1. Bill introduced to stipulate that contact tracing data can only be used for public health concerns and the investigation of serious crimes
The COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Amendment) Bill was introduced in Parliament on Monday, 1 February by Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan. The Bill lays out that contact tracing data from TraceTogether and SafeEntry is strictly reserved for public health concerns and investigations into the most serious crimes.
These proposed legal changes will override all other legislation. The Bill will protect information including that of nearby contact tracing device users, places visited, and personal information such as names, identification numbers, and contact details.
It will only cover personal data collected through digital contact tracing solutions including TraceTogether and SafeEntry, as well as the BluePass programme. Removal of any of these from the bill will require Parliamentary approval, but an addition of any solutions can be approved by a minister.
Seven types of serious crime are covered, and they cannot be changed without the Parliament’s approval. The crimes include offences related to terrorism, drug trafficking, murder, kidnapping, and serious sexual offences such as rape.
Additionally, all requests for contact tracing data must first be approved by the Criminal Investigation Department. The proposed law will also apply only for data which identifies an individual, and does not cover aggregated or anonymised data that can be used in epidemiological research.
Under this Bill, the unauthorised use or disclosure of personal contact tracing data is an offence that carries a fine of up to $20,000, and jail time of up to two years, or both.
The Bill will be debated in Parliament today. If passed, it is expected to come into force in mid-February.
2. Ministers push for sustainability and the fight against climate change; Call for climate to be the 7th pillar of Total Defence
Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng called for the government to do more in the fight against climate change during the Parliamentary motion on 1 February, calling climate change an “economic and political threat”.
Mr Ng believes that a healthy environment and economy can go “hand-in-hand”, and that MPs who push for more action on climate change should be mindful to not “push away” people and businesses.
Specifically, he called upon the government and public sector to (1) enhance its sustainability standards; (2) ensure that government contracts should measure and set standards for carbon footprint, and (3) require each Ministry to publish a yearly Sustainability Report to better inform the public on how each Ministry is playing their part.
Further, Mr Ng also addressed the importance of a carbon tax, which he terms “Singapore’s most important policy tool” against climate change. He cites research from other countries, where a revenue-neutral carbon tax could slash emissions while boosting the economy.
Additionally, Mr Ng also spoke of the importance of forests, alluding to the potential redevelopment of Dover Forest and Clementi Forest that have been a topic of discussion in recent weeks. He re-emphasised the importance of Singapore’s forests which act as carbon sinks, and suggested that Singapore should be focusing on protecting the existing forests instead of just looking at planting more trees.
In a similar vein, Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng proposed that climate be made the 7th pillar of Total Defence, on top of the current six pillars (military, civil, economic, social, digital, and psychological defence).
Mr Seah likened people’s attitudes towards climate change with that of public health issues, pointing out that collective action is required for everyone to benefit. He suggested that because the potential cost of climate change might not directly affect individuals of this generation, their attitudes towards it tend to be laissez-faire.
As such, strong regulatory intervention and social pressure is required. Mr Seah emphasised, “The price…is high but paid in generations, so each one does not think of the final tally. The harm too is great, but borne unevenly – so that even as some die because of air pollution, others live in air-conditioned comfort. And so, power and justice come apart.”
He outlined three reasons for adding climate defence to the Total Defence Pillars:
- Climate change and effects pose high-risk threats to Singaporeans
- Low salience of climate change in public consciousness currently
- Defence against something we can all play a part in fixing
By adopting climate defence as the seventh pillar, it will become a more organised, deliberate, and strategic approach by the government. On top of this, Mr Seah also highlights education as a way to create long-term change.
3. Minister of Education Lawrence Wong responds to recent commotion on gender identity issues in schools
In the recent Parliament sitting on 1 February, Sengkang MP He Tingru of the Workers’ Party raised a question about the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) policies and guidelines on students with gender dysphoria.
In response, Minister of Education Lawrence Wong emphasised that MOE will “strive to provide a supportive environment in schools to support our students holistically.”
He added that “issues of gender identity have become bitterly contested sources of division in the culture wars in some Western countries and societies. We should not import these culture wars into Singapore, or allow issues of gender identity to divide our society.”
Alluding to a Reddit post of an 18-year-old student who alleged that MOE had intervened with her hormonal therapy treatment, Mr Wong re-iterated that all medical treatment decisions are beyond the purview of MOE or any educational institution.
Instead, MOE’s focus is “on the school environment and the students involved.” He also said that the Ministry will “strive to deal with these situations sensitively and with compassion” and provide students with gender dysphoria a “conducive learning environment”.
Mr Wong also acknowledged that school rules are a contentious issue, particularly as those diagnosed with gender dysphoria could face difficulties with certain school rules. In response, he suggested that schools can exercise flexibility and work out practical arrangements for these students.
In doing so, the schools will consult and work with different stakeholders including relevant medical professionals, the student concerned, and their parents.
4. Intense rainfall causes record number of potholes in January 2021
Exceptionally heavy rainfall in January 2021 has led to a record number of potholes found in Singapore in a single month, as 2,570 potholes were reported in January alone. This can be attributed to the prolonged wet weather.
Potholes begin as cracks in the road surface, which arise due to wear and tear, and are fixed as a part of the Land Transport Authority (LTA)’s regular inspection and maintenance.
However, increased rain has resulted in more water seeping in through the cracks, leading to the cracks widening and becoming potholes in some instances, further stressing Singapore’s road infrastructure.
According to Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor, LTA attempts to fix identified potholes within a span of 24 hours, although efforts to patch up potholes have been hampered by the constant rainfall, as the road surface has to be dry in order for the material used for patching to bond effectively.
Dr Khor added that as of last Sunday, 31 January, 95% of these potholes have been repaired.
Dr Khor also said that the LTA conducts frequent inspections of more than 9,000 lane-kilometres of road pavement to look into road defects, including potholes, and follows up with investigations on public feedback.
5. COVID-19 vaccines to be prioritised for healthcare workers, frontline staff, and seniors with no exceptions
Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary has confirmed that COVID-19 vaccines will be prioritised for healthcare workers, frontline personnel, and seniors, and that no exceptions will be given for those who need to travel at present.
Frontline personnel include essential workers in the security, aviation and maritime sectors, who face a greater risk of exposure to infected individuals.
Speaking in Parliament on 1 February, he stated that there is a need to prioritise the provision of vaccinations at this point due to a “present, short term, limited supply of Covid-19 vaccines” globally.
Mr Puthucheary was responding to MP Yip Hon Weng’s question if vaccines could be provided for those who needed to travel overseas for business, studies or compassionate purposes on short notice.
MPs Gerald Giam and Joan Pereira submitted similar questions, with Pereira asking if vaccines could be granted to those who needed to visit unwell family members who resided overseas, while Giam questioned whether those who needed to go abroad to pursue studies or essential business could also be prioritised.
While vaccines may not be granted to those travelling abroad for now, Puthucheary said that they will consider allowing individuals early vaccination when there was a greater certainty in the supply of vaccines.
Dr Puthucheary further noted that Singapore has signed advance purchase agreements with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Sinovac, and that it is also in discussions with other pharmaceutical companies.
He added that Singapore’s “strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness” were taken into account for whether a vaccine is licensed to be used in Singapore.
To date, $13.8 billion has been allocated by the Government for COVID-19 response operations in 2020’s budget, according to Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. This includes $10 billion in expenditure for medical and emergency operations such as the expansion of testing capacity, clinical management of COVID-19 patients, and establishment of contact tracing capabilities.
To aid with medical and emergency supplies, over 100 suppliers were awarded contracts by 10 agencies. 13 agencies also engaged more than 150 suppliers to provide services for COVID-19 related facilities, such as quarantine, temporary migrant workers’ housing, medical, SHN and transport arrangements.
6. Dover Forest public consultation period to be extended until 1 March
On Monday (1 February), National Development Minister Desmond Lee announced that the public consultation period for Dover Forest will be extended by four weeks to 1 March, giving residents another month to voice their opinions on the future of Dover Forest.
As part of the Ulu Pandan estate, Dover Forest is one of several estates that have been zoned for residential development, as part of the Housing Development Board (HDB)’s plans to offer 17,000 Build-To-Order (BTO) flats this year.
Mr Lee shared that Dover Forest had been zoned as “Residential (Subject to Detailed Planning)” from a master plan in 2003, and that HDB “engaged an external consultant to conduct an environmental baseline study (EBS) for Ulu Pandan, to guide HDB’s development plans and identify the native flora and fauna and their habitats”.
He also noted that nature groups were also consulted to help refine the HDB’s plans for Ulu Pandan, and that their report incorporated findings from the EBS.
Findings from the EBS revealed that Dover Forest is home to minimally 158 species of animals, including critically endangered ones, as well as 120 plant species.
Public feedback includes suggestions that Dover Forest be retained as a nature park for recreational purposes, with others suggesting alternative surrounding sites, such as existing school fields, be redeveloped instead.
Mr Lee affirmed that HDB was committed to “stewarding and protecting our green spaces”, and that any decisions to move forward with redevelopment are made following a detailed study of trade-offs involved, and that they would “proceed with care” in the cases where redevelopment was deemed a necessity.
7. Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Seng says Singapore to grow manufacturing sector by attracting top firms
Singapore is working towards growing its manufacturing sector by 50 per cent over the next 10 years, while keeping manufacturing at 20 per cent of the economy in the medium term.
Beyond serving as a quantitative target, Mr Chan underscores that this will pave the way for a “qualitative transformation” of the sector, with a larger emphasis on innovation, producing higher-value products, as well as hiring more local workers.
To do so, it will strive to attract more market-leading manufacturing firms to anchor their operations in the country. This will allow Singapore to entrench itself in the global value chain while helping to grow the local business ecosystem and provide workers with better jobs.
According to Mr Chan, these market-leading manufacturing firms refer to leaders in new growth areas such as agritechnology, biotechnology, and urban mobility, instead of those in manufacturing sub-sectors. This will help cement Singapore’s position in the global production and supply chain.
Additionally, workers will stand to benefit from these manufacturing firms as they create more jobs that are less about “repetitive work” and instead, require more “cross-disciplinary skills”.
Singapore will adopt three strategies to position itself as an advanced manufacturing hub:
- Invest in infrastructure with the Jurong Innovation District as a “one-stop” advanced manufacturing campus
- Build a strong research ecosystem to identify new skills and coordinate training efforts
- Support firms in Industry 4.0 transformation projects.