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Politics

Coronavirus: More firms now see value of digitalisation, says Iswaran

More businesses are seeing the value of increased digitalisation in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran said yesterday.

While the Government has long encouraged companies to intensify the use of digital technology in their processes, the coronavirus has brought into stark relief its relevance and merits at a time when businesses have had to act to minimise disruptions in the face of the virus, he said in an interview on Money FM 89.3.

“Right now, businesses see the value proposition – whether it is working remotely (or) transacting with business partners around the world,” he told co-hosts Elliot Danker and Ryan Huang.

The current situation has also helped employees to understand why digital technologies are both relevant and useful, he added.

Digital technology has also helped the Government manage the crisis, he said, citing the Gov.sg WhatsApp service that has given Singaporeans “reliable information in a timely manner (that) also enables them to navigate all the other information they are receiving on a daily basis”.

“We think these and many other digital sources of information and ways of communicating with our broader population (are a) key part of not just battling the crisis, but also preparing ourselves for the next phase of digital evolution in Singapore’s economy,” he said.

A myth that needs dispelling, he said, is that digitalisation applies only to some, when such technologies cut across every sector. Even traditional businesses in Kampong Glam and Little India are using digital technologies, whether for payments or to interact with their logistics providers, he noted.

Both businesses and workers need to view digitalisation as a journey, not something where one needs to “jump into the deep end in one fell swoop”.

“What you can do is work on it (by) taking incremental steps, but have an overall strategy that takes you to the end point in terms of the kind of capabilities you need.”

Asked about the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma), which took effect last October, he said Covid-19 has vindicated what the Government said when it introduced the anti-fake news legislation.

It had argued that people today get information from a variety of digital sources, information from digital sources can be very viral and fake information can cause dire consequences.

Pofma “has actually proven to be very effective in the course of Covid-19, although it is very, very unfortunate that people still persist in pervading falsehoods even in these very trying times, and it causes fear and panic in our population”, he said. “So, we have to move swiftly and decisively to deal with such fake news or falsehoods.”

He pointed out that the Government’s promptness in quashing early instances of fake news – such as debunking rumours in January of Woodlands MRT station being closed because of a suspected Covid-19 case – has “had a salutary effect”. “Even in private messaging services… what I find is the instinct now is for people to ask the question, ‘Is this fake? Is this real?’ ” Mr Iswaran said.

This is a very good instinct, he said, “because what it means is people realise they need to question the source, the authenticity of the information and its reliability”.

Newspapers and the media remain an important source of accurate information, he added.

“The media plays a very important role, (and) the mainstream media remains one of the key sources of information people rely on.”

When Singapore enters the general election season, the Government will ensure people get reliable and truthful information for citizens to exercise their vote in a well-informed way, he said.

“The experience in other countries has shown that, in particular, in an (election) hustings period, there is more froth, especially on social media, in the digital realm, and a lot more misinformation starts to spread,” he said. “So, the key is ensuring our citizens are well informed, they understand the facts clearly and we are able to debunk the falsehoods quickly.”

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Health

N.S. long-term care residents in isolation to prevent spread of COVID-19

All residents and staff at a long-term care facility in Enfield are being tested for COVID-19 after a staff member was tested positive on Sunday, and a second staff member along with two residents were also tested positive on Monday.

“All residents have been tested and we’re just waiting to get the tests back on those,” said Tracey Tulloch, a spokesperson for Rosecrest, which operates three long-term care facilities, including Magnolia.

“We do have one other resident who is symptomatic, but we’re waiting on the test results.”

The two staff are now offsite, self-isolating and dealing with their symptoms. Seven additional staff who worked directly with those who tested positive are also self-isolating.

In the meantime, the facility is receiving some help from the province through VON and other care workers to help replace the staff currently off due to self-isolation requirements.

“They can’t come back until the 14 days has passed,” said Tulloch, “even though they have tested negative at this point.”

Magnolia is currently a home to 82 people, 70 in long-term care and 12 in residential care. Residents are divided up into five cottages which houses 12-15 residents each.

The two residents who have tested positive are in their 80’s and both reside in the same cottage.

Tulloch says they are showing mild symptoms, and are being isolated.

“They are actually coping quite well,” said Tulloch.

The facility has been adhering to guidelines provided by public health officials to limit the spread of the virus. They no longer hold any communal events for residents, with physical distancing measures in place. They are focusing on hand washing and cleaning of high touch surface areas and all staff are wearing personal protective equipment.

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“Like any vulnerable sector, illness hits the elderly and immuno-compromised a little hard, so we want to contain this and flatten the curve within our own environment,” said Tulloch.

Meanwhile two other similar facilities in Nova Scotia have had workers test positive for COVID-19.

An employee who works at Lewis Hall in Dartmouth, part of Shannex’s Parkland at the Lakes retirement living community, has tested positive after being linked to another case in Halifax. The individual last worked on March 22 and has not been in the workplace since.

Lewis Hall in a Shannex Parkland at the Lakes retirement community in Dartmouth has also had staff member test posi… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…

Senior Vice President of Operations for Shannex, Catherine MacPherson says they have been working closely with Public Health and the 17 residents living in the neighbourhood where the employee worked were immediately put into isolation as a precaution. They were also all tested, and those tests came back negative on Sunday.

A second staff member was also tested after working closely with the individual who tested positive,  and is still waiting results. That member is also self-isolating.

In Antigonish, a staff member at RK MacDonald tested positive. An emailed statement from CEO of the nursing home, Michelle Thompson says they too are following health guidelines.

“We are working closely with Public Health and NSHA Infection Prevention and Control; staff are taking the appropriate infection control measures. This is something we take very seriously in order to protect our residents and our staff.”

Public Health officials are working with all three facilities, and continue to work with long-term care facilities and retirement communities across the province to limit the spread of COVID-19.

A number of measures have already been implemented including restricting access into facilities. Visitors are no longer allowed and residents are not allowed on community excursions.

Any staff who feel sick, or who have traveled must stay home, but Dr. Robert Strang admits it’s impossible to eliminate risk entirely as the staff live in communities.

“It’s concerning but I think we’ve done everything we could do to limit the possibility of introduction, and we do have robust plans in responding, as you’ve seen in the last few days, if we get COVID-19 in long-term care facilities,” said on Tuesday.

Strang says those robust plans are largely based on existing plans and guidelines already in place to deal with outbreaks of respiratory illnesses or influenza each year.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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Health

Coronavirus: Crowds of more than five now on notice in Hamilton

The City of Hamilton has new enforcement powers after the province issued an emergency order banning social gatherings of more than five people.

Municipal bylaw officers, along with Hamilton Police, can now break up crowds of more than five and even have the ability to hand out fines of up to $750 per individual.

Paul Johnson, Hamilton’s emergency operations director, says the crackdown means the “persuasive approach” didn’t work to the degree needed to contain the spread of COVID-19.

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Johnson adds that while the “vast majority” are taking this virus seriously, he was “dishearted” to hear about “tons of kids” playing in a suburban skate park over the weekend.

Johnson hopes we never get to the point of handing out tickets and making arrests, but he’s pleased that the city now has added “authority to go out and educate and be very clear with people.”

He says “you can still walk through a park” as long as you keep the right distance, but all leash-free dog parks and “communal or shared outdoor public or private recreational amenities” are now closed within the City of Hamilton.

The provincial government, based on the advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, issued a new emergency order on Saturday under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. It prohibits organized public events and social gatherings of more than five people,

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Health

Coronavirus: 20 new cases identified, bringing Nova Scotia total to 147

Twenty new cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Nova Scotia, bringing the provincial total to 147.

In a news release Tuesday, the province said “most” cases are connected to travel or a known case.

There are now four staff and two residents of long-term care facilities that have tested positive for COVID-19.

“Appropriate infection prevention and control measures are in place for both residents and staff,” the province said.

The individuals affected range in age from under ten to over 80. Four individuals are currently in hospital and 10 have now recovered.

Cases have been identified in all parts of the province. To date, Nova Scotia has 5,763 negative test results.

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On Monday, Premier Stephen McNeil announced school closures will be extended to at least May 1. Students from Grade Primary to nine will receive bi-weekly at-home learning packages, while Grade 10 to 12 students will work with their teachers to address their individual needs.

The province also announced Monday that it has its first case of COVID-19 that is the result of spread within the community.

McNeil and chief public health officer Dr. Robert Strang will hold a press briefing on Tuesday at 3 p.m.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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World News

Man attending Shubie Park ticketed $697.50 by Halifax police

Police have issued another summary offence ticket to a person attending a park that’s closed due to the state of emergency.

Halifax Regional Police say officers were patrolling Shubie Park in Dartmouth at around 4:45 p.m. Monday when they located a vehicle in a no parking zone.

The owner of the vehicle was located inside the park by officers.

The 57-year-old man was fined $697.50 for failing to comply with direction, order or requirement made under act/regulations.

Shubie Park is one of the parks closed to the public as a precautionary measure to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

On Sunday, Halifax Regional Police seized a 44-year-old woman’s vehicle and ticketed her $697.50 for attending Point Pleasant Park.

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HRP are reminding residents to educate themselves on the restrictions under the act and to be mindful of the “unprecedented COVID-19 crisis we are facing as a community.”

They are thanking the “vast majority” of citizens who are complying with the rules.

With files from Alexander Quon.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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Sports

Coronavirus: USA Rugby to file for bankruptcy

(REUTERS) – USA Rugby will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to “insurmountable financial constraints” that were accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, the governing body said on Monday (March 30).

The board of directors voted overwhelmingly in flavor of the plan over the weekend and said that with a financial support package from World Rugby, it hopes to “deliver a foundation for future stability.”

Under the reorganisation plan there will be no impact on the men’s and women’s senior national teams, which had previously qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which have been pushed back a year due to the global health crisis.

USA Rugby suspended play indefinitely on March 20 to do its part to slow the spread of the virus, which resulted in significant loss of revenue from spring and summer membership dues, sponsorship drawbacks and other revenue sources, it said.

“This is the most challenging period this organisation has faced and all resolves were never taken lightly in coming to this determination,” USA Rugby chair Barbara O’Brien said in a statement.

“While the current climate is of course much larger than rugby, we remain focused with stakeholders and supporters in the continued effort toward a balanced rugby community where the game can truly grow.”

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Health

Some Manitobans struggling with practising social distancing

With the weather warming up, more and more Manitobans may be tempted to visit parks and public spaces, but experts say this could put them at risk of contracting COVID-19.

“If you’re getting out to a park and you notice there are crowds starting you need to turn back,” Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said.

“Getting out, getting some exercise in is certainly important. We need to take care of ourselves during this time, we have to not be socially isolated, reaching out to others and keeping in touch.”

On the weekend, parking lots were busy at Winnipeg parks such as St. Vital Park, Assiniboine Park and Birds Hill Park.

Groups of people could be seen gathering together – some experts saying they were not practising social distancing.

On Monday, the province limited the maximum number of people in a public gathering to 10.

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“It’s the groups of 10 within that close contact that we are concerned about,” Roussin said.

“This is not the time to ignore social distancing strategies. You have to maintain two metres between other folks. We have to keep ourselves healthy but right now is that time – strict adherence to social distancing strategies.”


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Sports

Coronavirus: Table tennis shelved until June 30 due to virus

PARIS (AFP) – Table tennis tournaments will be shelved until June 30 at the earliest due to the coronavirus pandemic and the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, officials said on Sunday (March 29).

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) also announced rankings will be frozen as of March 20.

“The ITTF has also been working hard to manage the 2020 finances with the executive committee agreeing to reduce their expenses and senior staff offering to take a salary reduction, as the ITTF looks into other areas to save overall costs,” said a statement.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 31,000 people worldwide, prompted the postponement last week of the Tokyo Olympics until 2021.

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Health

Following travel uncertainty and the risk of contracting COVID-19, Edmonton couple is finally home and in self-isolation

It was only earlier this week that Theresa and Len Rud were desperate to fly out of Mexico after their flight was cancelled. After facing a few hurdles including the possibility of a packed airport, the pair is finally back home in and self-isolation.

“We were really nervous… when we drove to Puerto Vallarta on the Monday, we were wondering if we should go to the airport that day,” Theresa Rud said.

They were nervous because images of mass crowding at the Puerto Vallarta airport were shown on a local news website. On top of that, their flight had been canceled and Air Transat told them to head to the airport to try to get on a flight.

Taking a chance, they made it. While the airport was not nearly as packed as they anticipated they say safety was not on the forefront.

“It’s going good, it’s a bit of a change for us, from sun and sand to snow,” Theresa said.

The pair says they are feeling well, and are happy to be home but trying to adjust to a dramatically different lifestyle.

“When you leave everybody is going about their normal lives their daily lives, now coming back to basically a world that’s totally changed,” Rud said.

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Politics

From the Gallery: $55b Resilience Budget to tackle coronavirus shows the importance of deep reserves amid continuing uncertainty

SINGAPORE – If there were doubts as to why the Singapore Government obsessively squirrels away past reserves and does not tap them during good times, they were laid to rest on Thursday (March 26).

Amid the economic and social turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government pulled out all the stops in a second support package – just one month after announcing support measures to the tune of $6.4 billion in the Budget that had a record projected deficit of $10.95 billion.

The size of the overall support is a historic $55 billion or 11 per cent of Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP), and President Halimah Yacob has given in-principle support for up to $17 billion to be drawn from past reserves.

This will be the second time the Government has drawn on past reserves and the largest amount to date, eclipsing the $4.9 billion then President SR Nathan approved during the 2009-2009 global financial crisis.

The new measures will raise the overall Budget deficit for this financial year to $39.2 billion, or 7.9 per cent of GDP.

Explaining her reasons for approving the drawdown, Madam Halimah wrote in a statement delivered by Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliamen, that there have been successive waves of bad news since the Budget announcement in February.

Just when the Covid-19 situation in China seemed to be stabilising, a new wave of cases started in the rest of the world, she said. “This downturn is likely to be deeper and last longer than Sars and the 2009 global financial crisis… We need to do our utmost to help our businesses and people quickly. It is a matter of survival.

“Our reserves were built up over the years through prudent spending, and were set aside precisely to cater for rainy days. The situation we are heading into looks more like a thunderstorm, and not just a drizzle.”

Announcing the package – named the Resilience Budget – yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said the world is experiencing a confluence of multiple external shocks. “So this is not a normal business cycle that we would have anticipated and dealt with using the revenues collected by each term of government. It is a ‘black swan’ event that comes only once every few decades,” he said.


Patrons at an eatery in Holland Drive watching Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announcing the Resilience Budget package on March 26, 2020. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

He said that despite political pressure, the Government has upheld the principle that past reserves are to be used only for exceptional circumstances.

And what an exceptional situation this is. With border closures and activities suspended worldwide, businesses are facing imminent collapse. As tourists stay away, airlines are running on fumes. Self-employed workers are a paycheck away from hunger.

As CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun told The Straits Times: “We are far more integrated into the global economy now. So we benefit greatly when the world is on an upswing. On the flip side, we get hit big time. Tiny Singapore is the canary in the coal mine.”

The Ministry of Trade and Industry has downgraded the Republic’s growth forecast to a range of minus 4.0 to minus 1.0 per cent this year. Even the midpoint of this range would make this its worst recession since Independence.

The last time Singapore registered a full-year contraction of its economy was in 2001 during the dotcom bust, when growth fell by 1 per cent.

The Resilience Budget is significant not only for its size and the amount of past reserves drawn upon, but also the range of measures the reserves aim to support.

In 2009, the draw of $4.9 billion was used to fund two initiatives. The first was the Jobs Credit Scheme – cash grants to employers based on the Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions made for their existing employees; the second, a special risk-sharing initiative made up of bridging loans and trade financing.

Fast forward to 2020, the funds are now spread over four measures – the enhanced Jobs Support Scheme, including additional tiers of support for hardest-hit sectors; Self-Employed Person (SEP) Income Relief Scheme (SIRS), Aviation Support Package and enhanced financing schemes to ensure firms continue to have access to credit.

Employers will get more cash grants up to a higher monthly wage cap, over nine months instead of the previously announced three.

Those who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak can receive a month cash grant of $800 for three months.

SEPs will be granted a three-month deferment of their personal income tax payments due in May, June and July. Those eligible will get $1,000 a month for nine months.

All companies can now tap a temporary bridging loan programme, increased subsidies for loan insurance premiums and income tax payment deferments, among a slew of other initiatives.

Supplementary budgets are not new.

During the Sars outbreak in 2003, the Government provided fiscal stimulus through higher development expenditure and two supplementary budgets.

In the 1998 Asian financial crisis, a supplementary budget was announced in June, when the situation took a turn for the worse.

But never before has a second package been announced so soon after the first – just five weeks on – underscoring the severity of the impact of Covid-19.

Also, it is not just the travel and food and beverage sectors that are distressed today, but entire swathes of the economy.

The issue is no longer just one of stimulating demand, but injecting broad-based liquidity into the system to keep businesses and families afloat and save jobs.

Hence, in addition to sector-specific support, Thursday’s package emphasises direct cash transfers, lump sum payments and rebates that can be easily administered and reach large numbers of people quickly.

If the Covid-19 crisis deepens, the Government may need to step in again later this year.

It can only do so because it has a rainy day fund – one routinely prodded, debated and even derided over the years but whose usefulness is now crystal clear as the world teeters on a medical, social and economic cliff edge.

As Mr Heng told members of the House: “If over the years we had frittered the reserves away on more immediate but less existential needs, big and small, as some in this House have pressed the Government to do, we would be in a much weaker position today.

“But because we have prepared ourselves well, Singapore has the resources to meet this crisis with confidence. We will use our resources to get through this together.”

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