Latest News: 23 February 2021

Steven Cornfield/Unsplash
Steven Cornfield/Unsplash

1. Directions for immediate follow-up issued in response to Kranji woodland clearance

In response to the erroneous clearing of parts of a Kranji woodland site, the Government has given directions for ā€œimmediate follow-upā€, according to Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.Ā 

The incident had first come to light after JTC Corp announced that plots of land which were earmarked for development of the Agri-Food Innovation Park in Kranji were ā€œerroneouslyā€ cleared ahead of the conclusion of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).Ā 

JTC had added that a ā€œstern warningā€ was issued to the contractor involved, and that all clearing works were immediately halted upon discovery. It had also stated that the cleared site was not close to any ā€œsensitive areasā€, and instead comprised ā€œdisused scrubland, with a few scattered large greensā€, and was now ā€œdominated by non-native Albizia regrowth.ā€

Three sets of directions for immediate follow-up were issued, according to Mr Chan.Ā 

Firstly, the relevant agencies (JTC Corp) and the National Parks Board (NParks) will conduct investigations into the clearance of the site.Ā 

JTC will also be required to conduct an internal review to check if public officers and private contractors have followed the due processes, and examine how it can ā€œbetter superviseā€ agencies and Qualified Personnel (such as those managing and coordinating a construction project) as they implement the project.Ā 

Meanwhile, NParks will identify if there have been any breaches of the Parks and Trees Act and Wildlife Act.Ā 

Additionally, Permanent Secretary (Defence Development) Joseph Leong will be appointed to lead a review to identify ā€œlearning pointsā€ for project management, supervision, execution, and inter-agency coordination. During this review, Mr Leong will have access to views from various stakeholders including the public, private, and people sectors.Ā 

Finally, all relevant agencies involved in land clearance projects have also been instructed to conduct immediate checks to ensure that their project supervision and implementation processes are in order, to ā€œavoid any repeat of the mistakes madeā€.Ā 

At the same time, the Ministry of National Development will continue efforts to strengthen the EIA framework, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee. EIAs are used to assess potential environmental impacts of proposed developments.Ā 

The framework had last been enhanced in October 2020, where the rigour of its environmental studies were increased, stronger enforcement was implemented, local expertise enhanced, and all study reports being made publicly available, barring circumstances that will have security implications.

This enhancement had been done in consultation with the nature community and partner agencies. Mr Lee also mentioned that other means of enhancing the framework had been identified during these engagements.

These include developing a ā€œmore comprehensive pictureā€ of the islandwide ecosystem and connectivity, to ā€œbetter considerā€ how specific sites connect to nature cores, buffers and corridors. It will also conduct baseline studies for specific sites ā€œto understand their ecological profile and their role in ecological connectivityā€.

At the moment, they are also reviewing whether it is better to centralise the management of EIA consultants, or have individual developments manage their own (which is currently practiced).Ā 

2. Singapore Open begins with a major virtual componentĀ Ā 

The Singapore Tennis Open (our first ATP 250 event) started on Monday, 22 February, to an empty OCBC Arena.Ā 

At least 200 players, staff, and officials from overseas are expected at the week-long event. While spectators are not allowed for the majority of the event, they could be allowed for the semi-finals and final if there are ā€œno tournament-related positive coronavirus cases, among other factors like local transmissionsā€.Ā 

Thus far, there have been no positive results. All players, officials, and staff arriving in Singapore for the tournament were tested upon arrival and isolated until they received a negative test result. They must also use the TraceTogether token or app.

Players also undergo daily testing throughout their stay, and are further isolated in individual team bubbles. Meanwhile, staff, officials, and volunteers are required to undergo daily antigen rapid tests (ART) and can only enter the site after receiving a negative result. They will have no physical contact with players.Ā 

The Singapore Open will also have a major virtual component, which will see virtual press conference and electronic line-calling implemented.Ā 

3. 40 COVID-19 vaccination centres to be set up by end-April; vaccinations begin for seniors aged 70 and above

Ho Ching has confirmed that by the end of April 2021, a total of 40 vaccination centres will be established in Singapore, with each facility having the capacity to administer at least 2,000 shots a day.Ā 

She added that three to six additional vaccination centres will enter into operation each week, and that based on the current rate of vaccination, the entire Pioneer generation can receive the vaccine in 20 to 25 days, subject to everyone signing up. Registration for the vaccines might also open up in mid- to late-March.

Additionally, Ho Ching highlighted that logistics processes might be eased, as Pfizer-BioNTech had submitted an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to transport and store its vaccine using normal pharmaceutical freezers, instead of current requirements which depend on ultra-cold freezers.

Should this be approved here in Singapore, she said that ā€œwe will have easier logistics handlingā€, allowing us to ā€œsmoothen and ease supply furtherā€.Ā 

Singapore commenced its vaccination programme on Monday, 22 February, for seniors who are aged 70 and above. This follows a pilot programme held in Ang Mo Kio and Tanjong Pagar, which saw over 5,000 elderly people receiving their vaccinations from 27 January.

Seniors have been prioritised for vaccination due to the heightened risk they face of developing complications and disease from getting infected with COVID-19. People who have chronic illnesses including hypertension and diabetes, as well as those at risk of life-threatening disease from infection, have also been encouraged to take the vaccine.

Currently, 56 vaccination sites have been set up in Singapore, including 14 vaccination centres in the heartlands, 20 polyclinics, and 22 Public Health Preparedness Clinics. This also includes three vaccination centres in Bukit Timah, Taman Jurong and Marine Parade, which began operating on Monday.

There are currently 20 polyclinics that can administer around 200 shots a day, with a total daily capacity of 4,000 shots.Ā 

There are also GP clinics (which have a much smaller capacity of 15 to 20 daily shots), as well as a dozen mobile teams who visit locations such as worker dormitories, prisons, and nursing homes to help vaccinate residents and those who are immobile.Ā 

31 vaccination centres are projected to be in operation by the middle of next month, with at least one centre in every town. At present, vaccination centres will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will eventually be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Seniors aged 70 and above will receive personal letters inviting them to sign up for vaccination, with those living in closer proximity to polyclinics or vaccination centres receiving their letters first. By mid-March, all seniors aged 70 and above will be able to receive their vaccination shots.

Seniors aged 60 to 69 will begin to receive their vaccinations from the end of next month, and letters will be sent to them from mid-March.

At the Senja-Cashew Community Club, some seniors who came to receive their shots had them deferred, as the vaccine was not recommended for them at present.

Dr Lin Zhi Yong, the medical officer in charge, explained that some of them had a medical history of experiencing severe drug allergies, saying that the vaccine is not recommended at present for people with ā€œsevere allergic reactions, or those on blood thinning medication that causes their platelet level to be too low. For these cases, we will defer them from vaccination until further notice from the Ministry of Health”.Ā Ā 

He added, “We will advise these individuals to continue wearing their masks, practise good hand hygiene and encourage those around them to get the vaccination done when their chance comes.”

People with conditions such as compromised immune systems, anaphylaxis, severe allergies, and untreated cancer, or who are in the process of undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy, have been advised to defer their vaccinations.

Prior to vaccination, seniors will have to register and go for a screening, where they will be required to answer questions pertaining to their medical history, allergies, and if they are taking blood-thinning medication. Dr Lin said that those who are unsure about their medical history can have their records checked via the National Electronic Health Record.

Approximately 250,000 people have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination as of last Thursday, with over 110,000 of them having received their second dose.Ā 

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