Latest News: 24 February 2021

1. Temasek Foundation to give out new reusable masks and alcohol-free hand sanitiser in March and April 2021

Temasek Foundation has announced another nationwide distribution of free reusable masks and alcohol-free hand sanitiser from March and April 2021. This is the fourth such mask distribution exercise by Temasek Foundation.Ā 

Collection of reusable masks will begin on 1 March 2021 and will last for two weeks, with every Singapore resident being entitled to one navy blue mask from Swiss company Livinguard.Ā 

The new mask is made up of two layers: an outer layer that is water repellent and antimicrobial, and an inner layer that contains an antibacterial treatment that will ā€œ[kill] any bacteria from our salivaā€, according to current CEO of Temasek Holdings, Mdm Ho Ching.Ā 

There is also no need to wash the mask after daily use. Instead, it can be washed once or twice a week for up to 30 washes, allowing it to remain effective for up to six to seven months. Even after 30 washes, the mask can still be used as an ordinary two-layer cotton mask.Ā 

The new mask will also have an elastic chin to provide a better fit and air seal. However, sizing will differ from the black ProShield masks previously distributed in November 2020. Thus, residents are advised to check their mask size before collection as no exchange or refund will be permitted for hygiene reasons.Ā 

Meanwhile, mask vending machines at 20 community centres have been moved to adjacent HDB blocks, as the centres are being used as vaccination centres. The vending machines will also be restocked.Ā 

Besides masks distribution, Temasek Foundation will also be having their second hand sanitiser distribution exercise beginning mid-April. Each household in Singapore will be entitled to collect 500ml of alcohol-free hand sanitiser produced by local company Klenco.Ā 

Collection for the sanitiser can be done via vending machines. Residents will be required to bring their own bottle and their Singapore Power (SP) utilities bill for collection.Ā 

The SP bill for March and April (both paper and electronic) will contain a special QR code which residents can scan at the vending machine readers. Alternatively, residents can key in their SP bill number on the touch screen. Once done, a #BYOB bottle sticker will be generated and residents can collect their free hand sanitiser.Ā 

More information will be released soon for both distribution exercises.Ā 

2. Smaller fall in Singaporeā€™s core inflation to -0.2 per cent in January as authorities forecast a ā€œmildly positiveā€ turn in 2021

Core inflation in Singapore fell to -0.2% year-on-year in January 2021, as compared to -0.3% in December 2020, according to data from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), spelling out a smaller decline of consumer prices as authorities forecast a ā€œmildly positiveā€ turn this year.Ā 

The slower rate of decline in January was attributed to a smaller fall in services costs of -0.3 per cent in January, primarily due to higher tuition and other fees and point-to-point transport services costs.Ā 

Meanwhile, the headline consumer price index (CPI), or overall inflation, rose to 0.2 per cent in January 2021, up from 0 per cent in December 2020. This was driven by the pickup in core inflation as well as higher private transport and accommodation costs (which are excluded in core inflation).Ā 

Services costs fell by -0.3 per cent in January as compared to -0.8 per cent in December due to a ā€œmilder pace of declineā€ in holiday expenses. However, most of the components in the holiday expenses CPI were imputed using the change in overall inflation as they remain unavailable for consumption due to international travel restrictions.Ā 

Food inflation also dipped to 1.5 per cent in January (compared to 1.6 per cent in December) as prices of non-cooked food and restaurant meals rose at a more moderate pace.Ā 

A larger decline was observed in the cost of electricity and gas, from -6.7 per cent in December to -9.7 per cent in January, as a result of a sharper drop in electricity prices as theĀ  electricity tariff was revised downwards. On a year-on-year basis, the electricity tariff had fallen by 14.4 per cent in January, as compared to a 8.5 per cent drop in December.

Additionally, the cost of retail and other goods fell to -1.3 per cent in January from -1.2 per cent in December, largely due to greater declines in the prices of personal care products, clothing, and footwear.

Private transport costs rose to 1.9 per cent in January (up from 1.2 per cent in the month prior) due to a larger increase in car prices and a more gradual fall in petrol prices.

Accommodation inflation rose to 0.5 per cent in January, up from 0.3 per cent in December, as housing rents increased at a faster rate with the expiry of the 50 per cent rental rebates given to households living in public rental flats from October to December 2020, as part of government measures to help households cope with the pandemicā€™s impacts.

MAS and MTI has also said that external inflation is likely to pick up in the year ahead as global oil prices are expected to recover. However, the extent of the increase will be capped by persistent negative output gaps in Singaporeā€™s major trading partners.Ā 

On the domestic front, cost pressures are expected to stay low, as wage growth and commercial rents are likely to remain subdued. MAS and MTI added that some components of domestic services inflation could gradually increase as the economy recovers.Ā 

Overall, core inflation is forecast to turn mildly positiveĀ  for the year ā€œas the projected rise in oil prices from a year ago leads to a pickup in electricity and gas tariffs, and the disinflationary effects of government subsidies introduced in 2020 fade”. Core inflation is expected to average 0 to 1 per cent.Ā 

On the contrary, accommodation costs have stabilised, with housing rents in some areas registering increases. Private transport costs have also risen due to firm demand for cars and higher petrol costs.Ā 

Overall inflation in Singapore is forecast to be between -0.5 per cent and 0.5 per cent for the year of 2021.

3. Seven urban farm sites on HDB carparksā€™ rooftops launched for public tender in Bukit Panjang, Woodlands, Sembawang

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) launched seven urban farming sites on the rooftops ofĀ  Housing and Development Boardā€™s multi-storey carparks by way of public tender on Tuesday, 23 February.Ā 

These sites are located in the heartland areas of Bukit Panjang, Woodlands and Sembawang, and are intended for farming vegetables and food crops. They form part of the HDB Green Town Programme to intensify greening in housing board estates.Ā 

Success applicants to the public tender will get a tenancy period of three years, with the option to renew for two more periods of three years (nine years total).

This programme is part of SFAā€™s initiative to avail more spaces in land-scarce Singapore for commercial farming, andĀ  is one of the strategies that SFA has been undertaking in order to achieve Singaporeā€™s ā€˜30 by 30ā€™ goal of producing 30 per cent of the nationā€™s nutritional needs locally by 2030.

SFAā€™s last public tender in September 2020 saw nine HDB multi-storey carpark sites being used for urban farming. At the moment, eight of the nine sites are finalising their layout plans and farming equipment, and are expected to be operational by the second quarter of 2021.

This scheme will help increase integration between urban housing needs and Singapore’s sustainability goals, as we move towards a greener future as laid out by the Singapore Green Plan 2030ā€”an ambitious set of objectives for Singapore’s sustainability future.

4. MSF launches Singaporeā€™s first 24-hour national helpline for domestic violence

A 24-hour national helpline has been launched by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to report domestic violence, abuse and neglect. Members of the public and victims may now reach out to the National Anti-Violence Helpline at 1800 777 0000.

The helpline marks Singaporeā€™s first initiative for calls pertaining to violence and abuse. Five helplines for reporting child abuse and five for family violence were available prior to this helpline and are still in operation. The launch of this helpline enables victims and members of the public to access the help they need more quickly, by removing potential confusion from handling multiple helplines.

Montfort Care, a social service agency, will be working in collaboration with MSF to handle the helpline, which began operating on 18 January.Ā 

An MSF spokesman said that approximately 450 calls have been received since the launch of this helpline, which operates predominantly in English. Mandarin, Malay and Tamil-speaking professionals will also be available if needed.

As the appointed operator for MSFā€™s call centre, DHL handles general enquiries upon receiving a call, and will take the next step to escalate the report of violence to social service professionals from Montfort Care. These professionals will then assist the victim in providing support, gathering details and conveying the case to relevant organizations, such as the Child or Adult Protective Services, as well as shelters and hospitals.

The police will be informed within 15 minutes of the helpline call in the event that there is a life-threatening incident, according to the MSF spokesman.Ā 

5. Progressive wage model could be extended to include retail sector

On Tuesday, 23 February, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad announced that a progressive wage model could be expanded to Singaporeā€™s retail sector.

Launched in 2015, the progressive wage model aims to increase low-wage workersā€™ salaries through upskilling and improving productivity. The retail sector would be the sixth sector under this model if it is included.

Mr Zaqy, who leads the tripartite workgroup on lower-income workers, said that the scheme would include coverage for workers such as cashiers and salespeople in supermarkets, fashion retail shops, and convenience stores.

At present, close to 45 per cent of full-time resident retail employees earn similar wages or less than the 20th wage percentile of the local workforce. As of June 2020, this was approximated to be S$2,340, inclusive of employers’ Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions.

Mr Zaqy also noted that policymakers are in talks with stakeholders from the retail industry, and that more details will be provided by the workgroup in the second half of 2021, though no studies have been embarked on yet. The high proportion of low-income retail employees was cited as the predominant reason why the retail sector was being considered for this model.

Mr Zaqy also said earlier this month that the Government was also considering expanding this model to include the food services sector.

In his Budget speech, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat also mentioned his hope that all sectors would be able to be covered by the progressive wage model eventually.

6. Patients who have taken COVID-19 vaccine recently advised to move mammogram screenings

Patients have been advised to reschedule their annual mammogram screenings if they have taken the COVID-19 vaccine recently. This is due to swollen lymph nodes, one of the known side effects of the vaccination, which could be mistaken to be a sign of breast cancer..

According to the Ministry of Health, swollen lymph nodes on the neck or arms is a possible side effect of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and will improve on its own within the span of a week or so.

Swollen underarm lymph nodes for the vaccinated arm is also a potential side effect, which could be mistakenly tied to an early indication of cancer, according to Dr Tan Yah Yuen, a breast surgeon at the Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

Dr Tan said that the American Society of Breast Surgeons has suggested that mammogram and ultrasound check-ups should also be scheduled to be taken prior to the first vaccine dose, or four to six weeks following the second dose.

Those in remission from cancer should also seek advice from their doctor to determine an appropriate time for their medical checkups and seek to have their vaccination on the other arm if possible, so as to prevent potential false alarms that the cancer has recurred.Ā Ā 

Join the conversations on THG’sĀ FacebookĀ andĀ Instagram, and get the latest updates viaĀ Telegram.




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