1. Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary: Singapore not expected to move out of Phase 3 “anytime soon”
Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary said in Parliament on Thursday, 25 February, that the Government does not anticipate Singapore moving out of Phase 3“anytime soon”, in response to a question posted by Member of Parliament (MP) Yip Hon Weng (PAP-Yio Chu Kang).
He stated, “Phase 3 is a new normal which will last until such time when there is evidence on vaccine effectiveness in preventing future outbreaks, a substantial proportion of the population is vaccinated, and the rest of the world also has the virus under control.”
Singapore entered into Phase 3 of its post-circuit breaker reopening on 28 December 2020. Since then, an increase in COVID-19 outbreaks across many countries has been observed, alongside the emergence of more contagious variants of the virus.
“Singapore needs to remain vigilant,” Dr Puthucheary emphasised, even as outbreaks in other countries seem to have slowed in recent weeks.
In the meantime, he added that Singapore will continue to find ways to allow our economy and society to further reopen in a safe manner. However, the volatile situation means that we may have to adjust our safe management measures from time to time.
Mr Yip also asked if vaccination rates had to cross a certain threshold before the Government would consider exiting Phase 3.
In response, Dr Puthucheary said that while the vaccines approved here for use have proven to be effective in providing protection against COVID-19, authorities are still waiting for more data on how effective the vaccines are in preventing transmission, and how effective they are against the new variants of the coronavirus.
In the meantime, Dr Puthucheary said that we should “continue to be disciplined about safe management measures and achieve a high level of vaccination within our population to boost our collective immunity”.
Mr Yip had also asked if Singapore’s vaccination timeline would change should the Sinovac vaccine be approved. The Sinovac vaccine had arrived in the country on Tuesday, 23 February.
Answering his question, Dr Puthucheary clarified that the timeline was dependent on a variety of factors, such as the ability to increase the capacity and capability of vaccination centres, as well as the willingness of people to get vaccinated.
Additionally, MP Jamus Lim (WP-Sengkang) had also posed a question to the Health Ministry on whether they had backup processes in place for potential outbreaks of more virulent strains of COVID-19 that current safe management measures may not be sufficient to contain.
Mr Puthucheary reiterated that fundamental measures such as safe distancing and contact tracing are a “necessary and important” part of the fight against COVID-19, and that how these measures may be applied will depend on the risk posed to Singapore’s populations.
He added, “The key point would be that we take reference from technical and professional advice, and we are very grateful that we have a depth of technical and professional advice to advise us in fighting COVID-19.”
2. ICA warns of fake website, says no data compromised with fake website
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) had warned on Thursday, 25 February, of a fake website (ica-mom.online) mimicking its own (www.ica.gov.sg).
As of 9.20 a.m. on Friday (26 February), the website has been taken down. ICA has assured the public that “access to the official ICA website remains unaffected and no data has been compromised.”
ICA added that it takes a serious view of such incidents, as they “undermine public trust” in its systems and processes. It has also lodged a police report on the matter.
3. YouTube to launch parent-approved accounts targeting tweens and teenagers
On Wednesday, 24 February, YouTube announced that it would be rolling out new parent-approved accounts. Targeted at tweens and young teenagers, this would allow younger users to experience the video streaming service within limits decided by their parents.
Developed in response to worries that minors would be able to access inappropriate content pertaining to topics such as violence, an earlier version of this account will be launched in the months to come.
Kids and family product management director James Beser said that this would enable parents to grant their children access to YouTube with restricted content and features, through the use of Google accounts.
New settings include an “explore” option for parental restriction, which will showcase videos that have been deemed appropriate for those aged nine and older. These include educational content, gaming videos, music clips and more.
A second setting targets children above the age of thirteen and will enable them to access content such as live streams.
In addition, a “most of YouTube” option will also be available, which will allow access to most content aside from those perceived to be appropriate for older audiences only.
Beser shared that a mix of “user input, machine learning and human review(s)” will be used in assessing appropriate content.
4. GetGo sets foot in Singapore’s car-sharing market
Singapore’s car-sharing market will see a new entrant with GetGo, a Singapore-based platform that aims to progressively introduce 400 vehicles across a span of 300 locations in the island, by the end of March this year. Over 14,000 people have pre-registered for GetGo.
GetGo seeks to address the issue of refuelling, to give users more convenience by rendering visits to petrol stations unnecessary for every trip.
Fees will be calculated by usage and charged on users’ credit cards after each trip has concluded. No membership fees will be charged, and registering as a user is extremely quick due to the platform’s collaboration with MyInfo.
Rates begin from S$3 and are calculated based on duration (hours) and mileage. 40 cents will be charged per KM for mileage, as GetGo manages refuelling.
New users will be able to get $5 off their first ride by using the code GETGO5OFF.
For more information, visit their site here.
5. MSF considering pilot for night-time childcare to aid low-income families
To render greater support for low-income families, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is looking into the possibility of a pilot for night-time childcare at a Community Link (ComLink) site.
In a written response to Parliament, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said that over 40 childcare centres (3 per cent of existing centres) operate beyond 7 p.m. on weekdays at present.
Mr Masagos said approximately 650 families who had children and were living in rental housing were engaged to provide a better understanding of their needs and living conditions.
He added that MSF was “studying the possibility of piloting night-time childcare at a ComLink site to better assess demand for and sustainability of such services.”
The four pilot sites for this programme are located at Boon Lay, Jalan Kukoh, Kembangan-Chai Chee and Marsiling.
In his Budget speech, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that ComLink, which is an initiative that seeks to support families with children residing in rental housing, will be extended to support 14,000 families over the next two years.
6. Denise Phua responds to Pritam Singh’s comments on CDC mayor’s “outrageous” salaries
People’s Action Party (PAP) MP Denise Phua hit back at Workers’ Party chief and Opposition Leader Pritam Singh for his comments on mayors of the Community Development Council (CDC) receiving “outrageous” salaries that are not commensurate with their roles and functions today.
Mr Singh’s comments had come after Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced in his Budget 2021 speech that every Singaporean household will receive S$100 worth of vouchers to support neighbourhood shops and hawker centers.
Mr Singh had said of the move, “It would appear to me as if the government is trying to find some way to make the CDCs relevant in view of their relative absence in the public mindshare.”
Ms Phua had responded on 25 February that Singh’s accusations “belittles” the CDCs and their partners, adding that “there is nothing to be ashamed about making sure one is always relevant.”
She also alluded to Mr Singh’s acceptance of the role of the Leader of Opposition as an exercise in trying to stay relevant. She said, “Singaporeans too ask what the role of the Leader of Opposition in our Parliament is — under the circumstances that all nine of the elected Opposition MPs are from one single Opposition Party.”
Ms Phua is the current Mayor of Central Singapore CDC, and the only full-time mayor out of the five CDC mayors.
Defending the CDC, Ms Phua explains that the CDCs work on a district level and do work that “grassroots or government ministries are not quite set up to do”, such as supporting free SkillsFuture Advice workshops, and rolling out district-wide initiatives like the CDC Student Meals quickly.
Unlike the government institutions, CDCs are able to operate with “relative agility and ability”, enabling them to respond and develop programmes in the district faster than a “bigger government machinery,” according to Ms Phua.
She added, “Do not politicise the good work of the CDCs and our partners.” However, Ms Phua also acknowledged that Mr Singh’s comments about CDC’s absence in the public mindshare has promoted reflections on whether CDCs can do more to promote their work, and how much publicity is needed to justify their existence and prove their value.
In response, Mr Singh clarified that his comments were not meant to be a personal indictment against the mayors or the programmes run by the CDCs. Instead, he suggested that these “worthy initiatives” be done by charities instead.
Adding on, Mr Singh said that as the role of the CDCs “were diminished over time, portioning out responsibilities to various ministries, the budget for CDCs went down as well.” Thus, he questioned whether it was viable for the role of a CDC mayor to be a full-time job”.
Mr Singh concluded, “It’s for the government now to determine whether the approach that they want to take in terms of whether mayor should be a full time or part time appointment, given the comments I’ve made about the scope of responsibility is something that the government wants to take forward.”