Canberra e-bike library set to grow due to demand | The Canberra Times


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Additional bikes are set to be added to Canberra’s electric-bike library, as demand for the service grows. The initiative, which allows Canberrans to loan an electric bike for two weeks to test them out before buying one, has encouraged more than 40 people use the service since it was set up mid last year. However, the waiting list for people to hire the electric bikes has expanded to more than 200 people. See-Change, the organisation that runs the library, said it was looking to add extra vehicles to the fleet to help clear the waiting list, as well as potentially shortening the loan time from 14 to 10 days. Executive officer Brook Clinton said more people were looking to see how electric bikes would fit into their lives and daily routine. “The waiting list has expanded as more people have heard about it,” Ms Clinton said. “The bike fleet at the moment is small, but we’re hoping to see the pilot extended and allow for more people to try out the bikes.” The pilot program was initially slated to run until June this year. Ms Clinton said the cost of electric bikes, with basic models starting at around $5000, had been a deterrent for many wanting to buy one of the vehicles, and that the library was helping people to make up their minds on a potential purchase. “There are some standard e-bikes that people can try or there’s other models that are more suited to carrying children or other passengers, and others that are accessible for older people,” Ms Clinton said. Paris Lord was one of the Canberrans who loaned one of the electric bikes from the library in December last year. While the Hawker resident already had a small electric bike for his own use, he was in the market for a larger cargo e-bike, which could take more weight and more passengers. “It was a lot weirder to ride at first because they’re much longer than a standard bike,” he said. “The main thing was that it was so much fun. I hoped initially that it would also be able to carry my greyhound in it … but it could also carry supplies from Bunnings and bags of groceries. “There are alternatives to using a car and the electric-bike library was a way to try to find that alternative.” Christopher Budd had also loaned a bike from the library for the fortnight back in October. He said he had been considering getting a new bike, but was not sure about the cost of an electric model. “It basically became the second family car,” Mr Budd said. “We had it for two weeks but it only took two days to make a decision to buy one.” In recent weeks, the bike library had been running single sessions for people to try the e-bikes in order to help clear some of the waiting list. While many had taken to trying the bikes for a short period of time, Mr Budd said the two-week trial the library gave to people was a way to really test its use. “When you test out a bike from a bike store for just an hour, it’s not really the same,” he said. For faster access to the latest Canberra news, download The Canberra Times app for iOS and Android.

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Demand, price growth proves sun is shining on regions


There has been a huge surge in buyer demand in some of regional Queensland’s beachside suburbs, with two unlikely townships experiencing triple digit growth.

And one suburb blitzed the competition with price growth of 33.8 per cent.

Forrest Beach (Hinchinbrook) and Hay Point (Mackay) recorded a sharp rise in the number of views per property listing over the past 12 months, up 147.1 per cent and 138.4 per cent respectively, new data from realestate.com.au reveals.

The current median house price in the sleepy beachside suburb of Forrest Beach is now $220,000, which is down from a high of $280,000 three years ago.

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Mary Venables of Venables Real Estate, who has been selling real estate in Forrest Beach for 30 years, said it had been an unusual 12 months but it had been busy.

Ms Venables said buyers were “coming from all over the place”, from across the region and as far south as Victoria.

She said while some were grey nomads who knew the area, others were families chasing a laid-back lifestyle.

“Which is great because it means our school and community is growing,” she said.

A view over the 2.2ha Forrest Beach hotel, motel and caravan park property north of Townsville.

GROWTH IN DEMAND (YoY) – HOUSES

Forrest Beach 147.1%

Hay Point 138.4%

Kinka Beach 95.9%

Mudjimba 86.8%

Jubilee Pocket 85.2%

Airlie Beach 83.2%

Boyne Island 81.4%

Bakers Creek 81.2%

Wonga Beach 80.6%

Tugun 80.3%

Source: realestate.com.au

 

Hay Point Coal Terminal.

Hay Point Coal Terminal.

Hay Point’s median house price is currently $351,500, down from a high of $385,000 a decade ago at the peak of the mining boom.

But RE/MAX Results Mackay agent Michael Althaus, who sells in Hay Point, said the resources sector was not the key driver for sales in the area any longer.

“I think it’s the affordability, and the fact it is a beautiful place,” he said.

 

Beachfront houses in Hay Point come at a premium, with this one listed for $560,000

Beachfront houses in Hay Point come at a premium, with this one listed for $560,000

 

“I would say 75 to 80 per cent of my inquiries have been from interstate buyers, and the rest are locals upgrading.

“I have buyers flying up from Melbourne next week to look at property.”

Mr Althaus said many buyers were keen to escape the city rat-race, having learned how to work from home.

He said low vacancy rates were also a factor, right across the region, with it now cheaper to pay off a mortgage than to rent in many cases.

“All regional areas are getting a kick along as a result of COVID,” he said.

“It is the silver lining for us.”

Airlie Beach foreshore in the Whitsundays. Picture: Rae Wilson

Airlie Beach foreshore in the Whitsundays. Picture: Rae Wilson

GROWTH IN DEMAND (YoY) – UNITS

Pimpama 128.0%

Warana 122.6%

Kewarra Beach 92.4%

Bowen 91.3%

West Mackay 89.3%

Tin Can Bay 87.0%

Peregian Beach 84.8%

Coomera 83.3%

Airlie Beach 83.1%

Scarness 81.6%

Source: realestate.com.au

 

Other star performers for demand growth range for houses at Mudjimba (Sunshine Coast) and Tugun (Gold Coast) to Airlie Beach (Whitsundays) and Boyne Island (Gladstone).

For units, top performers include Pimpama (Gold Coast), Kewarra Beach (Cairns), Bowen (Whitsundays) and Scarness (Hervey Bay).

 

STUNNING: The back edge of a rainband produced a brilliant sunset at Boyne Island. Picture: Nick Kossatch

STUNNING: The back edge of a rainband produced a brilliant sunset at Boyne Island. Picture: Nick Kossatch

 

In terms of house price growth over the past 12 months, North Ward in Townsville came out on top with 33.8 per cent growth.

It also recorded the shortest days on market in regional Queensland – just 35 days, well ahead of Currumbin (Gold Coast) and Pelican Waters (Sunshine Coast) at 50 days each.

The sought-after suburb, with views of iconic Castle Hill and Magnetic Island, now has a median house value of $700,000, the REA Market Trends report says.

Townsville’s most expensive suburb, Castle Hill, has a median house value of $1.08 million.

For units, Belgian Gardens, also in Townsville, was also a top 10 growth star, up 37.8 per cent year-on-year, just behind North Mackay on 41.9 per cent.

 

11 Walang Crt, North Mackay sold for $1.25 million in November, 2020. Picture: Explore Property

11 Walang Crt, North Mackay sold for $1.25 million in November, 2020. Picture: Explore Property

 

PRICE GROWTH (YoY) – HOUSES

North Ward 33.8%

Sunshine Beach 33.1%

Sarina 32.1%

Armstrong Beach 27.7%

Shelly Beach 27.6%

Moffat Beach 26.7%

Forrest Beach 23.6%

Sunrise Beach 23.1%

Booral 22.5%

Miami 22.1%

Source: realestate.com.au

 

 

Ray White’s Julie Mahoney sold 15 houses in North Ward alone last year, and said she was not surprised at the results.

“In terms of location., it really doesn’t get any better,” she said.

“People are either view or walking-distance-to-beach beach driven and it is not often you can get both.

“But it can be done in North Ward, albeit you might see those (properties) go for north of $1 million, which is still huge value.”

Ms Mahoney sold this North Ward house on November 25

Ms Mahoney sold this North Ward house on November 25

 

Ms Mahoney said the majority of buyers were cashed-up locals upgrading, but also out-of-towners moving to the city.

“Just 18 months ago, Townsville probably wouldn’t have ranked at all,” Ms Mahoney said.

“But we did well during COVID-19 and we have that slower pace, that lifestyle and a lot of people are keen to leave behind that hectic life.”

The Sunshine Coast’s luxurious Sunshine Beach – Queensland’s equal second most expensive suburb for houses – continues to challenge for top spot, with its median house value up 33.1 per cent to $2 million, equal to Brisbane’s Teneriffe and now just $455,000 less than Main Beach (Gold Coast).

The median house value in Sunshine Beach has doubled in just five years, according to the data.

And it is easy to see why!!!

And it is easy to see why!!!

The Sunshine Coast and Noosa regions dominated the top 10 list for price growth, with Shelley Beach (27.6%), Moffat Beach (26.7%) and Sunrise Beach (23.1%) all recording a rise in median house values.

Unit values also rose in Sunrise Beach, Sunshine Beach and Mount Coolum.

In the Mackay region, Sarina, Armstrong Beach and North Mackay also had price growth in houses and unit values, while Forrest Beach (Hinchinbrook) recorded price growth of 23.6 per cent.

Booral (Fraser Coast) and Miami (Gold Coast) also made the top 10 for regional Queensland.

Realestate.com.au economic research director Cameron Kusher said the growth in demand for regional Queensland properties, compared to those in the southeast corner, had been ” a little surprising”.

Cameron Kusher, REA. Picture: Andrew Henshaw/Supplied

Cameron Kusher, REA. Picture: Andrew Henshaw/Supplied

But he said the state as a whole was experiencing strong demand from interstate buyers, with that likely to continue this year.

“North Ward in Townsville, that’s a big city in its own right … and wherever you see amenities, airports, that’s a driver,” he said.

“I think we are seeing a lot of people selling in the cities, making the move to affordable areas and living comfortably.

“People have really reassessed how and where they want to live and while some young people may need to be in the office to progress their career, mature workers may not.

“It will be interesting to see what happens when the vaccine rolls out and workplaces start wanting people to return in some capacity.

“How strong the regional market continues will depend on how much lifestyle remains a factor, and an option.”

SOLD: 3 Grace Court, Yeppoon, sold for $870,260 on December 14, 2020. Picture: Contributed

SOLD: 3 Grace Court, Yeppoon, sold for $870,260 on December 14, 2020. Picture: Contributed

 

PRICE GROWTH (YoY) – UNITS

North Mackay 41.9%

Belgian Gardens 37.8%

Cairns City 23.6%

Holloways Beach 23.1%

Alexandra Headland 21.2%

Sunrise Beach 19.1%

Sunshine Beach 19.0%

Hollywell 18.4%

Yeppoon 16.7%

Mount Coolum 16.3%

Source: realestate.com.au



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Gold: India gold demand set to climb as buyers unleash pent-up demand


By Swansy Afonso, Haslinda Amin and Rishaad Salamat

Gold demand in the world’s second-biggest user will rebound this year after collapsing in 2020 as the rollout of vaccines pushes life back closer to normal, according to the World Gold Council.

Some of the weddings and festive buying that had been postponed because of the pandemic will come back in 2021, and this pent-up demand will boost sales, P.R. Somasundaram, managing director for India at the London-based council, said in an interview to Bloomberg TV.

“In 2021, you will see a big spurt in demand,” barring any unforeseen factors, Somasundaram said. Historical data show that after plunging in 2009 following the financial crisis, Indian demand jumped back up in the next three years, he said.

Demand in India, which trails only China, slumped in 2020 as the pandemic restricted movement and hit logistics, while higher prices drove buyers away. Imports more than halved to 275.5 tons last year, a person familiar with the data said last week. That put inbound shipments at the lowest in WGC’s records going back to 2009.

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Even before the pandemic hit, demand in India had been losing ground as transparency measures taken by the government changed buying behavior. Still, gold’s allure remains strong as Indians have a cultural affinity for the metal and prefer it for weddings, Somasundaram said, adding that rules out bitcoin as a big threat in the country.

But the gold industry needs to innovate to appeal to millennials, who have an aversion to heavy jewelry, or risk losing out on demand from the newer generation, he said.



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Coronavirus latest: Online retailers sustain strong demand but landlords struggle


Peter Wells in New York

California’s coronavirus death toll is closing in on 30,000 following a deadly start to the year for the country’s most populous state.

Authorities on Monday attributed a further 264 fatalities to coronavirus, down from 468 on Sunday.

On Saturday, the state reported a one-day record of 695 fatalities, more than what several states have had for the entire pandemic.

California’s death toll stands at 29,965, putting it slightly ahead of the 29,877 reported on Sunday by authorities in Texas that is due to be updated later this afternoon. The two states are closing in on top-ranked New York.

One glimmer of hope is hospitalisations. Although these rose by a net 120 over the past day to 22,633, this is down from Thursday’s record of 22,853. That may also be helping the national figure, which as of Sunday had remained below Thursday’s record of 132,464 for the fourth day running.

The number of intensive care unit beds available in California was 1,242, authorities revealed on Monday, up from a record low of 1,147 on Friday.

ICU bed availability in the Bay Area surrounding San Francisco was at 0.7 per cent, California Governor Gavin Newsom revealed at his regular press conference on Monday afternoon.

Regular availability of such beds in the broad Southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions has been at zero for weeks.

Mr Newsom struck a hopeful note, though, and said both the rate of increase in hospitalisations and ICU bed usage in the past week was “more modest” than what the state had experienced for “many, many months”.

A further 39,839 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, down from 49,685 on Sunday and back-to-back days of more than 50,000 apiece on Saturday and Friday.

Mr Newsom also said two gorillas at San Diego zoo have tested positive for coronavirus.

California on Monday became the first US state to confirm more than 2.7m cases since the start of the pandemic.

The state has administered “close to 800,000” vaccines, Mr Newsom said, and aims to reach the 1m-mark by this weekend.

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South Korea’s IPO market poised for record year on booming retail demand



January 8, 2021

By Heekyong Yang and Scott Murdoch

SEOUL/HONG KONG (Reuters) – South Korea is set for the busiest year ever for new share sales as companies ranging from a digital bank, game developer to an electric car battery maker rush to take advantage of robust retail demand, bankers and analysts said.

Its IPO market could raise up to 20 trillion won ($18.40 billion), a record and about four times above 2020 levels, led by firms providing products that are more in demand from people stuck indoors due to the pandemic, analysts said.

Also, a move by the country’s financial regulator to increase the allocation of IPO shares to retail customers this year will drive up investment, they added.

The projection comes against a recent rally in the main KOSPI index to above 3,000 for the first time, with investors looking towards a broad recovery in exports beyond South Korea’s tech titans.

This is “shaping up to look like it could be a record year”, said David Chung, head of Korea investment banking at Goldman Sachs. “The majority of big mandates and IPO themes are around the technology sector.”

That includes companies that were offline but now, amid the health crisis, have built up a significant online presence, Chung added. “That is where the growth is.”

Deals in the pipeline include a potential 4.6 trillion won float from KakaoBank, which has benefited from an inflow of customers from South Korea’s dominant chat app operator Kakao Corp. Kakao has a 32% stake in KakaoBank.

KakaoBank has picked advisers but not decided when it will list, a spokesman said.

An estimated 9-trillion won share sale by Tesla supplier LG Chem’s electric car battery unit is also in the pipeline, according to an analyst.

The IPO size or timing has not been decided yet, an LG Energy Solution official said.

South Korean companies raised about 4.7 trillion won via initial public offerings in 2020, Korea Exchange data shows, surpassing the past two years, but behind an all-time high of about 10 trillion won reached in 2010.

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EV battery maker SK Innovation’s chemical material unit SK IE Technology (SKIET) is also expected to make its market debut this year, bankers and analysts said.

SKIET said it plans to complete the IPO process within 2021.

Consumer demand for EVs has been relatively resilient, aided by tighter environment regulations and the launch of new models.

In South Korea, a “New Deal” economic initiative that pivots on digital innovation and eco-friendly growth is burnishing the appeal of EV-related stocks.

Gaming company Krafton and SK Bioscience are also looking to raise about 5 trillion won and 600 billion won, respectively, this year, Seoul-based SK Securities said.

In October, Krafton picked advisers for its IPO with plans to go public in 2021. A company spokeswoman said on Friday there were no further details to share at the moment.

SK Bioscience was not immediately available for comment.

Individual investors, who piled into the South Korean market last year, are trading at a pace not seen in years.

In 2020, the KOSPI clocked its biggest rise since 2009 as shares in companies like Samsung Electronics, the world’s biggest maker of memory chips, surged.

“The market right now is clearly attractive to retail investors and it will likely attract more of them as IPO shares allocation for retail investors has gone up to as much as 30% from 20%,” said Lee So-joong, an analyst with SK Securities.

($1 = 1,086.7300 won)

(Reporting by Heekyong Yang in Seoul, Scott Murdoch in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Jihoon Lee, Joyce Lee; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee and Himani Sarkar)

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Scottish nationalists demand billions in ‘Brexit compensation’


Blackford cast Brexit as “an unnecessary act of economic vandalism, which has been inflicted against Scotland’s will”.

“The UK government must now provide an urgent multi-billion package of compensation to Scotland to mitigate the lasting Brexit harm done to Scottish businesses, industries and communities,” he said.

Many Scottish fishermen have halted exports to European Union markets after post-Brexit bureaucracy shattered the system that used to put fresh langoustines and scallops in French shops just over a day after they were harvested.

Fishermen across Britain have accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of betrayal after he previously vowed to take back control of British waters. With little new control and little access to customer markets, many are in despair.

Scots voted 55-45 percent against independence in a 2014 referendum, but Brexit and the British government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis have bolstered support for secession, with most polls showing a majority now favour breaking away.

In the 2016 Brexit referendum, Scotland voted 62-38 to stay in the European Union while the United Kingdom as a whole voted 52-48 to leave.

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Scotland’s biggest logistics provider, DFDS Scotland, said on Saturday it would halt exports to the European Union through one of its main services until at least Wednesday.

Previously, the company had said it would take until Monday to resume its “groupage” export service – which allows exporters to ship multiple products in a single consignment – while it tries to fix IT issues, paperwork errors and a backlog of goods.

The extra delay represents another blow for Scottish fishermen who this week warned that their businesses could become unviable after Britain shifted to a less integrated trade deal with the EU at the turn of the year.

Scotland harvests vast quantities of langoustines, scallops, oysters, lobsters and mussels from sea fisheries along its Atlantic coast, which are rushed by truck to cater to European diners in Paris, Brussels and Madrid.

The introduction of health certificates, customs declarations and other paperwork has added days to delivery times and hundreds of pounds to the cost of each load, undermining a system that used to put fresh seafood into French shops just over a day after it was harvested.

DFDS said it was painfully aware of the strain faced by its customers, despite making significant progress in addressing the problems.

“The backlog is greatly reduced but every step of the customs procedure is taking longer than anticipated and capacity is consequently reduced,” DFDS said in a statement. “Despite our extraordinary efforts it is clear we need to further suspend the Groupage Export Service, which includes smaller consignments of fish and shellfish, until Wednesday at the earliest.”

The company said it would add staff on Monday to prepare for a full service and it stressed the importance of its customers having 100 per cent accuracy on all paperwork.

One exporter, SB Fish, said new trade obstacles since the start of the year had paralysed its fleet of 15 boats, each with a crew of three or four – affecting around 50 families.

“All our boats have been asked not to go out fishing till we have our hauliers back doing exports,” the company said.

Reuters

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Signal, Telegram see demand spike as new WhatsApp terms stir debate



FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to logos of social media apps Signal, Whatsapp and Telegram projected on a screen in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

January 8, 2021

(Reuters) – Signal and Telegram messaging apps are seeing a sudden increase in demand after larger rival WhatsApp’s updated terms of service raised eyebrows on social media.

WhatsApp, which uses Signal’s encryption technology, laid out fresh terms on Wednesday, asking users to agree to let owner Facebook Inc and its subsidiaries collect user data, including their phone number and location.

Some privacy activists questioned the “accept our data grab or get out” move on Twitter, and suggested users to switch to apps like Signal and Telegram.

Signal’s popularity shot up further on Thursday after it was endorsed by Elon Musk, who has one of the most-followed accounts on Twitter, and by the micro-blogging site’s top boss Jack Dorsey.

More than 100,000 users installed Signal across the app stores of Apple and Google in the last two days, while Telegram picked up nearly 2.2 million downloads, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower.

New installs of WhatsApp fell 11% in the first seven days of 2021 compared with the prior week, but that still amounted to an estimated 10.5 million downloads globally, Sensor Tower said.

(Reporting by Eva Mathews and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)



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U.S. Gasoline Demand Plummets With Recovery Appearing Far Off


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(Bloomberg) — Demand for gasoline in the U.S. dropped to levels last seen in the early stages of the pandemic, suggesting consumption still faces a stumbling recovery.

Gasoline supplied, which the U.S. government uses as a proxy for demand, slid last week to the lowest level since May when many states were enforcing strict travel and dining restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Gasoline inventories grew to their highest level since August, according to weekly data from the Energy Information Administration.

About 10 months after lockdowns first shuttered much of the U.S., the virus continues to rage from one troubled hotspot to the next, requiring restrictions that have taken a toll on fuel demand. On Monday, 32 states reported seven-day case averages substantially rising when compared with the prior week. Consumption stands at more than 600,000 barrels a day below where it was during the same time last year.

“There is zero evidence that there is any pick-up in the market,” said Robert Campbell, head of oil products research at Energy Aspects Ltd. “It is clear that discretionary travel and a lot of commuting will not return until there is more of a vaccine deployment.” He says travel will remain weak for the foreseeable future, or at least the next couple of months.

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Demand for new maids high despite extra costs amid COVID-19 restrictions, risk of imported cases


SINGAPORE: Demand in Singapore for new foreign domestic workers is going strong despite the extra costs involved in bringing them in amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said employment agencies. 

Employers have to pay for the helpers’ COVID-19 tests and their stay-home notice. 

From Jan 1, employers must also get medical insurance with a coverage of at least S$10,000 for the workers’ medical expenses if they develop COVID-19 symptoms or test positive within 14 days of arrival in Singapore. The insurance must be bought before they arrive in Singapore. 

Service costs charged by agencies have also gone up because of the various administrative arrangements required amid the pandemic. 

Still, agencies CNA spoke to said they are seeing an increase in the number of clients making requests for new domestic workers.

This is likely because between March and October, there were few or no domestic workers entering Singapore, said president of the Association of Employment Agencies K Jayaprema. 

“Employers have been holding on for a long time to hire, and many of them have been facing a situation where their own current existing workers wanted to go back. Transfers have not been successful,” she added. 

“Employers might not want to hire and take this financial risk, but many actually don’t have much of a choice because of the way things have been. So although they have reservations, I think the ones who really need the help at home are moving forward to hire.”

Inter Great Employment Agency’s general manager Chew Soon Chiah agreed that requests for foreign domestic workers have grown steadily over the last few months, while Orange Employment Agency owner Shirley Ng said that the employers willing to fork out extra costs now are the ones who “can’t live without a helper”. 

WATCH: Fewer employers letting go of domestic workers during COVID-19

Among them are Mr Caleb Lim and his wife, who hired a foreign domestic worker in December to help with their newborn. “We felt that it would be good to have extra help, especially once we go back to work,” he told CNA. 

They started looking for and interviewing foreign domestic workers in April, but because of COVID-19 restrictions, the domestic workers were unable to come to Singapore at the time. They also tried to look for transfer maids but were unsuccessful. 

Finally in November, after approaching several agencies, they were put in touch with someone from Myanmar who was keen to work for a family with a baby.

The process of applying for a foreign domestic worker and helping her get to Singapore was “very smooth”, but Mr Lim said there was a “minor hiccup” when they could not get a plane ticket for her on the valid dates of her entry approval.

The agency had to cancel the first entry approval and apply for another one a week later, said Mr Lim. 

WATCH: More entry approvals for foreign domestic workers compared to previous month: Maid agencies

DIFFICULTIES JUGGLING VARIOUS REQUIREMENTS

On top of obtaining entry approval from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), employers and agencies must also deal with limited flights and the validity periods of COVID-19 tests. This makes the process an administratively tedious affair, they said. 

Orange Employment Agency’s Ms Ng explained that she has to first get in-principle approval for the worker’s entry. After ensuring there are available flights, she then applies for entry approval, which is only valid for three days.

If there are no flights for the dates that the worker’s entry approval is valid for, the employment agency or employer must reapply for approval, she said. 

According to the MOM website, domestic workers must also take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test within 72 hours before departure, and present a valid negative test result to enter Singapore.

The result can only come from laboratories that are internationally accredited or recognised by the respective countries’ authorities.

“Assuming I apply for (entry approval on) Dec 10, but now on Dec 10 there are no flights. You must also remember the girl has a 72-hour (validity window for the) PCR test, which will expire. We have to factor all this in. The stress is from this juggling,” Ms Ng told CNA. 

Mr Chew added that getting flights is also a challenge particularly for workers from Myanmar, due to an international flight ban.

“Now the only flights available are relief flights arranged by the embassy. Fighting for tickets is a weekly thing,” he told CNA.

WATCH: Myanmar looking to recruit more volunteers for COVID-19 response

During the “circuit breaker” period, MOM approved 630 requests for foreign domestic workers mainly from Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar to enter Singapore, out of about 4,100 entry approval applications and appeals received, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo in response to a parliamentary question in October.

The Manpower Ministry did not provide updated figures in response to CNA queries for the number of entry approval requests that have been approved to date.

READ: Commentary: It should not be this hard to hire a foreign domestic worker

FOREIGN DOMESTIC WORKERS WHO TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID-19 

Despite taking COVID-19 tests before entering the country, foreign domestic workers continue to make up a significant portion of Singapore’s imported cases every day.

Of the 29 imported cases reported in Singapore on Wednesday (Jan 6), 12 were foreign domestic workers. All of them were placed on stay-home notice or isolated upon their arrival in Singapore, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).

As of Dec 22, there were 303 COVID-19 cases who are foreign domestic workers, or about 0.5 per cent of the total number of cases in Singapore, said MOH in response to CNA queries. 

Of these, 273 were imported cases and 30 were locally transmitted. All the imported foreign domestic worker cases were detected while they served their stay-home notice at dedicated facilities, said MOH. 

Among the 30 locally transmitted cases, 24 were linked to a previous case in the employer’s household. Of the remaining six, none had spread the coronavirus to anyone in the employer’s household. 

Ms Ng said the number of imported cases among foreign domestic workers was surprising given the testing requirements for entry.

“You cannot go to any clinic in your neighbourhood. I reckon the places that the (authorities) appointed must be fairly credible and big hospitals,” Ms Ng told CNA, adding that other medical factors might explain why the workers tested positive upon arrival.

To avoid COVID-19 cases, some agencies make arrangements for workers to stay in an isolation facility in their home countries after they take their COVID-19 test and before they leave for Singapore, said Ms Jayaprema. 

“Because if they do their PCR test and they’re still mobile or they go around, the chances of being infected are very high. So we actually have to provide them with these additional isolation facilities,” she added. 

“In the past, we used to provide them with some kind of housing before they take their flight, but now additional resources have to be invested because we have to ensure that it is in isolation.” 

READ: Philippines prolongs partial COVID-19 curbs in Manila to Jan 31

With this “intensified work”, the cost incurred by employment agencies has also increased. Even sourcing for potential workers can be challenging because some countries are still in lockdown, said Ms Jayaprema. 

“Like for the domestic workers to be sourced, for them to travel out to town for deployment or to reach the airport, to go through the PCR test, everything is a lot more challenging now. It’s time-consuming, very difficult to access and it’s a lot more expensive,” she added. 

HIGHER COSTS FOR AGENCIES AND EMPLOYERS

Making it to Singapore is just the beginning. Depending on where they are arriving from, most new foreign domestic workers have to serve their stay-home notice in a dedicated facility.

They must also take a COVID-19 test before their stay-home notice is over. 

Only foreign domestic workers who arrive from Australia (excluding New South Wales state), Brunei, mainland China, New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam need not serve a stay-home notice if their test result is negative. But they must remain isolated in a hotel before the negative test results are out. 

Employers or employment agencies must also ensure that the domestic worker has a Singapore mobile number. Her phone must have Internet connection and WhatsApp installed.

WATCH: Maid agencies, employers to bear cost of COVID-19 stay-home notices for new foreign domestic workers

The costs add up. 

Employers should be prepared to pay upwards of S$3,000 in total fees to the agency and MOM, said employment agencies CNA spoke to. 

“It used to be like S$1,800 or more if you’re looking at agency fees plus disbursements. It used to be about under S$2,000. That’s what your actual costing would be,” said Ms Jayaprema, estimating that employers pay more than S$3,000 now, including the costs of stay-home notice and PCR tests.  

Specifically, costs for stay-home notice facilities come up to about S$1,500, while COVID-19 tests cost about S$200 each, said Orange Employment Agency’s Ms Ng.

She added that service fees have also gone up because “a lot more administration and coordination” is involved, requiring more man-hours.

Overall, she estimated that costs for employers have almost doubled, from S$2,500 to about S$4,800.

WATCH: What the shortage of foreign domestic workers means for Singapore

For Mr Lim and his wife, their employment agency did all the necessary applications for the couple and offered to absorb 40 per cent of the stay-home notice cost. 

The domestic worker arrived in Singapore on Dec 11 and ended her stay-home notice on Christmas Day. She stepped into the couple’s home on Dec 30 after her PCR test came back negative and she got her work permit registered. 

For the whole process, Mr Lim and his wife paid the employment agency about S$1,900 for their services.

They paid another S$1,625 to the Government for the maid’s stay at the dedicated stay-home notice facility and her COVID-19 test. When the helper was cleared to start work, they paid another S$900 for her security bond, after deducting the promised 40 per cent discount.

These extra costs were what initially put Mr Lim and his wife off from hiring a foreign domestic worker.

“We felt that it’s not worth paying that money. For young families like us, the S$1,700 is really a substantial amount, so that was why it put us off for so long,” said Mr Lim.

While some agencies may offer discounts on agency fees or absorb part of the stay-home notice or PCR test costs, it is unlikely to be a large sum, said Ms Jayaprema. 

“We have to be very logical about this. Agencies might partially absorb (costs), meaning they might be cutting their profit, but they’re still going to charge some form of agency fee,” she added. 

“I would generally look at it as a higher probability that the employer is the one who’s going to be absorbing all the costs, bearing all the costs. What we probably might see agencies do is probably do some profit cuts and that’s it. It’s not logical to say that agencies are going to bear it. It doesn’t work like that.” 

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Where are border Covid tests Boris? PM under fire over plan to demand negative result to enter UK


Boris Johnson was under pressure to sort out plans to demand people have a negative Covid test result before the enter Britain. 

Ministers have indicated that such a requirement is coming in a bid to block any influx of new variants of coronavirus after a South African strain was found in the UK.

But no firm details have yet been released and the Prime Minister came under fire in the Commons today over when they will be brought in and how much notice will be given. 

It came as new figures from Labour showed that just three in every 100 people arriving in the UK are being checked to see if they are complying with quarantine requirements.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has written to Priti Patel to demand ‘an urgent review and improvement plan of quarantine arrangements’. 

He claimed the current system of checking up on only a fraction of people is leaving the UK ‘defenceless and completely exposed’ to importing coronavirus variants. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer took aim at the PM in the Commons today as politicians returned to vote on the new lockdown rules.

‘The Prime Minister knows there is real concern about the rapid transmission of this disease. There are new strains being detected in South Africa, Denmark and elsewhere. The quarantine system isn’t working,’ Sir Keir said.

‘The Prime Minister said yesterday that we will be bringing in extra measures at the border. I have to ask, why are those measures not introduced already? They have been briefed to the media for days but nothing has happened.’

Mr Johnson gave no details and only offered a bland statement, saying: ‘I think it is vital we protect our borders and protect this country from the readmission of the virus from overseas and that is why we took tough action in respect of South Africa when the new variant became apparent there and we will continue to take whatever action is necessary to protect this country from the readmission of the virus.’     

Keir Starmer

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer took aim at the PM (both pictured above)  in the Commons today as politicians returned to vote on the new lockdown rules.

Labour analysis suggested three in every 100 UK arrivals are checked to ensure they are complying with quarantine measures

Labour analysis suggested three in every 100 UK arrivals are checked to ensure they are complying with quarantine measures  

Nick Thomas-Symonds

Priti Patel

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has written to Priti Patel to demand urgent improvement to the travel quarantine programme

Mr Johnson said last night that the Government will be bringing in measures to ensure people arriving in the UK have been tested. 

But the imposition of a third national lockdown has prompted growing calls for immediate action and questions over why a requirement for a negative test before arrival in the UK has not already been introduced. 

Mr Thomas-Symonds said Labour analysis of Government data suggested just three per cent of arrivals expected to quarantine in England and Northern Ireland were successfully contacted by compliance checkers in the summer.

He said the Government’s Isolation Assurance Service, tasked with ensuring quarantine compliance, did not contact more than 1.9 million of the two million passengers spot checked by Border Force between June and September. 

In a letter to the Home Secretary, Mr Thomas-Symonds said the numbers were ‘deeply concerning’ and demonstrate that ‘efforts to track, trace and isolate cases coming into the UK have been completely undermined’. 

He said: ‘The lack of a robust quarantine system as a result of shortcomings from the Government mean that it is virtually impossible to keep a grip on this spread or other variants that may come from overseas, leaving the UK defenceless, and completely exposed, with the nation’s doors unlocked to further COVID mutations. 

The Labour frontbencher said there must be ‘an urgent review and improvement plan of quarantine arrangements’ rolled out as soon as possible.

The calls for action come amid growing concerns over a variant of the disease discovered in South Africa.

The Home Office defended its ‘stringent measures’, and pointed to its move to stop direct flights from South Africa to the UK. 

A Government spokesman said: ‘The figures in this letter are inaccurate. Border Force have conducted more than three million spot checks and PHE (Public Health England) have been contacting a further 1,500 people each day.

‘We are determined to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Our stringent measures, such as compulsory Passenger Locator Forms and spot checks both at the border and during quarantine periods, have seen a high level of compliance.’ 

Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference last night that the Government will be ‘bringing in measures to ensure that we test people coming into this country and prevent the virus from being readmitted’. 

Ministers are understood to be considering introducing a requirement for international arrivals to have a negative coronavirus test before travelling to Britain in order to tackle surging cases. Hauliers would be exempt.

Currently arrivals into England from nations that are not exempted under the travel corridor programme must isolate for 10 days.

But under the test and release scheme introduced in December, this can be shortened if they have a private test five days after their departure and it comes back negative.

During the first lockdown, the Government argued against introducing border restrictions while the prevalence was so high in the UK, with experts arguing it would do little to bring down infection rates.

However, a quarantine period was introduced in June after the first peak and when cases were more under control.

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