Monday, December 28, 2020

Commentary: How a catchphase shaped Japan’s COVID-19 response - for the better

By Leo Lewis

28 Dec 2020 


TOKYO: Sometimes, when Japanese academics select the single written character that best captures the essence of the year gone by, there are surprises.

In 2020, there could only be one choice: Mitsu, meaning “close”, “intimate” or “dense”.

The selection attests to a word whose usage has been recast by COVID-19. Nearly a year into the pandemic, the process of that recasting has been vital.

It places Japan in a group with Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam and China, as theories form about the societal factors that might have contributed to keeping their infection and death rates comparatively low.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Commentary: Trump election fraud lawsuits tested the US judiciary. It passed

It turns out President Trump’s control does not extend to US federal courts, says an observer.


By Charles Gardner Geyh

22 Dec 2020



BLOOMINGTON, Indiana: A healthy constitutional culture, in which the people and their leaders respect the authority of their Constitution, requires a baseline of trust in the government – a baseline that, in the United States, has eroded from 77 per cent in the early 1960s to 17 per cent today.

This collapse of public confidence paved the way for a populist form of leadership that redirected public faith away from the institutions of government toward Donald Trump – whom voters trusted to consolidate power, neutralise opposition and “drain the swamp” of the experts and bureaucrats he deemed responsible for the government’s malaise.

In the past four years, President Trump has consolidated power to such an extent that the Republican Party has declined to adopt a party platform and effectively embraced the president as its alter ego.

Singapore’s hawker culture Unesco listing shows what’s missing in Thai street food scene

By Sirinya Wattanasukchai

December 21, 2020


Singapore has done it again! The island state's hawker culture has finally won United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) recognition as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

After almost three years, this island state has successfully made its people's everyday life — officially indicated on the list as "community dining and culinary practices in a multicultural urban context" — gain global acceptance through this prestigious list.

In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanked the people who have worked very hard to get Singapore's hawker culture inscribed on the list.

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

He shared a few photos of hawker dishes and encouraged people to celebrate the week by ordering their favourite hawker dishes and sharing a photo under his post.

I'm sure many Thais would be jealous of their Association of Southeast Asian Nations neighbour, as they think their street food culture is second to none.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Commentary: Managers should stop treating work-from-home as a luxury

The office was never meant to be at home but because this arrangement is here to stay, bosses need to change the way they respond to their employees, says this observer.

By Sian Beilock

21 Dec 2020

NEW YORK CITY: Many managers are treating this year’s pandemic-induced shift to work-from-home as though it were standard telecommuting.

But it’s not, and operating under the assumption that it is can ultimately harm employees’ morale.

While office workers are typically faring better than essential workers during the pandemic, the abrupt shift to remote work was jarring, and its effects should not be overlooked.

Leadership experts and cognitive scientists can attest that resistance to change is less about the change itself and more about losing control and fear of uncertainty. Humans – and other animals, for that matter – respond defensively when the power to make decisions about their own lives is removed.

And in a recent study on COVID-19 and mental health, researchers found that adults surveyed in the United States and five European countries who believe that other people or random chance mostly dictates what happens to them also report greater symptoms of depression.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Singapore’s hawker culture clinches spot on Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list

By Tessa Oh

December 16, 2020


SINGAPORE — After a journey of more than two years, Singapore’s hawker culture has made it onto a prestigious list of international treasures, alongside Indonesia’s angklung musical tradition and South Korea’s kimjang, the making and sharing of kimchi.

The decision to inscribe hawker culture in Singapore onto the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) was announced by the international body's intergovernmental committee on Wednesday (Dec 16).

This comes five years after Singapore’s successful bid to have the Botanic Gardens listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The nation's hawker culture joins the more than 463 items already inscribed on the list of intangible culture heritage. This is Singapore's first attempt at making this Unesco list.

Friday, November 6, 2020

The Big Read in short: Can SIA fly high again?

By NG JUN SEN

SIA recorded its first full-year loss of S$212 million for the 12 months ending March 31, after staying profitable throughout its 48-year history. Earlier in September, it announced plans to cut around 4,300 positions, affecting around 2,400 staff.

26 September, 2020

Each week, TODAY’s long-running Big Read series delves into the trends and issues that matter. This week, we look at the challenges faced by Singapore Airlines amid the Covid-19 crisis and how it can recover post-pandemic. This is a shortened version of the full feature,​ which can be found here.

  • Covid-19 had hit SIA like a bolt from the blue, at a time when it was facing mounting competitive pressures
  • The pandemic hit SIA squarely on its core business model of premium, long-haul international flights — the first to be cancelled and likely the last to be restored
  • Changi Airport air hub status is not guaranteed post-pandemic, as technological trends and alternative hubs pose a threat
  • When the restart comes, SIA will need ready and trained personnel to jump on the wagon
  • Global debate ongoing over the role of flag carriers, as the aviation industry is expected to consolidate in the months and years ahead.

Commentary: Biden risks being a lame duck president if he wins

Should he win, Joe Biden could be caught between two irreconcilable forces – a stubbornly entrenched Trumpian right and an embittered Democratic left, says the Financial Times’ Edward Luce.

 Edward Luce

WASHINGTON: Damaged liberal hearts may briefly be lifted by the fact that Joe Biden received more votes than anyone in US presidential history – until they find out Donald Trump came in a historic second.

He even exceeded Barack Obama’s peak 2008 tally.

The real lesson from Tuesday’s record turnout is that America is bitterly, energetically and almost evenly divided. That is the salient background to Mr Biden’s equivocal mandate.

The question is what a President Biden could do with it. The answer is much less than even he – the most moderate of Democratic contenders – would have hoped.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Future of warfare: high-tech militias fight smouldering proxy wars

Helen Warrell 

January 21 2020

“Future wars will not begin and end; instead, they will hibernate and smoulder,” wrote defence strategist Sean McFate in an article outlining his prediction for the future of conflict. His portrayal of a grey zone between war and peace — now widely accepted among experts — will be the result of evolving international relations and changes to who appears on the front line. 

Insecurity over natural resources, the pressures of climate change and population growth, as well as long-running sectarian and religious tensions, are all likely to lead to conflicts that bubble continuously, analysts say; occasionally they will spill over into the public arena. 

Meanwhile, by 2050, the power of the state is expected to give way to autonomous regions, megacities and private interests, thus multiplying the range of protagonists in hostilities. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Commentary: Those who can afford it must spend more to save the economy

Consumers can do our part to increase consumer spending because it is a lever that could have a big impact and one that we have some control over, says The Smart Investor’s David Kuo.

By David Kuo

05 Oct 2020 


SINGAPORE: As countries around the world gradually lift their restrictions in place to tackle COVID-19 and normalise economic activity, global economic chiefs have warned that we are not out of the woods yet.

On Sep 9, Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), cautioned that a full recovery of the economy is unlikely without a vaccine and urged governments to continue their measures to support businesses and workers.

"This crisis, however, is far from over," she wrote in a column for Foreign Policy magazine, co-authored with IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath. "The recovery remains very fragile and uneven across regions and sectors. To ensure that the recovery continues, it is essential that support not be prematurely withdrawn."

Friday, August 28, 2020

Understanding the four critiques of Singapore’s meritocracy

By Brandon Yip Zhen Yuan

29 April, 2019

Though Singapore’s meritocratic educational system has come under criticism of late, I believe we are often unclear on why Singaporeans are unhappy.

Meritocracy is bascially a system that rewards citizens in proportion to what society perceives as their merit.

Here, I shall distill four distinct criticisms of meritocracy and categorise them into two groups: those that criticise meritocracy from within the meritocratic framework and those from without.

Knowing the differences between these criticisms can hopefully help Singapore society to better discuss how our understanding of the meaning of meritocracy can evolve.

The more you have, the more you fear: High inequality makes cities unsafe, say experts

By Janice Lim

30 August, 2019

SINGAPORE — The wider the inequality gap in a society, the more unsafe a country is. That is what some experts said at the Safe Cities Summit held at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore on Thursday (Aug 29).

During the summit, which is organised by the Economist Intelligence Unit, many panellists focused on discussing the available tools and technologies to solve crime, such as the installation of police cameras and extensive surveillance systems dubbed the “eye in the sky”.

However, Ms Kalpana Viswanath, the co-founder of mobile application Safetipin, which supports women’s safety, advocated for an “eyes on the street” concept, where the community can work with the government to build safer spaces to help prevent crimes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Singapore Army trials titanium exoskeleton designed to reduce load on soldiers

By Aqil Haziq Mahmud

24 Jul 2020


SINGAPORE: The Singapore Army is trialling a titanium-made exoskeleton designed to reduce the stress on soldiers carrying heavy loads.

A section of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day video released on Jul 1, captioned "Exoskeleton Trial", showed a soldier wearing a green exoskeleton on top of his army fatigues.

In response to queries from CNA, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that the army is studying the use of an exoskeleton to improve soldier performance.

"The Singapore Army is constantly looking for ways to enhance the performance of our soldiers, and the exoskeleton is one such example that the Centre of Excellence for Soldier Performance (CESP) is studying," it said.

The CESP, set up in 2017, helps to develop the full potential of soldiers in areas like fitness and nutrition, pre-habilitation and rehabilitation, resilience and soldier systems.

Based on the SAF Day video, the exoskeleton's appearance and logo indicates that it is the Canadian science and technology company Mawashi's Ultralight Passive Ruggedized Integrated Soldier Exoskeleton (UPRISE) system.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Extra stimulus for aerospace, aviation and tourism sectors; Singaporeans to get S$320m worth of local tourism credits

By Rachel Phua

17 Aug 2020


SINGAPORE: The Singapore Government will pump in additional funding to help the aerospace, aviation and tourism industries - three of the hardest-hit sectors - amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a ministerial statement on Monday (Aug 17).

In his statement, Mr Heng explained these sectors need to be supported as they are key drivers of the economy and multipliers for other sectors in Singapore.

“Our strategy is to provide further support for these sectors, to retain core capabilities and position them for an eventual recovery,” he said. “These sectors are important parts of our economy, and they are multipliers for other sectors.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

GE2020: Middle-aged voters, not youths, accounted for national vote swing against PAP, says Lawrence Wong

By NG JUN SEN

19 July, 2020

  • Ruling party lost votes from middle-aged voters in the sandwich class
  • PAP did not do well in its digital campaign despite putting out a lot of content
  • Party will review its style, conduct of campaign including how it goes about highlighting falsehoods 

SINGAPORE — Suggestions that younger voters across the board had abandoned the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the recent General Election (GE) are untrue, PAP’s Lawrence Wong said on Saturday (July 18).

A preliminary review on the party’s performance has shown that the more likely swing came from “sandwiched” middle-class voters who have been affected by the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, he added.

Swing votes also came from those who were swayed by the opposition’s messaging that there was a real threat of an opposition wipeout in the election.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Commentary: Malay political unity in Malaysia is but a myth

What’s behind Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s call for Malay unity and for Members of Parliament from other parties to join Bersatu? James Chin dives into the issues.
By James Chin

08 Jul 2019


LONDON: Last week, out of the blue, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad invited all Malay parties including UMNO to join Bersatu in an effort to unite the Malays.

“If we are split, we become weak. United we stand, divided we fall,” he said. "(But) we find that there are people forming new parties ... how to win (the election)?”

The invitation was immediately dismissed by most senior leaders in UMNO. Even PAS, the Islamic Party, said they were not interested.

UMNO even gave a cutting reply - that UMNO and PAS were the “real” Malay parties in Malaysia as Bersatu got less than 30 per cent of the Malay vote in last May’s general elections.

Commentary: The great pity that was Malaysia’s short-lived Pakatan Harapan coalition

The ideological schisms between parties, coupled with perceptions that Malay rights had been chipped at and pressing economic concerns left unaddressed, ultimately led to the PH’s downfall, says Wan Saiful Wan Jan.


By Wan Saiful Wan Jan

03 Aug 2020

SINGAPORE: Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) government lasted less than two years.

After winning the 14th general election (GE14) on that historic May 9, 2018 to great fanfare, it crashed on Feb 24 this year following the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the departure of Bersatu from the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.

Many were surprised by this collapse, but a closer look at the nature of PH and how they behaved in government will show that the PH administration were riddled with problems.


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Bio-printing, organoids,

A possible weapon against the pandemic: Printing human tissue


01 August, 2020

NEW YORK — As shortages of personal protective equipment persist during the coronavirus pandemic, 3D printing has helped to alleviate some of the gaps. But Dr Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and his team are using the process in a more innovative way: creating tiny replicas of human organs — some as small as a pinhead — to test drugs to fight Covid-19.

The team is constructing miniature lungs and colons — two organs particularly affected by the coronavirus — then sending them overnight by courier for testing at a biosafety lab at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. While they initially created some of the organoids by hand using a pipette, they are beginning to print these at scale for research as the pandemic continues to surge.

In the last few years, Dr Atala’s institute had already printed these tiny clusters of cells to test drug efficacy against bacteria and infectious diseases like the Zika virus, “but we never thought we’d be considering this for a pandemic”, he said. His team has the ability to print “thousands an hour”, he said from his lab in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The process of constructing human tissue this way is a form of bioprinting. While its use in humans is still years away, researchers are honing the methods to test drugs and, eventually, to create skin and full-size organs for transplanting. Researchers are making strides in printing skin, critical for burn victims; managing diseases like diabetes in which wound healing is difficult; and for the testing of cosmetics without harming animals, or, of course, humans.

“Even to us it sometimes seems like science fiction,” said Dr Akhilesh Gaharwar, who directs a cross-disciplinary lab in the biomedical engineering department at Texas A&M University that focuses on bioprinting and other approaches to regenerative medicine.

Bioprinting’s importance for pharmaceutical analysis is paramount now, not only for potential Covid-19 treatments but also for testing treatments for cancer and other diseases. Dr Atala says that the organoids allow researchers to analyse a drug’s effect on an organ “without the noise” of an individual’s metabolism.

He cited Rezulin, a popular diabetes drug recalled in 2000 after there was evidence of liver failure. His lab tested an archived version of the drug, and Dr Atala said that within two weeks, the liver toxicity became apparent. What accounts for the difference? An organoid replicates an organ in its purest form and offers data points that might not occur in clinical trials, he said, adding that the testing is additive to, rather than in lieu of, clinical trials.

Testing on bioprinted skin or other miniature organs also can more readily determine which drugs that work in animals like rats might not perform well in people.

“The 3D models can circumvent animal testing and make the pathway stronger from the lab to the clinic,” Dr Gaharwar said. That has importance for consumer goods as well as pharmaceuticals; since 2013, the European Union, for example, has prohibited cosmetics companies from testing products on animals.

The foundation for a printed organ is known as a scaffold, made of biodegradable materials. To provide nutrition for the organoid, microscopic channels only 50 microns in diameter — roughly half the size of a human hair — are included in the scaffold. Once completed, the “bioink”, a liquid combination of cells and hydrogel that turns into gelatin, is then printed onto the scaffold “like a layer cake”, Dr Atala said.

Another important part of the process is constructing blood vessels as part of the printing. Dr Pankaj Karande, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been experimenting with skin printing since 2014 and recently had success in this step.

Using a cell known as a fibroblast, which helps with growth, along with collagen, as a scaffold, researchers at the institute printed the epidermis and dermis, the first two layers of skin. (The hypodermis is the third layer.) “It turns out the skin cells don’t mind being sheared,” Dr Karande said, and they could ultimately survive.

But their work hit a snag: Without incorporating blood vessels, the skin eventually sloughs off. Collaborating with Yale University’s Jordan Pober and W. Mark Saltzman, they eventually succeeded in constructing all three layers of human skin as well as vasculature, or blood vessels, which Dr Karande said was essential to the skin’s surviving after it had been grafted.

The three began experimenting with integrating human endothelial cells, which line blood vessels, and human pericyte cells, which surround the endothelial cells, into the skin as it was printed. Eventually, after much trial and error, they were able to integrate the blood vessels with the skin and found that connections were formed between new and existing blood vessels.

While the work is preliminary — tested in mice — Dr Karande said he was hopeful that the success in printing integrated skin and vasculature would set the stage for successful grafting in humans eventually.

The research, according to Dr Karande, is painstaking and involves a lot of trial and error. “We have Plan A, which we often know won’t work, and then we go down the list. We can often write about what works in five pages but have 5,000 pages of what didn’t work,” he added.

Dr Gaharwar’s lab is also investigating whether human bone tissue can be printed for eventual transplantation. His hope, he says, is that in the future, patient radiographic scans can be translated into the exact shape needed for implantation, especially important in repairing craniofacial defects in which the curvature needed can be difficult to re-create.

Like Dr Gaharwar, Dr Karande says that personalisation is important. He says that his work has already shown that skin can be fabricated to match an individual’s colour. And, because the skin is also critical in regulating body temperature, he is also working to engineer sweat glands into the skin, along with hair follicles.

“When we graft, we want to be able to re-create the full functionality of the skin,” Dr Karande said. And by using the cells from a patient, rather than a donor, the risk of rejection is minimised or eliminated altogether.

Not surprisingly, researchers are also exploring the collection of data from testing. The team at Wake Forest is partnering with technology company Oracle to capture the data from the organoids and analyse it with artificial intelligence. The project, known generally as the body-on-a-chip system, involves printing living tissue on a microchip to allow drugs to be studied for toxicity and efficacy even before clinical trials begin. The chips can be the size of a nickel or quarter, which is big enough to hold 10 to 12 miniature organs.

“We work a lot with researchers, pharmaceutical companies and biotech companies, and we are trying to seed advances as quickly as possible, analyse data and develop new drugs,” said Ms Rebecca Laborde, master principal scientist in Oracle’s health sciences division. “This is the most exciting project I’ve worked on in a long time.” 

THE NEW YORK TIMES



Researchers in Singapore grow ‘mini kidneys’ in lab, paving way for potential kidney disease therapies

By Justin Ong

20 August, 2019

SINGAPORE — Patients with kidney disease could eventually benefit from “mini kidneys” grown in a laboratory by an international team of researchers led by Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the university said on Tuesday (Aug 20).

These mini kidneys — derived from the patient’s cells — could be used to test certain drugs and help researchers better ascertain which treatment plans a patient with kidney disease needs, NTU said in a media statement.

Tailoring treatment to an individual patient is important as genetic errors that cause kidney failure differ from patient to patient, NTU said.

Using the mini kidneys to test the therapeutic effects of drugs removes the need to carry out drug screening on the patients themselves, it added.

The researchers grew the kidney “organoids” — a miniature version of an organ — from skin cells of patients with a common inherited cause of kidney failure known as polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder where multiple cysts develop within the kidney. The mini kidneys measured 1mm to 2mm in diameter.

The cells were grown outside the body in a laboratory and were “reprogrammed” to obtain pluripotent — or self replicating — stem cells, which, under the right conditions, can develop into the mini kidneys, which are similar to human foetal kidneys.

In growing the mini kidneys from the induced stem cells, the research team said it has "paved the way for tailoring treatment plans specific to each patient, which could be extended to a range of kidney diseases’’.

NTU Singapore Assistant Professor Xia Yun, who led the research, said: “Our kidney organoids, grown from the cells of a patient with inherited polycystic kidney disease, have allowed us to find out which drugs will be most effective for this specific patient.”

Dr Xia, who is from the NTU Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKC Medicine), added that this approach could be extended to study many other types of kidney disease, such as diabetic nephropathy — kidney damage that results from having diabetes.

Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a stem cell scientist and an international collaborator on this study, said: “We are still quite far away from using these kidney organoids for replacement therapy.” But the research represents “a small step closer to this ultimate goal”, he noted. 

Prof Belmonte is based at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California.

NEW INSIGHTS INTO KIDNEY DEVELOPMENT

While the origin of kidney blood vessel networks is not fully known, the examination of cells within a kidney organoid has led Dr Xia’s team to discover a new source of stem cells — called nephrons — that contribute to making these blood vessel networks.

NTU LKC Medicine Assistant Professor Foo Jia Nee said that these nephrons can be better used to understand the kidney’s development from birth, where being born with higher nephrons appears to “provide some degree of protection” against hypertension and kidney failure later in life.

Dr Xia added: “A thorough understanding of human embryonic kidney development may help us develop ways to promote a high birth nephron number for foetuses as they develop during pregnancy.”

The research was published in the July edition of Cell Stem Cell, a United States-based scientific journal.

Friday, July 24, 2020

GE2020 commentary: Assessing the voters’ message to PAP (and other parties)

By Eugene K B Tan

14 July, 2020


Despite the “crisis of a generation”, the 2020 general election results point to a considered flight from the status quo, rather than a flight to safety.

Singaporean voters, through their 2.54 million ballots cast, sent a nuanced message to all political parties and election candidates. It was a renewed, urgent expression of a vote for change, more so than in the 2011 election.

For the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), winning 83 out of 93 seats with a popular vote share of 61.24 per cent — while indicative of a “clear mandate” — fell short of the strong mandate it had sought. In losing an unprecedented second group representation constituency (GRC), it also lost three political office-holders in the process.

Many GRCs, including those helmed by the PAP fourth-generation (4G) ministers, also saw the ground shift significantly against them.

This raises questions whether the next generation leadership has truly earned the trust and confidence of Singaporeans. This could not come at a worse time for leadership succession.

Singapore’s economic slump may have bottomed out but job losses, wage cuts likely to continue: Economists

By Janice Lim

15 July, 2020

Singapore’s economy shrank 41.2 per cent in the second quarter compared with the first as the nation went into recession

Economists said that job losses and wage cuts are set to continue

The economic contraction in the second quarter is the most severe since the country's independence


SINGAPORE — The worst of Singapore’s economic contraction is probably over, but more job losses and wage cuts are to be expected, especially in the later part of 2020, economists said on Tuesday (July 14).

Crises

From a Washington Post newsletter:
A reporter approached Sen. Mitt Romney in the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon to ask: “Do you have confidence in the president’s handling of this crisis right now?”
“Which? There are so many crises going on,” replied Romney (R-Utah). “I’m not sure which.”
The 2012 GOP presidential nominee was not trying to be flip and lamented President Trump’s response to the novel coronavirus when the reporter clarified. But our nation faces cascading crises:
the worst civil unrest since 1968, the worst economic upheaval since 1933 and the worst public health emergency since 1918. This morning’s jobs report shows another 1.4 million workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, the 18th straight week that more than a million Americans have filed claims.
Other ongoing crises get less attention because of the contagion, but that does not mean they have been solved.
There is an opioid crisis causing deaths of despair, the climate crisis that imperils the future of the planet, a looming sovereign debt crisis that most political leaders seem nonchalant about, rising great-power conflict with China, including a new space race, and fresh complications overnight in Afghanistan as America struggles to exit her longest war.

[And of course the biggest crisis is that there is an idiot in the White House.]

Monday, July 13, 2020

GE2020 commentary: What next for PAP and Singapore politics?

By Nicholas Fang

13 July, 2020

As the dust settles on Singapore’s 13th General Election, the time is ripe for some soul searching, not only by political parties as they evaluate the outcome of a bruising campaign, but also by the electorate.

The nine days of campaigning and the preceding months of posturing and positioning by the various parties have thrown up some interesting lessons which could be useful for politicians, particularly those from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), in light of the electoral results.

GE2020: Sengkang residents give reasons why they plumped for WP, including a better connection with its candidates

By DARYL CHOO, Lena Loke, Nabilah Awang

12 July, 2020

  • Residents gave a variety of reasons for PAP's loss, from perceptions of candidates to municipal issues
  • Most said that both teams had competent candidates, but they felt more connected to WP
  • Residents said that there was lack of neighbourhood provision shops and hawker centres in Sengkang
  • The housing estate is home to many young families who felt that the younger WP team could represent them
  • Residents also sang praises of Dr Jamus Lim, a new candidate of WP

SINGAPORE — In what seemed like a repeat of the 2011 General Election (GE), the Workers’ Party (WP) secured a victory at the polls on Friday (July 10) at Sengkang Group Representation Constituency (GRC) to knock off a People’s Action Party (PAP) team consisting of three political office-holders.

Time to rethink one man, one vote?

Lawrence Loh
For The Straits Times

Jun 28, 2016
[Note the date of this news article. This was not a reaction to WP winning a second GRC.]

There are parallels between Brexit and Singapore after Separation in 1965, says one writer, while two others argue that Brexit points to failings of the one man, one vote system.

The Brexit shock took the world by storm. It is a perfect storm, definitely much more than the proverbial storm in a cup of English tea.

Almost everyone, everywhere - from political leaders to financial professionals to laymen, from the Americas to Singapore - are figuring out what the future will hold and what the impact will be for them. It is like a wake-up call that the unthinkable nightmare has actually happened.

Despite the hullabaloo on the bleak future of the once united Britain, the more fundamental issue is probably the time-honoured one man, one vote system.

Democracy, as enshrined by the right of determination by all, has been the dominant model globally for most modern countries' organisation and order.

The merit of the principle of equal voting rights for all is compelling. It respects the very sanctity of what it is to be human - to have a voice in how society is being ruled if you are part of it. This principle has even been weaved into diplomatic relations, especially in how the West is dealing with the rest of the world.

It is often taboo to question the one man, one vote system. To do so will risk having critics brandishing labels like elitism, imperialism or even authoritarianism.

GE2020: Low Thia Khiang's absence unlikely to significantly impact Workers' Party's chances, say analysts

By Kenneth Cheng

27 June, 2020


Ex-WP chief Low unlikely to remove himself completely from politics, say analysts

WP has nurtured younger leaders with extensive experience on the ground

Exit of WP’s ‘talisman’ may galvanise support for party



SINGAPORE — The absence of former Workers’ Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang from the coming General Election (GE) is unlikely to have a significant impact on Singapore’s main opposition party’s chances, political analysts said.

This is because Mr Low, 63, is unlikely to pull back completely from the political arena and the party has nurtured a slate of battle-hardened younger leaders with deep connections to the grassroots, they added.

GE2020: Opposition vote swing shows people are looking beyond bread and butter issues, analysts say

By Aqil Haziq Mahmud

By Matthew Mohan 

12 Jul 2020


SINGAPORE: The vote swing towards opposition parties in this year’s General Election has shown that the electorate does not only care about bread and butter issues, political observers told CNA.

While the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) had built its campaign and manifesto around saving lives and jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, observers said the results mean some voters also prioritise issues like social justice and having diverse voices in Parliament.

The results also pointed to a more “discerning” electorate, analysts said, adding that the PAP will likely need to demonstrate it can listen to and act on these additional concerns to woo back some of its support.

Official results released after counting dragged into the early hours of Saturday saw the PAP’s vote share slide by close to nine percentage points from the previous election in 2015.

The PAP clinched 61.24 per cent of the vote in this year’s election, but the Workers’ Party (WP) made inroads into Parliament by claiming its second Group Representation Constituency (GRC) in the polls held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

What the pandemic reveals about the male ego

By Nicholas Kristof

The author noted that leaders who bungled the response were mostly a particular type: Authoritarian, vainglorious and blustering.

THE NEW YORK TIMES

15 June, 2020

Are female leaders better at fighting a pandemic?

I compiled death rates from the coronavirus for 21 countries around the world, 13 led by men and eight by women. The male-led countries suffered an average of 214 coronavirus-related deaths per million inhabitants. Those led by women lost only one-fifth as many, 36 per million.

If the United States had the coronavirus death rate of the average female-led country, 102,000 American lives would have been saved out of the 114,000 lost.

“Countries led by women do seem to be particularly successful in fighting the coronavirus,” noted Anne W Rimoin, an epidemiologist at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

“New Zealand [4], Denmark [104], Finland [59], Germany [107], Iceland [29], Norway [45] have done so well perhaps due to the leadership and management styles attributed to their female leaders.”

Let’s start by acknowledging that there have been plenty of wretched female leaders over the years.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Trapped abroad, China’s ‘little pinks’ rethink their country

Young and patriotic, Chinese students abroad often defend their nation against its critics. But when many tried to return home during the Covid-19 pandemic, they became targets themselves.
THE NEW YORK TIMES

26 June, 2020


NEW YORK — Mr James Liu has always considered himself a patriot.

With a lump in his throat, he watched a military parade on National Day, China’s birthday, that showed a once backward nation that had become strong and powerful. He got goose bumps watching “Wolf Warrior 2,” a “Rambo”-like Chinese blockbuster featuring a superhero veteran who single-handedly rescues his countrymen trapped abroad.

When China came under attack online, Mr Liu was one of the legions of Chinese students studying abroad who posted in its defense. He condemned the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which he saw as an effort to split a uniting China.

After US President Donald Trump called the coronavirus the “Chinese virus”, Mr Liu turned to Twitter to correct those who used the term.

“I was a real little pink,” he said, using a somewhat derogatory term for the young, Communist-red Chinese nationalists who use the internet as a patriotic battleground to fight those who disparage China.

GE2020: Political comeback unlikely, says former Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang

By Lianne Chia

By Afifah Ariffin 

27 Jun 2020


SINGAPORE: Former Workers' Party (WP) secretary-general Low Thia Khiang on Friday (Jun 26) said it was unlikely he would make a political comeback in the future.

This follows the announcement made by the party on Thursday that Mr Low would not contest the upcoming General Election.

In an interview with CNA, Mr Low said he was stepping down because he wanted to see a “more resilient” and younger WP team to build on the base formed by the party to “provide Singapore a more balanced political system and safeguard to Singaporeans”.

“If I were to one day offer myself as a candidate, it’s a back step,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to see that, and I believe that it should not happen.”

Monday, June 22, 2020

We are not power crazy, say Pakatan Harapan leaders as they seek a common ground for PM candidate

22 Jun 2020


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s opposition parties have denied that they are power crazy for their attempt to wrest back control in parliament, adding that Pakatan Harapan (PH) and its allies must work towards a common ground to reclaim electoral mandate.

The statement, jointly issued by Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) president Mohamad Sabu and Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general Lim Guan Eng on Monday (Jun 22), came amid a difference of opinion within PH over the candidates for the prime minister post.

“We have been criticised for not quickly regaining our rightful government and yet when we find the only realistic route left for success we are criticised as power crazy. This is unfair because while we are not afraid to be in opposition, the rakyat (people) voted for us in 2018 to be in government,” the statement read.

PH was voted into Putrajaya in the 2018 general election with Dr Mahathir at the helm, but the administration collapsed in February after Mr Muhyiddin Yassin led Bersatu out of the coalition. Mr Muhyiddin, who is backed by Barisan Nasional and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, was sworn in as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister leading the Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact.

PH, which finds itself as the opposition coalition again, was strategising its moves to return to federal power but reached a stalemate when component parties and their allies could not agree over the candidacy for premiership.

Uncertain future as Covid-19 infection rate sets global records

22 June, 2020


HONG KONG — Six months into the Covid-19 pandemic and the good news is a number of countries are easing lockdown measures, allowing a semblance of what was normal life to return. The bad news is global infection numbers are surging.

The number of newly infected people set records on multiple days in June, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in the US. The World Health Organisation issued a telling statistic of its own, noting that 85,000 cases were reported in the first two months of the outbreak; in the past two months, it was 6 million. The WHO's grim figures coincided with a new flare-up of the disease in Beijing.

China, where the coronavirus was first identified at the end of last year, had earlier locked down a region of 60 million people and shut its borders to foreigners to control the disease. Even after those stringent measures, the virus surfaced again in the capital.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

China's young spenders say #ditchyourstuff as economy sputters

04 May, 2020

BEIJING - Tang Yue, a 27-year-old teacher from the city of Guilin in southwest China, steam-presses a blue dress and takes dozens of photographs before picking one to clinch her 200th online sale.

For a growing number of Chinese like Tang, hit by job losses, furloughs and salary cuts, the consumer economy has begun to spin in reverse. They are no longer buying - they are selling.

Instead of emerging from the coronavirus epidemic and returning to the shopping habits that helped drive the world's second-largest economy, many young people are offloading possessions and embracing a new-found ethic for hard times: less is more.

Break the China habit? Lobsters, lights and toilets show how hard it is

20 June, 2020

NEW YORK — As the coronavirus pandemic amplifies long-standing concerns over the world’s economic dependence on China, many countries are trying to reduce their exposure to Beijing’s brand of business.

Japan has set aside US$2.2 billion (S$3.06 billion) to help companies shift production out of China. European trade ministers have emphasised the need to diversify supply chains. Several countries, including Australia and Germany, have moved to keep China, among others, from buying businesses weakened by lockdowns. Hawks in the Trump administration also continue to press for an economic “decoupling” from Beijing.

But outside government circles, in the companies where the decisions about manufacturing and sales are actually made, the calculations are more complex.

China is a hard habit to break.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Commentary: Is this the end of China’s peaceful rise?

China’s latest military stand-off with India suggests that it wants to demonstrate its power to the world, says Shashi Tharoor.

By Shashi Tharoor

15 Jun 2020 

A Chinese soldier (left) and an Indian soldier stand guard on the remote Nathu La border
crossing between India and China in July 2008. (AFP/DIPTENDU DUTTA)


A Chinese soldier (left) and an Indian soldier
NEW DELHI: COVID-19 isn’t the only threat that has crossed India’s borders this year.

According to alarming reports from India’s defence ministry, China has deployed a “significant number” of troops across the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC) along the countries’ Himalayan frontier.

So far, these transgressions have occurred at four points on the world’s longest and most highly disputed border, with thousands of Chinese troops showing up in Sikkim and in parts of the Ladakh region, northeast of the Kashmir Valley.

Neither government disputes the fact that Chinese soldiers have occupied territory that India considers its own.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Covid-19: Less air pollution means thousands fewer die

30 April, 2020

PARIS — There will be 11,000 fewer deaths in European countries under coronavirus lockdown due to a sharp drop in fossil fuel pollution during April, according to research released Friday (April 30).

Measures to halt the spread of coronavirus have slowed the region's economies to a crawl, with coal-generated power falling by nearly 40 per cent, and oil consumption by a third.

"This will result in 11,000 avoided deaths from air pollution," said lead author Lauri Myllyvirta, senior analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Commentary: China’s removal of GDP targets reveals its new economic strategy

China can now focus on critical economic issues and accommodate the realities of a post-coronavirus world, says Principal Global Investors’ Binay Chandgothia.

By Binay Chandgothia

04 Jun 2020 


SINGAPORE: The removal of a GDP growth target for China is sensible, given the current circumstances, as setting a lower, more feasible target may have sent negative signals to global markets.

Released from its GDP target, China can now focus on critical issues facing the economy – such as employment, social stability and national security – and begin to accommodate the realities of a world that has only just started limping back to normality following COVID-19 related disruptions.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Commentary: No country will survive deglobalisation

Building resilience in the current open system does not mean tearing down the entire system and starting over again, says Professor Kenneth Rogoff.
By Kenneth Rogoff

06 Jun 2020


CAMBRIDGE – The post-pandemic world economy seems likely to be a far less globalised economy, with political leaders and publics rejecting openness in a manner unlike anything seen since the tariff wars and competitive devaluations of the 1930s.

And the by-product will be not just slower growth, but a significant fall in national incomes for all but perhaps the largest and most diversified economies.

In his prescient 2001 book The End of Globalization, the Princeton economic historian Harold James showed how an earlier era of global economic and financial integration collapsed under the pressures of unexpected events during the Great Depression of the 1930s, culminating in World War II.

George Floyd 2020

[First, Trevor Noah explains the riots.]


Friday, June 5, 2020

Singapore bank deposits jump as Hong Kong, COVID-19 sow uncertainty

05 Jun 2020

SINGAPORE: A record jump in money flowing into Singapore bank accounts from abroad underlines the country's safe haven appeal during the COVID-19 pandemic and political uncertainty in rival financial centre Hong Kong, analysts say.

Singapore fiercely competes with Hong Kong as Asia's premier wealth centre and generally attracts capital flows during regional turmoil due to its political stability and AAA credit rating.
Deposits from non-residents into Singapore's banks jumped 44 per cent to a record S$62.14 billion (US$44.37 billion) in April from a year earlier, marking the fourth straight monthly rise, central bank data showed.

Deposits have risen in all but one month over the past year, a period marked by escalating political unrest in Hong Kong, a Sino-US trade row and the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Commentary: Could Donald Trump not run for re-election?

With riots in the streets and the COVID-19 death toll rising, Trump doubles down on his 2016 anti-establishment strategy. But the odds are stacked against him, say Steven R Okun and Thurgood Marshall Jr.
By Steven R Okun

By Thurgood Marshall Jr

05 Jun 2020



SINGAPORE: Five months from election day, Donald Trump faces possibly the most daunting challenge ever for a sitting US president running for re-election.

A collapsing economy. Over 100,000 COVID-19 deaths. Riots across the country.

A disapproval rating higher at this stage in a presidency than that of any of his post-World War II predecessors.

Donald Trump had a very narrow path to victory in 2016, but he successfully “threaded the needle” in the electoral college against a historically unpopular opponent while losing the overall vote by nearly 3 million.

There is no chance he wins a majority of the vote this time. In big blue states like California and New York, he could lose by better than two to one. A realistic loss in the popular vote could be by 4 to 5 million votes.

[That was also the conventional wisdom in 2016...]

‘Foreign interference’ in Hong Kong: Understanding China’s own history of doing so

By Dylan M H Loh & Chen Hao

15 November, 2019

A common refrain from Beijing on the ongoing protests, demonstrations and marches regarding the proposed Extradition Bill that have rocked Hong Kong since March 2019 is the claim that “external forces” are driving the protests.

The “black hands” of foreign Western interference, it is purported, are supplying the knowledge, resources and finance to sustain the movement.

Indeed, the passing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act by the United States’ House of Representatives on Oct 15 certainly gives the mainland government more fodder for this view.

The veracity of these allegations aside, we point to the often-elided historical antecedents of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Hong Kong to understand the frequent references to “foreign interference” in the former British colony: The CCP’s own interventions in British Hong Kong.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Why in a cheap food paradise, some Singaporeans are still going hungry

16 Feb 2020



A cleaner unable to work, a family with a 4-room flat, a single dad in debt – those experiencing food insecurity are more diverse than you think. Here’s what they’re going through, in the first of a 2-part special report.


By Goh Chiew Tong

By Christy Yip

By Corine Tiah


The Food Expiration Dates You Should Actually Follow

The first thing you should know? The dates, as we know them, have nothing to do with safety. J. Kenji López-Alt explains.


Credit...Jonathan Carlson

By J. Kenji López-Alt

April 14, 2020


With most of us quarantined in our homes, chances are you’ve been reacquainting yourself with the forgotten spices and fusty beans from the depths of your pantry. But how fusty is too fusty? When is the right time to throw something out? And what about fresh ingredients? If I’m trying to keep supermarket trips to a minimum, how long can my eggs, dairy and produce keep?

Here’s the first thing you should know: Expiration dates are not expiration dates.

3 reasons why Singapore is the smartest city in the world

14 Nov 2019

Sharmishta Sivaramakrishnan
Community Specialist, 
Young Global Leaders - Asia, World Economic Forum Geneva



It’s official: Singapore is the world’s smartest city. That’s according to a new survey Published by Swiss business school IMD and the Singapore University of Technology and Design - the IMD Smart Cities Index - which looked at how well cities are adopting digital technologies and improving the lives of the people who live there.

What is a smart city?


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Commentary: Soon you may be competing with talent globally. The Fortitude Budget is a wake-up call

The huge spike in global unemployment and the rising trend of permanent remote working could buck the anti-globalisation shift that was highlighted in the Fortitude Budget, says employment and labour lawyer Amarjit Kaur.


By Amarjit Kaur

02 Jun 2020


SINGAPORE: Prior to COVID-19, few would have imagined that at least 80 per cent of Singapore’s working population, if not more, need not physically be at the office to do their jobs.

Employers – some of whom are my clients - were sceptical about how work could be done remotely, and were resistant to the concept of working from home (WFH).

They have since expressed surprise that employees can be just as productive, if not more, while WFH. Conversely, there are others employers who believe that remote working has led to a loss of efficiency and are waiting with baited breath for employees to return to the office.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Singapore will have to live with Covid-19 for some time, expect ‘recurring waves’: NCID executive director

By Low Youjin

15 May, 2020

SINGAPORE — It is not sustainable for Singapore to remain in its circuit breaker phase to stem the spread of Covid-19, and the nation will have to live with the coronavirus for some time until a vaccine is found, said National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) executive director Leo Yee Sin.

But until then, the country will have to buy itself time to reduce the impact of the virus by having a solid plan in place, said the infectious diseases specialist.

“We are hoping to be able to suppress the transmission (of the virus), but I do not think we can attain complete elimination,” Professor Leo said on Thursday (May 14) evening during the sixth edition of the Covid-19: Updates from Singapore webinar series.

Friday, May 15, 2020

New COVID-19 test developed in Singapore detects past infection within an hour

By Chew Hui Min

15 May 2020


SINGAPORE: A new COVID-19 test that can rapidly assess if a person has been previously infected with the coronavirus is now available to hospitals in Singapore.

Launched on Friday (May 15), the cPass serology test detects antibodies - formed by the body to fight off infections - in the blood or serum of patients.

It is not used to check for active infection. Its main purpose rather, is for contact tracing, detecting asymptomatic cases and assessing herd immunity. Such serological tests have been used in Singapore for contact tracing.

What is different about the new test developed by Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School is that it produces results in just an hour instead of days, a world first.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

4 in 10 S’poreans rate political leaders highly in Covid-19 response, a third surprised at ‘poor’ preparations: Survey

By NG JUN SEN

14 May, 2020

SINGAPORE — Around the world, people’s confidence is generally wavering in their national leaders’ handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, an international study released on Wednesday (May 13) has found.

This includes Singapore, where 41 per cent of Singaporeans rated their leaders highly, slightly ahead of the global average of 40 per cent but behind places such as China (86 per cent), Vietnam (82 per cent), New Zealand (67 per cent), Malaysia (59 per cent), Taiwan (52 per cent) and the Philippines (45 per cent).

S$16 billion in COVID-19 support given out as of May: Indranee Rajah

13 May 2020


SINGAPORE: The Government has provided more than S$16 billion worth of assistance to Singaporeans and Singaporean companies so far, as the country crosses the halfway point of its extended "circuit breaker" period, said Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah on Wednesday (May 13).

This support was provided between March and May under the Unity, Resilience and Solidarity Budgets, said the minister in a Facebook post.

It includes S$7 billion under the Jobs Support Scheme to help companies retain and pay local workers, said Ms Indranee, adding that another S$4 billion will be paid out in May.

In polarised US, mask-wearing is now a contested declaration of identity

By Frank Bruni

13 May, 2020


I’ve heard of Muslim women in America being taunted for wearing hijabs, I’ve heard of Jewish men being mocked for wearing yarmulkes and now I’ve heard it all: A friend of mine was cursed by a passing stranger the other day for wearing a protective mask.

There is, of course, a rather nasty virus going around, and one way to lessen the chance of its spread, especially from you to someone else, is to cover your nose and mouth. Call it civic responsibility. Call it science.

But science is no match for tribalism in this dysfunctional country. Truth is whatever validates your prejudices, feeds your sense of grievance and fuels your antipathy toward the people you’ve decided are on some other side.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Air Travel Is Going to Be Very Bad, for a Very Long Time

"there are only two things that [would] make people come back... One is a vaccine, so people feel safe going to the airport or sitting with 150 strangers in a plane. The other is people having the wherewithal to travel. Do you have a job? Do you have enough money that you can think of taking your family on a vacation? These are things that control the airlines’ future, and that they cannot do anything about.”


Monday, May 11, 2020

Virus conspiracists in the US elevate a new champion

The rise of Dr Judy Mikovits is the latest twist in the virus disinformation wars, which have swelled throughout the pandemic.

USA Today Network via Reuters

10 May, 2020


NEW YORK — In a video posted to YouTube on Monday (May 4), a woman animatedly described an unsubstantiated secret plot by global elites like Bill Gates and Dr Anthony Fauci to use the coronavirus pandemic to profit and grab political power.

In the 26-minute video, the woman asserted how Dr Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading voice on the coronavirus, had buried her research about how vaccines can damage people’s immune systems. It is those weakened immune systems, she declared, that have made people susceptible to illnesses like Covid-19.

The video, a scene from a longer dubious documentary called “Plandemic,” was quickly seized upon by anti-vaccinators, the conspiracy group QAnon and activists from the Reopen America movement, generating more than 8 million views. And it has turned the woman — Dr Judy Mikovits, 62, a discredited scientist — into a new star of virus disinformation.

[The problem with disinformation is that it distracts from the issue, it diverts attention to debunking such disinformation, it leads people down a clearly false path and ultimately a dead end, it promotes demonstrably wrong and dangerous ideas, it diverts resources to dead end research, and lengthens the process of getting to the right answer. Freedom of Expression will allow a thousand flowers to bloom, but then there must be a process of culling the wheat from the chaff. If the problem calls for a thousand solution, then yes, leave the thousand blooming flowers alone. But if some of the flowers (proposed solutions) have been discredited, debunked, disproof, are clearly wrong, then the avenues of further research should rightly focus on the more promising proposals. Not be distracted, diverted, and diluted.]

Human Writes: We can't really know how many Covid-19 cases Malaysia has

Sunday, 26 Apr 2020

By Mangai Balasegaram


The daily Covid-19 infection numbers in Malaysia dropped to double digits for several days in the week beginning April 20, 2020. That’s encouraging. But Malaysians can’t celebrate just yet.

These numbers must be treated with caution. As I’ll explain, the numbers have unseen layers, just like the disease. You have to peel away the layers to get the full story.

For example, Germany’s high case numbers might just reflect extensive testing – 400,000 tests were done in just one week recently in April 2020, far more than most countries have done in total.

Singapore was seen as a success story mid-April 2020, averaging only 28 new cases a day – until April 21 when it reported over 1,000 cases, mostly among foreign workers. Headlines screamed failure, as it now has the most cases in Asia. But Singapore is vigorously testing and tracing all contacts of cases. The follow-up of patient number 42, a Bangladeshi migrant worker, led authorities to an explosion of cases among foreign workers that might easily have been missed, especially as symptoms were mild.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Predicted To Fall Nearly 8% — Largest Decrease Ever


April 30, 2020

Jennifer Ludden
Jeff Brady

The San Gabriel Mountains are seen under a clear sky beyond downtown Los Angeles. Air quality in the U.S. and elsewhere has been improved by reduced traffic from coronavirus restrictions and weeks of rainstorms.  David McNew/Getty Images


The COVID-19 pandemic is delivering the biggest shock to the global energy system in seven decades, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency.

Global energy demand is expected to fall by 6% this year, seven times the decline brought by the financial crisis 10 years ago. IEA projections show oil and gas being hit hard. But demand for coal could fall by an extraordinary 8% — the largest decline since World War II.

Rise of the Machines, or War of the Worlds.

[So as humans retreat from the cities and towns, nature has abhorred the vacuum and moved in to reclaim or re-occupy her domain. 

At the same time, the Robots are taking over as well.]

Miniature robot car goes on pedestrian paths to remind visitors to adhere to safe distancing rules

By Matthew Loh



Named O-R3, the robot (pictured) has been deployed as a "safe distancing ambassador" at Bedok Reservoir by national water agency PUB since April 23, 2020.

28 April, 2020

SINGAPORE — Joggers at Bedok Reservoir may have noticed a white automated miniature car dutifully plying its route along pedestrian paths, urging visitors to abide by safe distancing requirements and to “stay safe, stay home”.

Named O-R3, the robot has been deployed as a "safe distancing ambassador" at the reservoir by national water agency PUB since April 23.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Fewer meetings, more toilet lids: What workplaces will look like after lockdowns

People should be prepared for a "new normal" when they finally go back to work, say experts.

18 April, 2020

WASHINGTON — Around the world countries are hitting their coronavirus peaks and starting to grapple with questions about when and how to reopen their economies.

But those people fortunate enough to have not lost their jobs should be prepared for a "new normal" when they finally go back to work, say experts.

Here is a preview of what to expect.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

How thousands of Chinese gently mourn a virus whistleblower

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Dr Li Wenliang tried to warn his country but was silenced. Now its traumatised people visit his spirit online, telling his silent social media account about their fears and dreams.

18 April, 2020

NEW YORK — Dr Li Wenliang tried to warn his country but was silenced. Now its traumatised people visit his spirit online, telling his silent social media account about their fears and dreams.

They come to say “good morning” and “good night.” They tell him that spring has arrived and that the cherry blossoms are blooming. They share that they are falling in love, falling out of love or getting divorced. They send him photos of fried chicken drumsticks, his favorite snack.

They whisper that they miss him.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Coronavirus - aftermath (When humans have been wiped out)

So this is not the aftermath of the Covid19 pandemic.

Not yet anyway.

But as humans ceased their activities, withdraw from overt economic activities, and leave streets quiet and empty, nature, who is said to abhor a vacuum, began to reclaim the land.

In Nara, the scared deers have always been well fed by curious and captivated tourists. But there are no tourists in Nara now.

And the deers have been driven by hunger to leave the park and explore the human town of Nara.




Exclusive: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong Speaks Candidly with TIME

[Note: This is a Time interview from 2015, after the passing of Lee Kuan Yew.]


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addresses the nation about the passing of his father, Singapore's founder Lee Kuan Yew, during a live broadcast on Monday, March 23, 2015, in Singapore
Terence Tan—AP

By Hannah Beech
Zoher Abdoolcarim

July 23, 2015


As Singapore gears up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its independence, the city-state once dismissed as a “little red dot” at the midpoint of regional maps now serves as the epicenter of Asian-style development. By combining Confucian values with state-sponsored capitalism, Singapore in little more than a generation moved “from third world to first,” as a memoir of founding father Lee Kuan Yew puts it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus

An examination reveals the president was warned about the potential for a pandemic but that internal divisions, lack of planning and his faith in his own instincts led to a halting response.
“Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion,” President Trump said last month. He has repeatedly said that no one could have seen the effects of the coronavirus coming.

By Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger, Maggie Haberman, Michael D. Shear, Mark Mazzetti and Julian E. Barnes

April 11, 2020

WASHINGTON — “Any way you cut it, this is going to be bad,” a senior medical adviser at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Carter Mecher, wrote on the night of Jan. 28, in an email to a group of public health experts scattered around the government and universities. “The projected size of the outbreak already seems hard to believe.”

A week after the first coronavirus case had been identified in the United States, and six long weeks before President Trump finally took aggressive action to confront the danger the nation was facing — a pandemic that is now forecast to take tens of thousands of American lives — Dr. Mecher was urging the upper ranks of the nation’s public health bureaucracy to wake up and prepare for the possibility of far more drastic action.

“You guys made fun of me screaming to close the schools,” he wrote to the group, which called itself “Red Dawn,” an inside joke based on the 1984 movie about a band of Americans trying to save the country after a foreign invasion. “Now I’m screaming, close the colleges and universities.”

His was hardly a lone voice. Throughout January, as Mr. Trump repeatedly played down the seriousness of the virus and focused on other issues, an array of figures inside his government — from top White House advisers to experts deep in the cabinet departments and intelligence agencies — identified the threat, sounded alarms and made clear the need for aggressive action.

US sailor from coronavirus-hit aircraft carrier dies after contracting virus



14 April, 2020

WASHINGTON — A US Navy sailor died on Monday (April 13) after contracting the coronavirus aboard the US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, whose captain was fired after warning his crew would die unnecessarily unless strong action was taken.

The sailor, the first active-duty US servicemember to die from coronavirus complications, was admitted to intensive care on April 9 after being found unresponsive in his quarters. The sailor had tested positive exactly two weeks ago on March 30, the Navy said.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Commentary: The great coronavirus pandemic will lead to another - of unemployment

By Pavlina R Tcherneva

26 Mar 2020


NEW YORK CITY: The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic will be nothing like that of the 2008 financial crisis, nor will a V-shaped recovery be achieved through conventional stimulus – not even through truly massive conventional stimulus.

The world is at war with COVID-19, and in wartime, civilian production grinds to a halt and the only work that is needed is for the war effort itself.

Moreover, a recession is sadly necessary to stop the spread of this virus. In the United States, over 50 per cent of jobs are at risk from layoffs, furloughs, reduced pay, and lost hours.

Virtually every sector of the economy stands to lose a large chunk of its business, household incomes will be devastated, and spending by consumers and firms will rapidly decline.

The manufacturing collapse has already begun; the service economy, which employs 80 per cent of all workers, will be next.

One pandemic thus will lead to another – of unemployment. The avalanche of layoffs will bring a wave of defaults, bankruptcies, and depressed profits.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Coronavirus Singapore: 100 to 1,000 infections in one month. What happened?

Despite the city state’s strict contact-tracing, quarantining and travel restrictions, a second wave of infections from returning residents and local transmissions saw cases spike from 100 to 1,000 in one month
Experts say people need to take social distancing more seriously

Kok Xinghui

3 Apr, 2020


What a difference a month can make. At the beginning of March, Singapore had just over 100 coronavirus infections and countries across the world looked to the Southeast Asian city state for inspiration. Its aggressive contact tracing, strict quarantine procedures and measured travel restrictions received praise, as did its world-leading testing rates (as of March 25 it had carried out 6,800 tests per million people, more than other ‘leaders’ such as South Korea at 6,500 and Taiwan, at 1,000).

Indeed, if anything there may have been a touch of envy overseas at how this small but efficient country was managing to keep infections so low, even while keeping its schools and malls open and enjoying a semblance of normal life.


Fast forward to Wednesday, April 1, when Singapore passed the psychologically significant mark of 1,000 infections, and the picture wasn’t quite so rosy.

Scared but desperate, Thai sex workers forced to the street

Red-light districts from Bangkok to Pattaya have gone quiet with night clubs and massage parlours closed and tourists blocked from entering the country.

05 Apr 2020


BANGKOK: A shutdown to contain the coronavirus has killed Thailand's party scene and forced sex workers like Pim out of bars and onto desolate streets. She's scared but desperately needs customers to pay her rent.

Red-light districts from Bangkok to Pattaya have gone quiet with night clubs and massage parlours closed and tourists blocked from entering the country.
That has left an estimated 300,000 sex workers out of a job, pressing some onto the streets where the risks are sharpened by the pandemic.

"I'm afraid of the virus but I need to find customers so I can pay for my room and food," Pim, a 32-year-old transgender sex worker, told AFP in an area of Bangkok where previously bawdy neon-lit bars and brothels have gone dark.

Since Friday, Thais have been under a 10pm to 4am curfew. Bars and eat-in restaurants closed several days earlier.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Coronavirus could help push us into a greener way of life

By Simon Kuper

26 March, 2020

By the time this horror ends, it might have changed our way of life. Already, the coronavirus has achieved something that government policies and moral awakening couldn’t: It is pushing us into green living.

The nature of work, commuting and shopping changed this month. If that transformation sticks, then one day we’ll have happier and more productive societies, and we’ll look back on December 2019 as the all-time peak in global carbon emissions.

First of all, the pandemic may show that offices are an outdated way to organise work. This is something I have suspected since my three-year office experience in the 1990s.

I was amazed at the inefficiency of the set-up: People spent much of the day distracting each other by gossiping, flirting, complaining about the boss or that morning’s commute. I’ve worked happily alone for 22 years now.

Offices exist largely so that bosses can check whether workers are doing the work (or at least putting in face-time). But nowadays, data can do much of the monitoring. Meanwhile, improved workplace software such as Slack and Zoom lets employees collaborate from home.

The tech may actually outperform real life: A professor who has hurriedly learnt Zoom told me he liked the way the software can instantly create small break-out groups of students to work on a problem.

In an auditorium, everyone has to pack their bags, find a room and grab a coffee on the way.

Now that entire countries are learning to work from their bedrooms, many employers may end up concluding that they can ditch expensive office space.

That wouldn’t merely reduce emissions, and liberate metropolitan workers from ghastly commutes (the daily round trip averages well over an hour in cities such as New York, Chicago and London).

The shift would also reduce urban house prices, as some offices get converted into homes, and some workers are freed to leave the city.

In the next year or two, virtual-reality software will let the boss (or at least the boss’s avatar) step into underlings’ home-offices to root out shirking.

In short, work could follow dating, shopping and game-playing in going virtual. That would make life greener but also more isolated.

To compensate, neighbourhoods will need more communal spaces. Already the death of bricks-and-mortar retail has allowed coffee shops and co-working spaces to take over high streets.

But we’ll also have to build more playgrounds (with some for adults), community centres and parks.

Another benefit: The pandemic may help stop the decades-long rise in business travel.

I discovered this month that each time a trip was cancelled, I mostly felt relief.

I know the benefits of business travel: The two books I’m currently writing both came out of meeting someone while at a conference. So did my previous book.

However, most trips probably cause a net loss of productivity. While you search for the one or two useful people to talk to amid the 300 carbon-emitting duds at a disappointing conference, you’re missing work at home.

Moreover, most conferences feature a lot more wannabe sellers than buyers. Nowadays it’s quicker to find the perfect counterpart on LinkedIn.

As for content, well-made virtual conferences could be as compelling to watch as good TED talks or TV — and more so than the endless panels of executives talking their own books.

As for shopping, even before the coronavirus we were shifting towards a world where the shop comes to you. That movement just accelerated, possibly for ever.

It’s much greener for a supermarket to send an electric van (or a cargo-bike) to 100 homes in a neighbourhood than for all those people to drive to the supermarket. Some could ditch their cars.

Even in the very short term, the green lining to this pandemic is surprisingly large.

Air pollution kills about 1.1 million people in China alone every year.

The fall in pollution during the country’s lockdown in January and February “likely saved 20 times more lives in China than have currently been lost due to infection with the virus in that country”, calculates Marshall Burke of Stanford University’s Department of Earth System Science.

He adds: “The fact that disruption of this magnitude could actually lead to some large (partial) benefits suggests that our normal way of doing things might need disrupting.”

That’s particularly true since climate change makes pandemics more likely. It expands the natural habitat of infectious insects such as mosquitoes, while reducing the habitat of animals, with the effect of pushing both into closer contact with humans.

Governments need to make good use of the current pandemic. Many states are preparing a fiscal stimulus.

United States President Donald Trump wants to bestow much of it on the carbon emitters that could go bust in the incipient recession: airlines, cruise ships, oil producers and his beloved hotel industry (which lives off travellers’ emissions).

Forward-looking governments will instead prioritise green industries, while helping workers who lose their fossil-fuel jobs.

It turns out that developed countries (except possibly the US) can still do collective government-led wartime-style mobilisation. It’s a muscle we’re going to need.

FINANCIAL TIMES


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Simon Kuper is a life and arts columnist for the Financial Times.





Cleaner hands, bluer skies: What has coronavirus done for us?

25 March, 2020

TOKYO — Deaths, economic meltdown and a planet on lockdown. The coronavirus pandemic has brought us waves of bad news, but squint and you might just see a few bright spots.

From better hygiene that has reduced other infectious diseases to people reaching out as they self-isolate, here are some slivers of silver linings during a bleak moment.

WASH YOUR HANDS!

The message from health professionals has been clear from the start of the outbreak: wash your hands.

Everyone from celebrities to politicians has had a go at demonstrating correct technique — including singing "Happy Birthday" twice through to make sure you scrub long enough, and hand sanitiser has flown off the shelves.

All that extra hygiene appears to be paying off, at least in some countries, including Japan, where the number of flu cases appears to be sharply down.

Japan recorded 7.21 million cases by early March — usually around the peak of the flu season that runs until May.

That was far below figures for previous years, including the 21.04 million infections seen during the 2017/18 season.

"We estimate that one of the reasons behind it is that people are now much more aware about the need to wash hands... given the spread of the new coronavirus," Japanese health ministry official Daisha Inoue told AFP.

CARBON CURBS

Factory shutdowns, travel bans and a squeeze on demand spell economic disaster, but it isn't all bad news for the environment.

In the four weeks to March 1, China's CO2 emissions fell 200 million tonnes, or 25 per cent, compared to the same period last year, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

That's a decline equivalent to annual CO2 emissions from Argentina, Egypt or Vietnam.

The slowdown in China also saw coal consumption at power plants there down 36 per cent, and the use of oil at refineries drop by nearly as much.

Air travel is also grinding to a virtual halt, achieving at least a short-term drop-off in emissions from a highly polluting industry.

And there have been other environmental benefits, including crystal-clear waters in Venice canals usually choked with tourist-laden boats.

Unfortunately, experts say the cleaner air may be short-lived. 

Once the health crisis is over, experts expect countries will double down to try to make up for lost time, with climate change concerns likely to be sidelined in a race to recover economic growth.

SAVE THE PANGOLINS

The source of the coronavirus remains in question, but early tracking focused on a market in China's Wuhan where a variety of live wildlife was on sale for consumption.

A number of animals, including bats and the highly endangered pangolin, have been identified as possible culprits for the virus.

As a result, China in February declared an immediate and "comprehensive" ban on the trade and consumption of wild animals that was welcomed by environmentalists.

Beijing implemented similar measures following the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in the early 2000s, but the trade and consumption of wild animals, including bats and snakes, made a comeback.

This time the ban is permanent, raising hopes that it could end the local trade in wildlife.

"I do think the government has seen the toll it takes on national economy and society is much bigger than the benefit that wild-eating business brings," said Mr Jeff He, China director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Reports linking the virus to the pangolin have also scared off would-be consumers of the scaly mammals elsewhere, with bushmeat vendors in Gabon reporting a plunge in sales.

APART, TOGETHER

One of the most difficult aspects of the stringent lockdowns imposed to slow the spread of the virus has been loneliness, with families and friends forced to endure weeks or even months apart.

But some people have found the measures are creating a sense of community spirit, and prompting them to make more of an effort to check in with family and reconnect with friends.

In Colombia, where a nearly three-week period of self-isolation is now in place, 43-year-old Andrea Uribe has organised everything from group exercise classes to family talent shows using video messaging programmes including Zoom.

"I have called my parents more often, I have talked to friends that I usually don't talk to... I have organised Zoom meetings with friends in multiple countries," Ms Uribe, who works in development, told AFP.

"It is wonderful to be forced to be there for one another. It has made me more creative. It just shows that we need to be present in people's lives."

AFP

Covid-19: Up to 10% of recovered patients test positive later, say Wuhan doctors

27 March, 2020

HONG KONG — About three to 10 per cent of patients who recovered from Covid-19 tested positive again after being discharged from hospital, doctors in Wuhan have found.

Researchers around the world are trying to determine whether recovered patients can still infect people with the coronavirus that causes the disease and if they have developed antibodies offering them immunity to the disease.

Doctors from Tongji hospital in the city, where the disease was first identified, told state broadcaster CCTV that they have found no evidence that the recovered patients became infectious after recovery, based on close observations of their family members and laboratory tests.

In spite of its relatively small sample size, the Tongji hospital research is especially relevant as China now has far more recovered patients than new confirmed cases.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Spit on, yelled at, attacked: Chinese Americans fear for their safety

24 March, 2020

WASHINGTON — Ms Zhu Yuanyuan was walking to her gym in San Francisco on March 9, thinking the workout could be her last for a while, when she noticed that a man was shouting at her. He was yelling an expletive about China. Then a bus passed, she recalled, and he screamed after it, “Run them over.”

She tried to keep her distance, but when the light changed, she was stuck waiting with him at the crosswalk. She could feel him staring at her. And then, suddenly, she felt it: his saliva hitting her face and her favorite sweater.

In shock, Ms Zhu, who is 26 and moved to the United States from China five years ago, hurried the rest of the way to the gym. She found a corner where no one could see her, and she cried quietly.

“That person didn’t look strange or angry or anything, you know?” she said of her tormentor. “He just looked like a normal person.”

SIA will need government aid to survive impact of Covid-19, say analysts

By Janice Lim

24 March, 2020

SINGAPORE — Singapore Airlines (SIA) will need a financial boost from the Government, said analysts, who noted that the same applied to airlines across the globe as the Covid-19 outbreak continues to wreak havoc in the aviation sector.

Demand for international air travel has been obliterated as governments close their borders, but there will be costs that SIA will still be incurring even though it has grounded almost all its flights, they noted.

On Monday (March 23), the national carrier said that it will cut 96 per cent of the capacity that had been originally scheduled up to the end of April, as border controls tighten worldwide due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Later on Monday, SIA announced cost-cutting measures affecting about 10,000 staff including voluntary and compulsory no-pay leave, furloughs, and further pay cuts to senior management staff members. The airline did not place an estimated value on the cuts in a staff memo seen by TODAY.

The announcements came as SIA's share price sank 11 per cent on Monday to S$5.36, its lowest level in more than 15 years.

Singapore’s average sea level now 14cm higher than ‘pre-1970 levels’: Met Service

By Matthew Mohan

23 Mar 2020


SINGAPORE: The average sea level has risen 14cm from “pre-1970 levels” for Singapore, said the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) in its 2019 Annual Climate Assessment Report released on Monday (Mar 23).

"The sea level changes described in the (report) are based on tide gauge records available since 1970s at various locations in Singapore. We have therefore considered this time frame as our period of interest,” explained Dr Hindumathi Palanisamy, a senior research scientist with MSS.

Since the 1970s, Sembawang, Sultan Shoal and Raffles Lighthouse have shown sea level rise rates of about 2.12mm per year, about 2.78mm per year and about 3.55mm per year respectively, said MSS, which has led to an average sea level in Singapore today of 140mm above pre-1970 levels.

Monday, March 23, 2020

'How did things end up like this?' America's newly unemployed grapple with coronavirus fallout

20 Mar 2020 

NEW YORK: Across the United States, thousands of waiters, cooks, hotel staff, actors, bartenders and workers in other sectors have suddenly found themselves unemployed as the coronavirus pandemic has scythed through the world's biggest economy.

This abrupt reversal of fortune for the economic victims of the virus happened almost overnight, turning lives upside down as their places of work shuttered or reduced staffing. Dreams of the future have been replaced by worries about the present: "How do I pay my rent" or "How do I pay for food?"

While some ponder returning home to their parents temporarily to help make ends meet, others are too afraid to take this step, worried they might expose older loved ones to the virus. And many are now applying for unemployment benefits for the first time in their lives.

A few hours after ending her shift on Wednesday, Nyiasha Johnson got a call from a co-worker with devastating news: She had lost her job at Philadelphia International Airport, one of hundreds of contract service workers hit by airline company cuts.

"My initial thought process was how am I going to pay my bills. Do I need to contact my landlord now because the rent is two weeks away?" Johnson, 40, told Reuters. "I'm very stressed out emotionally, confused. Just trying to stay positive."