would agree with him.

That was what made me uncomfortable - the realisation that in Singapore, we may be creating a social environment where people think it is acceptable to mouth racist words and to chide those from minority communities for failing to conform to certain expectations.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who has been quick to call out such racist incidents in the past, shared on his Facebook page: "I used to believe that Singapore was moving in the right direction on racial tolerance and harmony. Based on recent events, I am not so sure anymore."

Are things getting worse? If so, what has changed, and how did we get here?

The 3Cs: CECA and COVID-19 and culture clash

Several forces converge to expose existing fault lines on race.

First is the CECA factor. Short for the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, CECA is a free trade agreement between Singapore and India that eases the movement of goods, services and people between the two countries, allowing for easier business travel and for intra-company transfers. It has been blamed for facilitating the entry of Indian migrants to compete for jobs with Singaporeans.

Sociological theories on racism include a view that racism springs from resource competition. In this view, prejudice towards another race is due to competitive pressure for jobs, status or political power.

Friday 11 June 2021

Singapore to ease COVID-19 curbs in two phases from 14 June 2021

Gradual Re-opening to Phase 3 (Heightened Alert)

Group sizes upped to 5 from June 14, dining in to resume from June 21
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2021

Tighter measures currently in place to reduce the spread of Covid-19 will be eased progressively from next Monday (June 14).

In a statement on Thursday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said Singapore will gradually reopen and move to phase three (heightened alert) in two steps.

Here are the key announcements.

1. Cap on social gatherings to be raised from two people to five from June 14

The current two-person limit on group social gatherings will be raised to five from next Monday.

The same two-person cap on the number of unique daily visitors to a household will also be raised to five.

MOH said such gatherings should still be limited to small groups of regular contacts, to reduce the likelihood of transmission. Groups of up to five per room will be allowed for hotel stays, up from two currently.

It advised the public to limit the number of social gatherings to no more than two a day.

2. Event size and capacity limits to be raised from June 14

Attractions, cruises, museums and public libraries will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent of their normal capacity from June 14, up from the current 25 per cent.

Event sizes will also be increased, and live performances and spectator sports events will be allowed to resume.

Events such as movie screenings at cinemas, events in the Mice (meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions) industry, worship services and marriage solemnisation outside the home will be able to resume with up to 250 attendees, if pre-event testing (PET) is conducted.

For marriages, the cap includes the wedding couple but not solemnisers or vendors.

Solemnisations held at home will be allowed for groups of up to five visitors, excluding members of the hosting household, or up to 10 attendees in total, whichever is higher.

PET will not be required for events with 50 or fewer attendees.

From Monday, personal care services which require masks to be removed, such as facials, will be allowed to resume.

But unmasking and singing or playing wind instruments, as well as wedding receptions with dining in, can resume only from June 21.

3. Dining in only from June 21

These are considered high-risk settings, MOH said.

It reminded F&B establishments to strictly observe 1m safe distancing between groups of diners.

Groups must also be limited to five people, and patrons must wear their masks at all times except while eating and drinking.

Wedding receptions will be allowed for up to 100 attendees - a number which includes the couple but not the solemnisers or vendors - with PET in place for all attendees.

PET will be required for only the wedding party of up to 20 attendees if the reception has 50 or fewer total attendees.

4. Gyms, sports and tuition classes to resume from June 21

From June 21, fitness studios and gyms may resume activities which involve removing one's mask, with safe distancing of at least 2m between individuals (even within a group) and 3m between groups of individuals.

Sports classes, both indoors and outdoors, will be limited to 30 people, including the instructor, and groups must consist of no more than five people.

In-person tuition and enrichment classes for those aged 18 and below may also be allowed to resume from June 21. These include classes involving singing or the playing of wind instruments.

5. Working from home remains the default; targeted support measures to continue

Employers must ensure that employees who can work from home continue to do so even as Singapore reopens gradually, MOH said.

This is so overall footfall and interactions in public are kept low, thereby reducing the risk of infections.

For those who need to return to the workplace, their start times should be staggered and they should be allowed flexible working hours.

Employers will still not be allowed to cross-deploy workers to multiple work sites.

From June 21 to 30, the affected sectors will receive 10 per cent JSS support.

The Covid-19 Driver Relief Fund for taxi and private-hire drivers will also be extended for three more months.

This will be set at $300 per vehicle each month for the first two months, and $150 per vehicle for the third month.

6. Regular testing for staff in higher-risk activities and sale of self-test kits

Regular testing will be implemented for staff working in F&B establishments with dining in, personal-care services requiring the removal of masks, and gyms or fitness studios where customers are unmasked.

The "fast and easy" testing regime will, for example, use antigen rapid tests (ART) for all staff regardless of vaccination status.

ART self-test kits will also be sold at retail pharmacies such as Guardian, Unity and Watsons from June 16.

More details on these kits will be available from June 16, the MOH said.

Sales will initially be limited to 10 kits per person.

7. Vaccination bookings for those aged 12 to 39 to begin on June 11

Singaporeans aged 12 to 39 will be able to register online for vaccination and book an appointment from Friday.

MOH said the booking link may take up to two weeks to be sent to those who register, as more appointment slots for vaccination open up when more supplies arrive.

The rest of the resident population will be invited to register in the coming months.

Those who had earlier recovered from Covid-19 infection are recommended to receive just a single dose of the vaccine, MOH said.

This is because those who have recovered in the last six months are likely to still have strong immunity.

Children under the age of 18 will require parental consent to book an appointment.

Wednesday 9 June 2021

Cleaners in Singapore to see wages increase over 6 years from 2023 under progressive wage model

Move set to benefit 40,000 workers across 1,500 cleaning businesses in Singapore
By Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2021

Cleaners will see their wages continue to go up each year from 2023, over six years, after proposals by a tripartite committee on the cleaning wage ladder were accepted by the Government yesterday.

From 2023 to 2028, the base wages of Singaporean and permanent resident cleaners across all job levels will increase each year. This will benefit about 40,000 cleaners across about 1,500 cleaning businesses in Singapore.

The first adjustment in 2023 will see base wages of general and indoor cleaners increase by, for example, almost 20 per cent from $1,312 next year to $1,570.

The move is meant to narrow the income disparity between cleaners and other workers. Under previous updates to the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) in 2016 and 2018, cleaners were slated to get 3 per cent annual wage increases from last year to next year.

The latest wage increases were among new recommendations made by the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners (TCC), after it conducted another round of reviews of the model.

The PWM, a ladder that sets out minimum pay and training requirements for workers at different skill levels, was launched in the cleaning sector by the TCC in 2012. It has been a compulsory condition since 2014 for the licensing of cleaning companies.

The TCC - which comprises representatives from the labour movement, industry, service buyers and the Government - also recommended having cleaners trained in workplace safety and health protocols by the end of next year.

This is to ensure their personal safety when carrying out cleaning tasks, especially in the light of increased cleaning demands due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Employers should also send cleaners for one of the core Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) modules identified by the TCC for their relevant job levels.

The PWM training guidelines had earlier required that all resident cleaners attain the minimum two WSQ certificates next year.

With the latest recommendations, cleaners will have until December next year to complete the two modules.

Ms Phyllis Lim, deputy director of the National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) U Care Centre, which supports low-wage workers, said in a press statement yesterday that training class sizes have been reduced to adhere to Covid-19 safe management measures.

"The new timeline is to allow sufficient time for cleaning businesses to comply with the training requirements... By the end of 2022, they should be able to send their cleaners (for the modules)."

Another recommendation was that beyond 2025, cleaners in lower job rungs must complete one additional module, while those in higher job rungs must complete two extra modules.

The list of WSQ training modules has been updated, and will periodically be updated to ensure its relevance, the TCC said.

The Ministry of Manpower, National Environment Agency, SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore said in a joint statement yesterday that the recommendations will "ensure significant wage growth and skills upgrading for cleaners, and develop a more competent and productive cleaning workforce".

They said: "Together, our collective whole-of-society efforts will uplift our lower-wage workers."

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said in a Facebook post: "I am glad that many of us are more aware of the value of work our cleaners do... Pandemic or not, uplifting the lives of our lower-wage workers matters to us."

Tuesday 1 June 2021

Singapore planning for a new normal of living with endemic COVID-19: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Test, Trace and Vaccinate.

Plans for new normal with people living with virus in their midst
PM Lee sketches scenario where Singaporeans can go about their daily lives with an endemic disease
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

Singapore is planning for a new normal, where its people can carry on with their lives while the virus is in their midst, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Addressing the nation in a live broadcast, PM Lee sketched out a scenario where people will be able to go to work and meet their friends, take part in large-scale events such as concerts, and eventually even go around without masks outdoors.

Singapore is still "some ways off from this happy state, but we are heading in the right direction", said PM Lee.

The country will get there if people continue to work together, such as by keeping up vaccination rates, taking annual booster shots and getting tested for Covid-19 often.

Before that, Singapore must raise its game and adjust its strategies in the next chapter of the fight to deal with the more infectious variants of the coronavirus that have emerged, PM Lee said as he outlined the nation's adjusted three-pronged strategy.

This means people have to get used to routinely being tested for the virus at different settings such as offices and shopping malls, with such tests set to get used more proactively and extensively.

The other two parts of the strategy are casting a wider net during contact tracing to isolate close contacts more quickly, and an accelerated national vaccination programme that prioritises first-dose vaccinations.

"If we stay united and continue to work together, we will be able to progressively open up and achieve our aim," he said.

While the global pandemic will eventually subside, Covid-19 is likely to become an endemic disease that is not fully eradicated among humans, said PM Lee.

This means that Singapore must expect to see small outbreaks of the disease here from time to time, he added.

"Our aim must be to keep the community as a whole safe, while accepting that some people may get infected every now and then."

The way Covid-19 will be managed will then be closer to the way the common flu or dengue fever is tackled, through public health measures and personal precautions.

As in the case of the flu, regular vaccinations could be part of the strategy, he said.

In the new normal, testing for Covid-19 will also be more frequent, but it will be fast and easy, he added.

For instance, suitable tests can be rapidly deployed before a football game or a wedding reception, providing assurance to participants that the event is Covid-19-safe.

Those whose occupations involve close contact with many people that could result in superspreading events will also be tested more routinely, said PM Lee. These include cabbies, bus drivers, fitness instructors and teachers, alongside those who are already on rostered routine testing such as construction workers and those who work at shipyards, air and sea ports.

Different Covid-19 tests that are now available include antigen rapid tests, saliva tests, breathalysers and even DIY kits that can soon be bought over the counter, PM Lee noted.

Living with endemic Covid-19 also means the country does not completely close its borders, he added.

"We need food, essential supplies, workers, business and other travellers to keep on flowing. We must stay connected to the world, with effective safeguards and border restrictions to keep Singaporeans safe," he said.

"We will not be able to prevent some infected persons from slipping through from time to time. But as long as our population is mostly vaccinated, we should be able to trace, isolate and treat the cases that pop up, and prevent a severe and disastrous outbreak."

Singapore's priority now is to get through the pandemic and position itself strongly for the future even as the virus continues to rage around it, said PM Lee.

He pledged that the country will emerge tougher and more confident than before, having experienced and overcome Covid-19 together as one nation.

"In this new normal, the countries which are united, disciplined and put in place sensible safeguards will be able to reopen their economies, reconnect to the rest of the world (to) grow and prosper," said PM Lee.

"Singapore will be among these countries."