30 new COVID-19 cases in Singapore, including 2 in community


SINGAPORE: Singapore reported 30 new COVID-19 cases as of noon on Sunday (Jan 17), including two infections in the community, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in its preliminary daily update.

The remaining 28 cases are imported and were placed on stay-home notice or isolated upon arrival in Singapore, said MOH.

There are no new cases in the dormitories.

Details of the cases will be released on Sunday night, the ministry added.

READ: 3 SPF officers quarantined, 25 police dogs negative for COVID-19 after para-vet tested positive

READ: E-sports tournament in Singapore to go ahead after 3 Brazil participants test positive for COVID-19

NEW BORDER MEASURES

As part of tighter border measures to manage the risk of imported COVID-19 cases, MOH on Saturday announced that all travellers must take a COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test upon arrival in Singapore.

The new measures also apply to Singaporeans and permanent residents, and will take effect from 11.59pm on Jan 24.

Currently, travellers who are not Singaporeans or PRs and who have a recent travel history to high-risk countries or regions are required to take a PCR test within 72 hours before departure.

READ: Singapore to restrict entry of some travellers from South Africa after reports of new COVID-19 strain

READ: Singapore to bar UK travellers over new COVID-19 virus strain; tighter measures for those with travel history to New South Wales

Singaporeans and PRs returning from the United Kingdom and South Africa will be subject to an additional seven days of self-isolation at their place of residence, following their 14-day stay-home notice period at dedicated facilities. 

This takes effect from 11.59pm on Jan 18.

As of Sunday, Singapore has reported a total of 59,113 COVID-19 cases.

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Malaysians with Singapore PR can now apply for PCA scheme to travel home


SINGAPORE: Malaysia citizens who are permanent residents (PRs) working in Singapore are now eligible to apply for the Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) scheme. 

Applications to travel under the scheme open from Monday (Jan 11), said the High Commission of Malaysia last Friday. Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) also updated its SafeTravel site on Monday with details of the scheme.

“The inclusion of this category of workers in the PCA scheme will allow more Malaysian workers in Singapore to apply for short-term leave after working in Singapore for at least 90 consecutive days,” said the High Commission in a Facebook post.

Previously, the PCA was open only to Singaporeans and Malaysians who hold long-term immigration passes in the other country.

READ: Implementing Singapore, Malaysia cross-border travel schemes was ‘right decision’ – Johor Chief Minister

According to Malaysia’s immigration website, PCA travellers entering the country will have to serve a seven-day Home Surveillance Order and undergo a COVID-19 test.

All PCA travellers, except for Singapore PRs, arriving in Singapore must take a COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction test within 72 hours before departure, according to the ICA website.

Travellers will need to present a negative COVID-19 test result in English from recognised or accredited laboratories in Malaysia.

After entering Singapore, all PCA travellers, including Singapore PRs, have to serve a 14-day stay-home notice at a dedicated facility. They will also have to clear another COVID-19 swab test before they can leave the facility.

While in Singapore, they must abide by local public health requirements and safe distancing measures, and use the necessary mobile apps such as TraceTogether, ICA said.

IN FOCUS: How COVID-19 has disrupted the close links between Singapore and Johor

READ: ‘Way beyond my budget’: Malaysians entering Singapore for work under PCA scramble to find rental options

PCA travellers can only enter or exit via the two land checkpoints in Woodlands and Tuas.

Travellers who develop COVID-19 symptoms within 14 days of their entry into Singapore will have to seek medical treatment at their own or their employer’s expense. If symptoms occur after 14 days of their return, the costs of their treatment will be borne by the Singapore Government, ICA said.

Singapore-based companies that wish to sponsor PCA applications for their employees can do so online.

More details on the PCA can be found on ICA’s website or Malaysia’s immigration website. 

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At 19, this Singapore Polytechnic student runs a US$25 million tech start-up


SINGAPORE: Computer geeks often dream of building that killer app that stands out from the competition — like Harsh Dalal, who co-created one of the first screen recorder apps at the age of 13.

It recorded 5 million downloads within a few weeks.

This app the Singapore permanent resident built with his teenage friends did not make them millionaires, however, despite their first-mover advantage back in 2014.

“We didn’t make any money out of it, foolishly because we didn’t expect it to actually take off,” recalled Harsh. “It was a missed opportunity. We didn’t know how to monetise the app.”

Instead of hosting it on Apple’s App Store, as they could not afford the annual fee of US$99 (S$131), they uploaded the app to a free hosting provider. And the 5 million downloads busted the bandwidth provided.


Taken from the screen recorder webpage. (Courtesy of Harsh Dalal)

“It was a very novel product that no one had actually done before,” said Harsh. “I was quite shocked … We were just five kids playing in the corner, experimenting with our iPhones and how tech works.”

But the app’s success paved the way for this Generation Z tech entrepreneur. The 19-year-old is now chief executive officer of software development company Team Labs, whose clients include the Coca-Cola Company, Google and Hilton.

The youngest in the company, he manages 120 employees in eight cities while keeping up with schoolwork at Singapore Polytechnic, where he is taking a diploma in business administration.

Young entrepreneurs are shaping this country into a smart nation with their start-ups, but what does it take for teens like him to be successful? The programme On The Red Dot finds out.

WATCH: I’m CEO at 19 of a US$25 million tech company — while still in school (8:12)

SHY CHILD, JAILBREAKING TEEN

Growing up, Harsh was uprooted from flat to flat until his family bought an apartment in the east of Singapore a few years ago. He was six years old when his family moved here from India.

Against this backdrop of upheaval, this shy only child struggled to cement and maintain long-term friendships with the neighbourhood children.

“I lost all my friends every time I moved houses. It was daunting for a socially awkward kid to go around looking for friends every time we moved,” he told CNA Insider.

“So instead of being at a playground, I’d be at home on my laptop, coding or doing other stuff.”

Formerly from Zhonghua Primary School, he picked up coding at the age of 11 by spending hours watching YouTube tutorials.

Harsh Dalal at his primary school fair. He's now 19 and the CEO of a US$25-million tech start-up.

At his primary school fair. (Photo credit: Harsh Dalal)

Bored with his Android phone with only one game, he tried hacking into it, albeit unsuccessfully, to install another operating system to download more games.

After his Primary School Leaving Examination, he got a cast-off iPhone 4 from his mother. This time, he managed to jailbreak the device.

He relishes the freedom of a rooted phone, he said. “I have an aversion to being controlled. It’s difficult to be myself if I have something constraining me.”

Intrigued by the iOS system, he started scouring Apple Developer forums for more information and made friends with four strangers, aged between 14 and 17, from the United States, Russia, Norway and Singapore.

Joined by a common interest, the teenagers — who would eventually become business partners — exchanged tips on coding, app development and jailbreaking iPhones. Their discussions about jailbreaking, however, got them banned from the forums.

Team Labs' co-founders chatting on Twitter following their ban from Apple Developer forums.

The teens chatting on Twitter following their ban from Apple Developer forums. (Courtesy of Harsh Dalal)

“I didn’t know there was a rule that you couldn’t talk about all these kinds of things (on Apple Developer forums),” said Harsh. “Luckily, I managed to get their emails before we got banned … and we were able to collaborate.”

TECH “MERCENARIES” EARNING LITTLE

In 2014, they developed their screen recorder app.

“A lot of teenagers wanted to record (on their iPhones) … and we wanted to make a screen recorder that wasn’t jailbroken. That’s what made it successful,” said Harsh, who was in Secondary 1 at Temasek Secondary School then.

“We solved a problem that hadn’t been addressed.”

The app’s success showed them that they could “do things without being adults”. He added: “It gave us even more confidence going forward … that (although) we’re just teenagers, we could build stuff.”

An iPhone screen recorder app was Harsh Dalal's and his company co-founders' first major success.

Their first major success.

They also created an alternative app store called iDownload Pro, where developers could upload apps rejected by the App Store.

Despite seeing more than 3 million downloads, they shut it down in 2015, as it was getting too costly to maintain. Apple was also cracking down on third-party app stores.

Keen to “become mercenaries to lend our skills to the world”, as he put it, they started offering web and software development services priced at upwards of US$99, which they advertised on their website and on Google Ads.

Too young to register their company then, one of the teenagers convinced his father to do it for them in the United Kingdom, and their first client paid them US$299 to develop a website.

They had to keep their rates low, however, because of competition. “The profit margin was, like, non-existent,” recalled Harsh. “If I went and worked at McDonald’s for the same amount of hours, I’d probably have earned more.”

WATCH: The full episode — Inside the life of a teen app developer (22:40)

“NEVER SEEN SO MANY ZEROS”

They hit pay dirt, however, when they tendered for and bagged a US$100,000 project to develop a marketing app for a multinational company.

The five of them took home US$10,000 each and poured the rest of the money into the company. “I’d never seen so many zeros in my life until that point,” said Harsh, who was 16 years old then.

He put most of his takings into the company and spent the rest on computer games.

He also bought three bitcoins at US$400 each and later sold the cryptocurrency at its peak for a five-figure profit, which he channelled into the business.

Like many teens, Harsh Dalal, CEO of software development company Team Labs, is into computer games.

Like many teens, Harsh is into computer games.

“That was when my mindset shifted also. I was taking my O-Levels and making this kind of money. So I wondered if it made sense to keep studying,” he said, acknowledging that business commitments had increasingly affected his grades.

It was hard to deal with (both) at the same time. Obviously, the teachers are unaware of what we do outside school … They only care about you submitting your assignment on time.

While some of his peers were wondering what to do after the O levels, he had already crafted his post-secondary school plan and secured a place at the Singapore Polytechnic via the Early Admissions Exercise.

With more work responsibilities, however, maintaining close friendships became another challenge, as he had trouble keeping appointments with his friends.

“There’s a level of commitment required for these relationships that I sometimes am not able to live up to,” he said, adding that few of his schoolmates at polytechnic know that he is a start-up founder.

“I felt like there’s no point in telling anyone about this kind of stuff. It doesn’t change who I am as a person.”

Harsh Dalal, the CEO of software development company Team Labs, with his polytechnic friends.

With his polytechnic friends. (Courtesy of Harsh Dalal.)

SHIFTING FOCUS, RAISING CAPITAL

On the business end, while the money was good and the work enjoyable, Harsh disliked taking directions from clients.

“Because the client is king, you have to listen to exactly what they want,” he said. “(There were) a lot of limitations and a lack of freedom.”

In 2017, the company shifted its focus to software development. It was developing an internal tool for its staff to collaborate, as they were in different time zones, and this led them to develop their first software platform, Xenon.

The platform allows developers to collaboratively design, build and deploy their digital products in the cloud. Today, Xenon has close to 70,000 users.

Team Labs' Xenon Code is an integrated development environment with built-in automation tools.

Xenon Code is an integrated development environment with built-in automation tools.

To raise funds for his company’s growth, Harsh sent hundreds of emails to venture capital firms, but few responded. One venture capitalist told him that he was too young for his start-up to be considered for funding.

“I was crushed and demoralised. I wondered if it was worth struggling this much for funding,” he recalled. But such comments do not bother him any more, not after the company attracted the attention of a US investment firm.

He remembers fumbling the first call with the firm when one of its senior executives questioned him about Team Lab’s annual recurring revenue (ARR).

“I pretended to have technical difficulties (on the phone) and was googling what ARR was at the same time,” he recounted. “I was just a teenager. I didn’t know what was going on.”

To raise capital, Harsh Dalal made cold calls and sent hundreds of emails to venture capital firms.

To raise capital, Harsh Dalal made cold calls and sent hundreds of emails to venture capital firms.

But the investment firm later invested a six-figure sum in his company, and that senior executive became his mentor.

“Since he was one of the first investors … I was very close to him, going to him with my problems,” said Harsh. “He was a very firm and straight-talking kind of person.”

They used to talk every week until May, when his mentor died from COVID-19. He is “still coping” with his loss.

“I was initially devastated … I wanted to, if possible, go to his wake,” he said. “The problem was that (I) couldn’t (because of the pandemic). And that’s why it sucks.”

OTRD young and boss Harsh Dalal 9

AIMING TO TURN A MISS INTO A HIT

Since 2017, Team Labs has raised US$9.8 million in Series A funding, and it is now headquartered in San Francisco for strategic reasons. Its investors include Grand Canyon Capital, Startup Capital Ventures and sovereign wealth fund Korea Investment Corporation.

Only the interns are younger than Harsh, and many of his employees are decades older than him. Everyone in the company, he stressed, has an opportunity to be heard.

“Most of the time, we have little trouble reaching a unanimous consensus on issues,” said the teenager, who declined to talk about his equity in the business.

Out of the five co-founders, only Harsh is left. The rest have exited the company for different reasons, for example to further their education or start another business.

“It’s sad that I can’t really speak to the same people I was so used to,” he said. “We were just focused on what was fun and interesting to us rather than what made money.”

Team Labs meeting. Everyone in the company has an opportunity to be heard, says CEO Harsh Dalal.

Team Labs meeting.

Last year, the company was going to launch its third product, Argon, a project management tool, but had to hold off the launch owing to the pandemic.

Instead, the company is pouring US$400,000 into its redesign and relaunch of Silicon, an AI-based software that integrates voice, video calls and group chat, to take advantage of the explosion in demand for video conferencing software.

It was launched in 2018 but did not do that well, said Harsh.

“Nearly every single company has moved their weekly meetings to video calls now …. We see this pandemic as an opportunity to revitalise or relaunch this product that we thought we’d messed up,” he added.

“A successful relaunch … will definitely open a lot of doors for us.”

Silicon is one of his company’s four software apps that help teams to collaborate.

Silicon is one of his company’s four software apps that help teams to collaborate.

The global videoconferencing market is projected to hit US$10.92 billion by 2027 and is growing rapidly amid the pandemic. But he will be going up against the big boys, like Google, Microsoft and Zoom.

Much will depend on the product. While his company was valued at US$25 million before COVID-19, it has not been profitable, he disclosed.

That’s the case with every start-up, especially so for us, since we’re fighting listed companies and companies with hundreds of millions in funding.

MUM STILL GIVES HIM POCKET MONEY

To manage costs, Team Labs gave up its office space in Raffles Place last year. All its employees now work from home, and some of the executives have taken a pay cut.

A COVID-19 relief fund was also set up for US employees whose family members are affected by the pandemic, to help them with their home rental payments.

Team Labs' COVID-19 relief fund was decided by staff consensus.

The COVID-19 relief fund was decided by staff consensus.

Harsh said he takes home a nominal S$100 to S$200 a month — he will stop channelling his CEO salary back into the company only after it turns profitable. So he depends on his mother for pocket money.

“My family can support me; I don’t have much living expenses,” he said.

While he lives like a normal teenager — playing computer games or going to the cinema with friends — he is “twice as busy as I am”, said his mother, Manju Dalal.

The financial journalist had never quite understood what he was doing because it seemed like “one company after another”.

Manju Dalal with her 19-year-old son, Harsh, the CEO of software development company Team Labs.

Manju Dalal with her son.

“I didn’t know what was happening until one fine day when he walked up and he said, ‘Mum, I want to monetise my business.’ And that’s where I got the shock of my life,” she added.

“I started taking him seriously … and I realised that he’s been trying to do a lot of things in the background.”

When asked if he harbours IPO ambitions like many other tech entrepreneurs, Harsh said he is keeping his options open, like whether to go public or exit following an acquisition.

After he obtains his diploma this year, his plan is to study at a university here or in the US. But before that will be his National Service, which means time away from his company for two years.

Harsh Dalal, the CEO of software developer Team Labs, will most likely be enlisted into NS this year

He will most likely be enlisted into National Service this year.

“It’s very difficult to even think about leaving everything and doing something else,” said Harsh, who gets four to six hours of sleep a day. “The good thing is that there are other talented people at the company.

“The Basic Military Training at least can be a decent break that I deserve after so much time working on the company.”

Watch this episode of On The Red Dot here. Also, read about this 18-year-old chief technology officer of a start-up and a 16-year-old who can rake in S$30,000 a month reselling sneakers.



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Singapore Airlines resumes UK flights to Australia


“The health and safety of our staff and customers remain our utmost priority, and [Singapore Airlines] will continue to employ stringent health and safety measures on the ground and in the air to ensure the well-being of our passengers and crew,” the spokesman said.

Singapore Airlines has been operating about 30 flights into Australia per week in recent months, flying into all mainland capital cities. However, they have been limited to around 30 passengers per flight due to Australia’s cap on international arrivals.

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The carrier brought 2760 passengers into Australia in October, and was responsible for around 7.5 per cent of international passenger traffic in and out of the country that month, according to data from the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics.

That made it the fourth busiest carrier behind Qatar Airways, Air New Zealand and Emirates.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday said that 63,109 Australians were able to get home from overseas since September 18, which was more than double the 26,000 the government had targeted.

Mr Morrison said that while there were more people trying to make it back, the government would continue to help repatriate them and expand quarantine capacity in places like the Northern Territory.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the Morrison government had failed to get Australians home by Christmas as it had promised, with 30,000 still stranded abroad.

“The fact is that the Prime Minister made a very clear commitment and so many thousands of those people remain stranded overseas and isolated from their families and from support,” he said.

Meanwhile with states and territories reinstating border and travel restrictions locally, Qantas has been forced to schedule an additional last-minute flight from Melbourne to Brisbane on Friday after being hit with a spike in demand. The airline’s move suggests that holidaymakers are increasingly getting skittish about further domestic border closures.

Victoria and South Australia will slam their borders to NSW shut at midnight Friday, while Western Australia will extend its hard border with NSW to Victoria.

The Queensland-Victoria border remains open but there were enough people making last-minute bookings from Melbourne to Brisbane for Qantas to schedule an additional flight at 5.35pm.

Budget carrier Jetstar is also cancelling some flights between Sydney and Melbourne starting tomorrow, with the border closure upending summer travel plans for thousands.

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Singapore to restrict entry of some travellers from South Africa after reports of new COVID-19 strain


SINGAPORE: People with a travel history to South Africa within the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter or transit through Singapore starting Monday (Jan 4), the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced.

The restriction will apply to long-term pass holders and short-term visitors, including those who have obtained prior approval to enter Singapore, the ministry said in a press release on Friday.

Returning Singaporeans and permanent residents will be required to take a COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test upon arriving in Singapore at the start of their 14-day stay-home notice.

“These test requirements do not apply to those who are only transiting through Singapore,” said MOH.

The tighter border measures will be put in place given the “deteriorating situation in South Africa”, said the ministry, and to prevent the spread of a potentially more contagious strain of the COVID-19 virus circulating in South Africa.

“While the strain has been suggested to be more transmissible, there is currently insufficient evidence to determine if this strain is associated with any change in disease severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy,” it added.

“These aspects are being investigated. MOH will evaluate the data as it emerges and review our border measures accordingly.”

Currently, travellers with a recent travel history to South Africa are required to serve a 14-day stay-home notice at dedicated facilities upon arrival in Singapore.

Those who are not Singapore citizens or permanent residents are also required to take a COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours before departure and present a valid COVID-19 test result as a condition of approval to enter Singapore.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the coronavirus outbreak and its developments

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Singapore relaxes Covid restrictions in bid to boost economy


Singapore has eased social restrictions as authorities focus on reigniting the economy to ensure the island retains its status as a global hub.

The government on Monday raised the limit on the number of people allowed to meet or be invited to a household from five to eight, and expanded maximum capacity at malls, attractions and places of worship.

As much of Europe and North America implement more restrictive policies to contain the spread of Covid-19, the city-state has brought the virus under control through strict distancing, aggressive testing and stringent quarantines.

Singapore has been so successful in reining in the pandemic that the World Economic Forum announced it would relocate its annual meeting from Switzerland to the Asian island in 2021 because of the persistent risk of coronavirus in Europe.

But controlling the health crisis has come at an economic cost, plunging Singapore into recession.

Video: Coronavirus in 2021: what we do and don’t know

Chua Hak Bin, senior economist at Maybank, said easing restrictions would boost domestic spending but the economic impact would “only be incrementally positive” until border controls were significantly relaxed. 

“We think that can only happen in the fourth quarter of 2021 when vaccines are widely available in Singapore and other major markets, including our neighbours, and herd immunity is achieved,” Mr Chua added.

Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister, said this month that trade and travel were the country’s “lifeblood” and that the “longer our own borders stay closed to travellers, the greater the risk of us permanently losing out as an international hub, consequently hurting our livelihoods”. 

Maybank has forecast that Singapore’s real GDP will grow 4.5 per cent in 2021 and 3 per cent in 2022 after a 5.7 per cent decline in 2020.

The first shipments of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine arrived this month in Singapore, which signed advance purchase agreements with Moderna and Sinovac. Singapore will start vaccinating healthcare workers on Wednesday, with the elderly and those with underlying health conditions also to be prioritised.

The Rain Vortex waterfall at the Jewel Changi airport mall in Singapore. Singapore’s prime minister has called travel and trade the island’s ‘lifeblood’ © Wallace Woon/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Modular cold storage rooms in Singapore that can be temperature controlled to store coronavirus vaccines © Reuters

Singapore brought the virus under control after an outbreak in migrant worker dormitories triggered a wave of infections. The number of new locally transmitted cases reported daily has remained in the single digits or zero since the end of September, with Singapore reporting no local infections for a record 15 days last month. 

There are only 37 Covid-19 patients in Singaporean hospitals, none of whom are in intensive care units. The island nation has registered just 29 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

That success in containing the virus has however meant imposing harsh quarantines on migrant workers who live in tightly packed dormitories. Even under the latest relaxation of measures, labourers will face more restrictions than the rest of the population.

Labourers may leave dormitories only to be ferried to and from their workplace or may book an “exit pass” to visit “recreation centres” including barbers and minimarts for a maximum of three hours on their weekly rest day.

More than 300,000 labourers live in facilities where there can be up to 20 people sleeping on bunk beds in a single room.

Migrant workers, many of them from India, Bangladesh and China, account for more than 90 per cent of Singapore’s reported Covid-19 cases.

“It came at a tremendous price to their freedom,” said Alex Au, vice-president at Transient Workers Count Too, a non-government organisation. “They were effectively locked up from April to late August or September. It was equivalent to imprisonment without trial.”

“They are still putting them under extreme restrictions which [we] would say is completely disproportionate to the risk and hugely violative of their human rights to freedom,” Mr Au added.

Tan See Leng, second minister of manpower, acknowledged in a Facebook post that “measures have been tough on our migrant workers”.

But he added that Singapore was “relaxing restrictions cautiously” where possible. “The risk of Covid-19 re-emerging in our migrant worker dormitories is real and significant.”

Latest coronavirus news

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Australians stranded as Singapore shuts to UK


Mr Simpson said Jacob was now effectively homeless with no job, nowhere to live, and “not knowing what to do”.

Sean Simpson with his wife Vanessa, step-son Jacob Marchett and his siblings.

The family was trying to organise for Jacob to stay with friends in London – a significant ask at Christmas time. The only flights to Australia available with other airlines next week cost upwards of $10,000, while Mr Simpson said the next government-funded repatriation flight on December 29 was already full.

“We’ve got thousands of Australians just stranded there, while politicians I’m sure are sitting down for a nice turkey lunch with their families,” he said.

Singapore’s UK ban affects Australians all across Europe connecting on flights via London, while Hong Kong has also closed to the UK, cutting off Cathay Pacific’s connecting flights to Australia.

A Singapore Airlines spokesman said the carrier was “continuing to explore all avenues that will allow us to provide a COVID-safe travel option for customers wishing to depart the UK for Australia and New Zealand after the new border restrictions in Singapore come in to force.”

Singapore Airlines has been operating about 30 flights per week into Australia, flying into all mainland capital cities and bringing stranded Australians home from around the world. However, they have been limited to around 30 passengers per flight due to Australia’s cap on international arrivals.

People who have been in the UK in the past 14 days will not be able to transit through Singapore's Changi Airport.

People who have been in the UK in the past 14 days will not be able to transit through Singapore’s Changi Airport.Credit:Bloomberg

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said there will be more government coordinated repatriation flights from the UK, Europe and India in the future but declined to say when. DFAT has organised 83 repatriation flights since March, bringing around 12,000 Australians home.

Passengers, other than Singapore citizens and permanent residents, who have been in the UK within the past 14 days will not be able to enter or transit through Singapore under the new restriction.

Emirates and Qatar Airways have continued to operate flights out of the UK and connecting to Australia through their hubs in the Middle East.

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Singapore has also reimposed restrictions on anyone travelling from NSW to the city-state in light of the Sydney outbreak after earlier unilaterally opening its border to Australia.

Singaporean citizens and permanent residents who have been in NSW in the past 14 days will need to isolate at home for seven days after arrival while non-citizens and non-permanent residents will not be able to enter the country. However, those travellers are still able to transit through Singapore en route to other destinations.

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Singapore and Denmark confirm cases of new COVID-19 variant strain spreading rapidly in the United Kingdom



Singapore and Denmark have confirmed their first cases of the new coronavirus variant found spreading rapidly in parts of the United Kingdom.

Singapore has confirmed one case, while 11 others in quarantine have returned preliminarily positive results.

Denmark has identified 33 infections with the new strain.

“There is currently no evidence that the B117 strain is circulating in the community,” Singapore’s health ministry said late on Wednesday, referring to the new, potentially more infectious UK strain.

Singapore has been conducting viral genomic sequencing for confirmed COVID-19 cases who arrived from Europe recently.

The patient with the new variant came to Singapore from the UK on December 6, had been quarantined on arrival and tested positive on December 8.

All her close contacts had been placed on quarantine, and had tested negative at the end of their quarantine period.

Meanwhile, The State Serum Institute (SSI), Denmark’s infectious disease authority, said 33 cases had been found in COVID-19 tests carried out between November 14 and December 14.

Denmark has so far analysed genetic material from 7,805 positive tests in that period, meaning the variant was found in about 0.4 per cent of the infections.

“The latest sequencing results indicate that there is societal infection in Denmark with the new English virus variant, albeit at a very low level,” the SSI said.

Preliminary information did not suggest the 33 people who contracted the variant had any connection to England or had been travelling in other countries, the SSI said.

More than 40 countries, including Denmark and Singapore, have suspended travel with the United Kingdom, where the new variant of the virus — thought to be more transmissible than others circulating — has spread quickly in southern England, including London.

Reuters



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Singapore to invest more in next 5-year plan for R&D, including new programme to prepare for future epidemics


SINGAPORE: Singapore will invest S$25 billion – or 1 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) – in research, innovation and enterprise for the next five years. 

The Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 Plan (RIE2025), announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat at a press conference on Friday (Dec 11), includes a new national programme to prepare for future epidemics.

RIE2025 will expand research and development in four domains – manufacturing, trade and connectivity; human health and potential; urban solutions and sustainability; and Smart Nation and digital economy. 

It will also support businesses in adopting science and technology, and expanding into adjacent areas with “high growth potential”. In addition, it will customise support according to different enterprise segments.

READ: Digital tech, food security among key areas to get more R&D funding

READ: Singapore rolls out national strategy on artificial intelligence for ‘impactful’ social, economic benefits

RIE2025 is the third such five-year plan, which has seen its budget go up progressively over the years. It was S$19 billion for RIE2020, while S$16 billion was set aside for RIE2015.

Within the RIE2025 budget, 15 per cent will be set aside for “White Space”, said Mr Heng, which will give the RIE domains flexibility to reallocate their budgets.

“This will give us greater agility and nimbleness in responding to emerging priorities, new breakthroughs and changes in the global technological landscape.”

Nearly 30 per cent of the new budget, or S$7.3 billion, will be set aside for universities and A*STAR research institutes, 26 per cent to support increased R&D into its four domains and 9 per cent will be set aside for talent development.

HUMAN HEALTH AND POTENTIAL

As science and technology become “more pervasive”, there is a need to “refresh” the four RIE domains to “better drive economic growth post-COVID and address the broader spectrum of national needs”, said Mr Heng.

The Health and Biomedical Sciences domain will be expanded to include Human Potential, to tackle issues of an ageing population and low birth rate.

“We must continue to enable our people to enjoy good health and to realise their full potential,” he said, adding that the Government will invest more in preschools and research into improving prenatal and early childhood development.

For instance, Singapore’s largest birth cohort study, called Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes (GUSTO), will be expanded to study the factors that influence adolescent growth and maturity. 

The study has tracked participants since early pregnancy, continuing with both mothers and children, and insights from GUSTO have informed the review and implementation of new health policies in Singapore, including universal screening for gestational diabetes mellitus for all pregnant mothers across public healthcare institutions.

READ: Eliminating paper documents, S$300m research fund top-up among MCI’s 2019 plans

READ: A*STAR to reorganise research units for more ‘clarity’ on funding


Ministers Grace Fu, Chan Chun Sing, Heng Swee Keat, Lawrence Wong and S Iswaran at the announcement of the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 Plan (RIE2025). (Photo: MCI)

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, Sustainability and the Environment Minister Grace Fu, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, and Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran were also at the announcement of RIE2025.

Mr Wong said the National Institute of Education will have a new Science of Learning in Education Centre (SoLEC) that will integrate research across different fields in child development curriculum, instruction learning sciences and sports science.

“It will provide an important bridge between cutting edge research that’s done in the universities in our research institutions and teaching practices in the classrooms.”

Investments will also be made in research projects related to the health and well-being of seniors.

In addition, the Government will develop a new National R&D Programme for Epidemic Preparedness and Response (PREPARE) to prepare for future pandemics, said Mr Wong.

URBAN SOLUTIONS AND SUSTAINABILITY

The Government seeks to better integrate urban solutions and sustainability, and pursue the latter in a “broader way”, said Mr Heng.

RIE2025 will make the built environment more efficient and sustainable by adopting robotics and automation and 3D concrete printing.

It will look into decarbonising Singapore’s power, industry and transport sectors by exploring low carbon technologies.

In addition, the Government is “taking climate change seriously”, he added. “We’re committed to reducing our carbon footprint, to fulfil our pledge made under the Paris accord and protect ourselves from rising sea levels.”

For example, it will conduct climate modelling to understand the impact of increased urban heat island effect and warming trends on health and food resilience, said Ms Fu.

It will strengthen food resilience and preserve Singapore’s biodiversity.

MANUFACTURING, TRADE AND CONNECTIVITY

As part of the Government’s boost for manufacturing, it is looking at the “next generation of transport solutions” that will strengthen Singapore’s air and maritime connectivity to the world, said Mr Chan.

“Over the last 12 months through COVID, we have seen how both natural causes like the pandemic have disrupted our supply chains. We have also seen how man-made factors like export restriction policies have compounded the disruption of our supply chains,” he said.

As such, the Government is looking into improving the resilience of Singapore’s supply chain, from food to intermediate industrial products.

SMART NATION AND DIGITAL ECONOMY

RIE2025 will accelerate the development, translation and adoption of “key technology areas” like AI, cybersecurity, trust technologies, communications and connectivity and quantum computing, said Mr Iswaran.

As it aims to develop “globally-relevant, leading digital solutions”, Singapore will need to do more to “strengthen the translation of research findings into tangible products and services”, he added.

This will include investments in communications technologies R&D, focusing on 5G and future communications technologies, and drive a nationwide AI model-building and adoption. 

“Digital technologies are set to change the game in the next bound of economic development and through our RIE efforts, we will ensure that Singapore continues to be well-placed to seize the opportunities of the digital future.” 



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False positive coronavirus case aboard ‘cruise to nowhere’ in Singapore



A suspected COVID-19 case aboard a “cruise to nowhere” from Singapore was a false alarm, the nation’s Government has said.

On Wednesday, nearly 1,700 passengers on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas ship were held in their cabins for more than 16 hours after an 83-year-old passenger tested positive for COVID-19.

The man had sought medical help for diarrhoea when he was tested.

But Singapore’s health ministry said the man did not have the virus after three subsequent tests on land came back negative.

While authorities praised the response to the incident, tourism experts highlighted concerns for businesses.

They said flaws in testing put a burden on businesses trying to resume operations, even in a country like Singapore that has largely tamed the virus.

“We have to live with less-than-perfect testing kits,” said Michael Chiam, a senior tourism lecturer at Singapore’s Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

“This may be costly to businesses.”

The health ministry said close contacts of the guest would no longer need to quarantine and it would help review testing processes aboard the ship.

Miami-based Royal Caribbean, which had just started offering the trips after it halted global operations in March due to the pandemic, said in a statement it welcomed the news and that it would work to “refine” its protocols.

The cruises-to-nowhere, which sail in waters just off Singapore, were part of Singapore’s efforts to revive a tourism industry which has been battered by the pandemic as borders around the world have closed.

Singapore’s tourism board chief Keith Tan said the cruise incident was a learning experience but also a validation of precautions like pre-departure testing and requirements that guests carry an electronic contact tracing device at all times.

The mishap will be closely watched by other firms relying on testing, like event venues and airlines, said Sherri Kimes of the National University of Singapore’s Business School.

The city-state, which has reported only a handful of cases in recent weeks, is rolling out rapid antigen tests for large events such as weddings and business conferences.

Reuters



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