Latest News: 21 January 2021

1. Rise in COVID-19 community cases re-emphasises need for vigilance; public urged to see a doctor if they feel unwell

Singapore has recorded a total of 18 infections in the community over the last seven days, excluding those in foreign worker dormitories, a sharp spike from the four cases just a week before. 

Two clusters have also emerged in the past weeks; one linked to the police K-9 dog unit, and another linked to a food processing worker. 

Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the Government’s COVID-19 task force, has assured the public that authorities are monitoring the situation closely and will consider introducing additional measures if they are necessary. 

The increase in cases have already prompted authorities to defer the pilots for the reopening of nightclubs and karaoke outlets that were initially slated to start this month. 

Infectious disease experts have attributed the increase in cases to the more relaxed rules as Singapore had moved into our third phase of reopening, which allows for an increase in physical interaction. However, this is not yet a cause for concern even though there is still a need to stay vigilant. 

At the moment, the community cases have been linked, which are less of a threat to the population. However, having community cases which are unlinked to current confirmed cases will indicate that there are undiagnosed infections within the community that places the community at large at higher risk of transmission. 

Experts have also emphasised that the coronavirus has been mutating to be more contagious, with two mutated strains detected thus far. Thus, there’s a need to still be alert and adhere to the spirit of safe distancing measures, especially during the festive season. 

These refrains have also been repeated by Minister Lawrence Wong and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, who urged caution during the upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations. 

Additionally, experts have urged the public to visit a doctor if they are feeling unwell, and to stay home even if the symptoms appear minor. Symptoms of concern include a cough, sore throat, runny nose, or the loss of smell or taste. 

Several cases linked to the cluster Police K-9 unit cluster did not seek medical treatment even though they had flu-like symptoms — underscoring the need to visit a doctor if one is symptomatic. 

In the long-term, vaccinations will be the key to beating the pandemic. In the meantime, however, it is crucial that the public remains on their toes and not push the boundaries of the safe distancing measures currently in place. 

2. MCCY to launch more measures to support arts and sports sectors amidst pandemic; Singapore athletes to be prioritised for vaccination

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong has announced that his ministry is exploring measures to prove more aid for the arts and sports sectors, enabling them to gain skills that will “sustain them in the immediate future and beyond, in a post-pandemic world”. 

This comes on top of the $55 million Arts and Culture Resilience Package (ACRP) and the $50 million Sports Resilience Package that was rolled out last year. 

As for the new measures that are to come for both sectors, Mr Tong said that operating grants will remain a key component, as the aim is to prop up businesses that would be sustainable if not for the pandemic. 

The measures are also being designed to ensure key aspects of talent are retained, he said, citing the need for both stage crew and performers. “We do have to look at (it) very judiciously and make sure that as an ecosystem, (they’re) able to survive.

Mr Tong also said that athletes that will be representing Singapore, and need to fly abroad to train will be prioritised for the COVID-19 vaccination. 

The authorities will also design a quarantine programme that will allow athletes returning from abroad to train and maintain their fitness while serving their stay-home notice, he added. Besides those who have qualified for the Olympics, the Government will accord priority to athletes who are travelling to take part in qualifying events for the Games. 

“We don’t want them to run the risk of coming back with Covid, and that will completely derail their preparations for the Olympics.”

He acknowledged that front line workers and seniors were at the “front of the queue” for Singapore’s vaccination plan, but his ministry was “working within that framework to see what can be done for the athletes who fit the criteria”. 

Plans for athletes to receive their jabs are still in the works, as it has to also take into account when the athlete is required to travel, as well as the vaccination take up rate and vaccine supply. 

3. DBS to phase out physical tokens, and fully transition to digital tokens from April

DBS customers will no longer be able to access the bank’s online services with their physical token from April 2021. DBS will also be ceasing the issuance of physical tokens from 1 February. 

Instead, customers can access DBS’ digibank services using digital tokens. The move comes after three years of DBS progressively replacing its physical tokens. 

According to DBS, about 90 per cent of all digital banking logins currency involve DBS’ digibank mobile app where the digital token is embedded. 

Making the switch to digital tokens will thus save customers the trouble of carrying around a physical token, and of being unable to access their online or mobile services should the physical tokens be misplaced. 

4. MSS’ annual review recorded unseasonally wet weather between June and September in 2020, among other findings

The Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) released its annual weather review on Tuesday, 19 January. 

The review recorded a hot and dry start to the previous year, which later gave way to unseasonally wet weather during the southwest monsoon season and saw record rainfall in June and September. 

Typically, the southwest monsoon season which falls in the third quarter is drier than the rest of the year. However, the total rainfall for June to September 2020 was recorded to be 30 per cent higher than the long-term average. 

June recorded a total rainfall of 310.1mm (99 per cent higher than its long-term monthly average). It was the wettest June in the past decade. Meanwhile, September’s total rainfall was recorded at 302.4mm (63 per cent higher). June and September saw the two highest islandwide average monthly rainfall totals for 2020. 

Meanwhile, the monthly rainfall was more than 30 per cent below average for the first quarter of 2020. There were also more frequent intense heavy rainfall events in the past year, including six days of heavy downpour – the most frequent since 2013. 

The wetter second half of 2020 can be attributed in part to La Nina conditions, whereby the sea surface temperature in the eastern tropical Pacific is unusually cold and strong winds blow warm seawater away from South America and towards Indonesia, causing rain. 

October 2020 also saw the most Sumatra squalls pass over Singapore since 2010, with a total number of 14 Sumatra squalls recorded. The MSS attributes this partially to several tropical cyclones over the South China Sea and western Pacific Ocean. In total, Singapore experienced 50 Sumatra squalls in 2020 (as compared to an average of 45 a year). 

Temperature-wise, 2020 was the eighth hottest year on record, with an annual mean temperature of 28 degrees Celsius, 0.5 degrees above the long-term average. In most months, the temperature had stayed above the 30-year mean monthly average. 

June and September 2020 also recorded an anomalous year on the temperature front and were cooler than normal. June saw the second coolest temperatures for the month in 20 years, while September was the coolest it has been in a decade.

 

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