Singapore Limits Contact-Tracing Data Access After Outcry

FILES: (Photo byRoslan RAHMAN / AFP)

 

Singapore’s parliament passed a law Tuesday limiting the use of data collected for coronavirus contact-tracing after the government admitted it could be accessed by police, sparking privacy concerns.

The city-state last year rolled out a programme called “TraceTogether” for tracking close contacts of Covid-19 patients that works via both a phone app and dongle, but uptake was initially slow.

It rose to more than 80 percent of residents after government assurances the data would only be used to fight the virus and a decision to make it mandatory for accessing some public places.

But there was an outcry last month when officials admitted police could access information gathered in the scheme as part of investigations, and had already done so during a murder probe.

READ ALSO: Japan Says EU Export Curbs Delaying Its COVID-19 Vaccination Plan

On Tuesday, lawmakers approved legislation limiting the cases in which police can get hold of the data.

It did not cut them off entirely but will give them access only during investigations into seven categories of serious offence, including possession of firearms, terrorism and rape.

Before the legislation was passed, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan acknowledged in parliament it was a mistake for the government not to have made it clear early on that police would have access.

“I take full responsibility for this mistake and I deeply regret the consternation, the anxiety that was caused by my mistake,” said Balakrishnan, who has overseen the scheme.

The government’s admission that police could access the data sparked a furious backlash, with many in the tightly regulated city saying they felt betrayed and activists accusing authorities of undermining the right to privacy.

Singapore has only suffered a mild outbreak, with nearly 60,000 cases and 29 deaths.

Many countries have rolled out contact-tracing programmes that work via smartphone apps, but uptake has been low in some due largely to privacy concerns.

Singapore Begins COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign

A health worker takes a nasal swab test sample from an essential worker to detect the COVID-19 novel coronavirus before the workers return to work in Singapore on June 10, 2020. Roslan RAHMAN / AFP.

 

Singapore began a coronavirus vaccination campaign Wednesday with a nurse receiving the first jab, making it among the first Asian nations to roll out inoculations.

The city-state, which has suffered a mild outbreak, became the first country in Asia to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine earlier this month, and its programme kicked off with healthcare workers.

Nurse Sarah Lim, 46, whose work includes screening suspected Covid-19 patients, was the first to be immunised, the health ministry said.

“I feel grateful and thankful for being the first to be vaccinated,” the nurse from the national centre for infectious diseases was cited as saying by the Straits Times newspaper.

More than 30 staff from the centre are receiving the first dose of the two-shot vaccine Wednesday, and will get the second next month.

After healthcare workers, the city-state will vaccinate the elderly, and then the rest of the population.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Five Things To Know About Landmark UK Vaccine

The government expects to have enough vaccines for all 5.7 million people in the city by the third quarter of 2021, with the voluntary vaccine free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents.

Other countries that have started immunisations include Britain, EU nations, and the United States, although most Asian nations are yet to begin.

In China, where the virus emerged, at least one million people have already received jabs after vaccine candidates were approved for emergency use, although they have so far been limited to priority groups such as state employees.

The inoculations are yet to receive official approval.

Vaccinations have been given in limited numbers in other parts of the region, including to members of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s security team, and to US troops stationed in South Korea.

Singapore has recorded about 58,000 infections, mostly among low-paid migrant workers living in crowded dormitories, and just 29 deaths.

Singapore Approves Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine

An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached, with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, on November 17, 2020. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached, with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, on November 17, 2020. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

 

Singapore has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, and expects to receive the first shipments of the shots by the end of December, the prime minister said Monday.

The city-state joins a handful of other countries around the world, including Britain and the United States, which have approved the jab.

Singapore hopes to have enough vaccines for its 5.7 million population by the third quarter of 2021, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a televised address.

Priority will be given to those at most risk, such as health care workers, the elderly and vulnerable.

READ ALSO: SGF, Wife In Isolation As Household Members Test Positive For COVID-19

Vaccination would be voluntary, Lee said, but he was “strongly” encouraging people to get the shot.

“Because when you get yourself vaccinated, you are not just protecting yourself. You are also doing your part to protect others, especially your loved ones,” he said.

Lee also announced a further easing of virus curbs from December 28 as Singapore’s outbreak slows markedly, with weeks of barely any local transmissions.

The maximum number of people who can gather outside their homes and the number of visitors a household can host will be raised from five to eight, he said.

The number of people allowed in shopping malls, places of worship and attractions such as museums will also be raised.

Singapore initially kept Covid-19 in check through rigorous contact tracing but the virus later swept through dormitories housing low-paid migrant workers, prompting authorities to implement a partial lockdown.

Many businesses and schools were allowed re-open in June but Monday’s announcement is the biggest easing of curbs for months.

But Lee warned the situation was volatile and urged residents to continue to keep their guard up.

“This is absolutely not the time to relax and let our guard down, or to hold a big party imagining the problem has disappeared,” he said.

Singapore has reported more than 58,000 cases and 29 deaths.

While the city-state’s borders remain closed to most international visitors, life has slowly been returning to normal for many.

Drug Trafficking: Singapore’s Appeal Court Frees Nigerian After Nine Years

Alleged Bribery: Witness Testifies As Rickey Tarfa’s Trial Continues
File photo

 

The Court of Appeal in Singapore has acquitted and discharged a Nigerian, Ilechukwu Uchechukwu Chukwudi, on death row for drug trafficking, nearly a decade after he was arrested.

The country’s apex court, in a rare decision, reversed itself and found Ilechukwu not guilty, five years after the same court convicted him of the offence.

Ilechukwu faced a charge of trafficking almost 2kg (1,963.3g) of methamphetamine found in a black trolley bag he brought with him from Nigeria into Singapore on November 13, 2011.

The charge was punishable by death.

He had collected the luggage at the airport in Nigeria, found only clothes in it. The luggage passed several immigration checks in both countries without problems.

The Nigerian was said to have handed the bag to a Singaporean stall assistant named Hamidah Awang at a Clarke Quay bus stop.

Hamidah’s car was then searched at Woodlands Checkpoint in River Valley Road, Singapore and drugs were discovered in the luggage.

Ilechukwu was initially acquitted after a trial in the High Court in 2014 but the appellate court reversed that decision in 2015 and found him guilty of drug trafficking.

His lawyers — Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, Mr Suang Wijaya and Mr Johannes Hadi from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP, as well as Ms Jerrie Tan from K&L Gates Straits Law — argued for the decision to be reviewed.

At the sentencing stage, they provided “material evidence” showing that Ilechukwu was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with dissociative symptoms.

The Court of Appeal then ordered a review of the case in light of the fresh evidence, given by the psychiatrist who was a prosecution witness.

At the review, the court upheld their submissions and found that Ilechukwu experienced PTSD symptoms while giving statements to authorities.

In a split decision on Thursday, four out of five justices on the case found that Ilechukwu did not know there were drugs in the bag, finding that he had been “deceived” unwittingly into transporting drugs.

The apex court quashed its own decision, setting the Nigerian free.

“The picture that emerges from the evidence is that he had grossly misjudged (his childhood friend and acquaintance), and naively believed that he was doing a simple favour in return for promised business contacts.

“Unwittingly, he had been deceived into transporting drugs on their behalf to (their) contact in Singapore,” the judges added.

Judge of Appeal, Tay Yong Kwang dissented, while Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Senior Judge Chao Hick Tin, and Judges of Appeal, Judith Prakash and Andrew Phang ruled in Ilechukwu’s favour.

In a statement, Ilechukwu’s lawyers said: “It has been a long and hard-fought pro bono case, involving specialist psychiatric evidence and issues of cross-cultural sensitivities…

“Had it not been for the fortuitous production of the IMH report, our client would have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment. We are delighted that justice has prevailed to acquit our client this morning.”

Ilechukwu’s acquittal makes it the second time in the last two years that a Nigerian citizen has defeated a capital drugs-related offence in Singapore.

In May 2019, Adili Chibuike Ejike, who had been sentenced to hanging for importing almost 2kg of methamphetamine, was cleared by the Court of Appeal.

Adili had similarly been arrested in 2011 in a related case.

Virus-Hit Singapore Plunges Into Recession As Economy Shrinks 41%

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 18, 2020, a couple wearing face masks walk past a fashion retail outlet along the Orchard shopping belt in Singapore,  a day ahead of further easing of restrictions in Singapore due to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. - Singapore plunged into recession in the second quarter as growth fell 41.2 percent quarter-on-quarter with the trade-dependent economy hammered by the coronavirus, preliminary data showed on July 14. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)
(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 18, 2020, a couple wearing face masks walk past a fashion retail outlet along the Orchard shopping belt in Singapore, a day ahead of further easing of restrictions in Singapore due to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)

 

 

Singapore plunged into recession in the second quarter as growth fell 41.2 percent quarter-on-quarter with the trade-dependent economy hammered by the coronavirus, preliminary data showed Tuesday.

Year-on-year, the economy shrank 12.6 percent between April and June, according to the data from the trade ministry, as strict curbs were imposed to fight the virus.

It marks the second consecutive quarter of contraction, meaning that the city state — which has one of the world’s most open economies — has entered a recession for the first time in more than a decade.

 

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 10, 2020, health workers takes nasal swab test samples from essential workers to detect the COVID-19 novel coronavirus before the workers return to work in Singapore. - Singapore plunged into recession in the second quarter as growth fell 41.2 percent quarter-on-quarter with the trade-dependent economy hammered by the coronavirus, preliminary data showed on July 14. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)
(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 10, 2020, health workers takes nasal swab test samples from essential workers to detect the COVID-19 novel coronavirus before the workers return to work in Singapore. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)

The massive second-quarter drop in GDP was due to “measures that were implemented from 7 April to 1 June to slow the spread of COVID-19, which included the suspension of non-essential services and closure of most workplace premises,” the ministry said in a statement.

It also attributed to the contraction to “weak external demand amidst a global economic downturn”.

Tiny Singapore, viewed as a barometer for the health of global trade, is highly sensitive to external shocks, and the gloomy figures are another ominous sign for the global economy.

Huawei Loses 5G Bid In Singapore To Nokia, Ericsson

This photo taken on June 23, 2020 shows a Huawei global flagship store ahead of its opening in Shanghai. STR / AFP
This photo taken on June 23, 2020, shows a Huawei global flagship store ahead of its opening in Shanghai. STR / AFP

 

Nokia and Ericsson have been chosen as Singapore’s main 5G network providers, telecom operators said, leaving Huawei with only a minor role as the Chinese tech giant faces growing US pressure.

Huawei has been dogged by allegations of stealing American trade secrets and aiding China’s espionage efforts, with Washington pushing countries to bar the company from involvement in their next-generation networks.

Huawei has denied ties with the Chinese government.

Singtel, one of the city-state’s main telecom operators, on Wednesday said it had chosen Sweden’s Ericsson to build its 5G network after the government gave final approval.

A joint venture that includes the country’s two other major telecom operators, M1 and StarHub, announced it had opted for Nokia to build its main 5G infrastructure.

However both M1 and Starhub said that other firms, including Huawei, could have some involvement in the project.

Huawei only won the contract to be a provider for a smaller, local network system, operated by TPG Telecom, a more minor player.

The Southeast Asian city-state tries to maintain good relations with both the US and China, and Information Minister S. Iswaran insisted that no company had been excluded in the selection process.

“We have run a robust process spelling out our requirements in terms of performance, security and resilience,” he said, adding that mobile network operators also had their own criteria.

“There is a diversity of vendors participating in different parts of the 5G ecosystem, and… there remain prospects for greater involvement in our 5G system going forward.”

Singapore is aiming to have ultra high-speed internet coverage for half of the country by the end of 2022, and expand it to cover the entire island by the end of 2025.

The US government launched a worldwide campaign against Huawei, the world’s largest supplier of telecom network equipment and the planet’s number two smartphone maker, about 18 months ago.

Washington essentially banned Huawei from the US market last year, although earlier this month it let the firm back into the fold when it comes to companies working together to set standards for 5G networks.

 

AFP

Singapore Approves Anti-Viral Drug For COVID-19 Patients

A health worker takes a nasal swab test sample from an essential worker to detect the COVID-19 novel coronavirus before the workers return to work in Singapore on June 10, 2020. Roslan RAHMAN / AFP.

 

Singapore has approved the use of the anti-viral drug remdesivir to treat seriously ill coronavirus patients, authorities said Wednesday, becoming the latest country to do so.

The US authorised the emergency use of remdesivir in hospitals at the start of May, followed by Japan and South Korea, while Europe has been considering following suit.

It has been granted conditional approval in Singapore for treatment of some adult virus patients, such as those who require intensive breathing support, the country’s health products regulator said.

The regulator, the Health Sciences Authority, said it had “expedited the review of remdesivir given the urgent public health need during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

As a condition for the approval, the authority requires US-based Gilead Sciences, which developed the drug, to collect safety data and monitor its use.

READ ALSO: Elevated Extreme Poverty To Persist Through 2021 – World Bank

Singapore initially kept the virus in check with a strict regime of testing and contact tracing, only for serious outbreaks to emerge later in dormitories housing low-paid foreign workers.

The city-state now has the highest recorded number of infections in Southeast Asia with nearly 39,000 cases, mostly among foreign workers. The death toll stands at 25.

AFP

Singapore Airlines Reports Nearly $150 Million Virus Loss

Singapore Airlines reported an annual loss of almost $150 million Thursday, driven by the collapse in air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and the latest sign of the outbreak’s devastating impact on the aviation sector.

The airline group – which includes subsidiaries SilkAir and Scoo – suffered a net loss of Sg$212 million (US$148 million) for the financial year that ended on March 31, compared to a profit of Sg$683 million last year.

The city-state’s flag carrier lost Sg$732 million in the fourth quarter, mainly due to a reduction in passenger revenue as the virus crisis exploded.

“Fears about the spread of the virus, as well as global travel restrictions and border controls, led to a collapse in the demand for air travel during the quarter,” the airline said in its financial report.

Read Also: Nigerian Airlines Lose N17bn Monthly To COVID-19 – Sirika

The recent collapse in oil prices also led to Sg$710 million of fuel hedging losses in the fourth quarter.

Singapore Airlines cut passenger capacity by 96 percent from April to June and grounded most of its fleet as people stopped flying due to the pandemic.

The airline’s majority shareholder, state investment fund Temasek, has thrown its weight behind a rescue package to help the carrier weather the pandemic.

The International Air Transport Association estimates that airlines operating in the Asia-Pacific region stand to lose a combined $27.8 billion of revenue this year.

The trade body said last month that global air traffic suffered a 52.9 per cent drop in March compared with the same period last year – the “largest decline in recent history” – due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

Singapore Court Dismisses Suit Challenging Gay Sex Ban

Man Bags 15 Years In Prison For N5.2m Fraud

 

A fresh bid to overturn a Singapore law banning gay sex failed Monday as a court dismissed several challenges, a setback for efforts to promote greater LGBT rights in Asia.

Inherited from the British colonial era, the law is rarely enforced but campaigners say it nevertheless jars with the affluent city-state’s increasingly modern and vibrant culture.

Others however argue that Singapore remains at heart conservative and is not ready for change, while officials also believe most would not be in favour of repealing the legislation.

The latest attempt to overturn the law was spearheaded by three people — a retired doctor, a DJ and an LGBT rights advocate — who lodged court challenges seeking to prove the law is unconstitutional.

But the High Court dismissed all three after hearing them together behind closed doors, ruling the law does not violate articles of the constitution regarding equality and freedom of speech.

The court also found the fact the legislation was not enforced did not “render it redundant”.

“Legislation remains important in reflecting public sentiment and beliefs,” according to a summary of the judgement.

M. Ravi, a lawyer for one of the complainants, told reporters outside court he was “very disappointed”.

“It’s shocking to the conscience and it is so arbitrary. It is so discriminatory this legislation,” he said.

A first challenge to the law was dismissed in 2014. The repeated failure to overturn it contrasts sharply with progress made elsewhere in the region on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

In 2018, India’s Supreme Court decriminalised gay sex by overturning legislation from its own period under British rule — a decision that spurred campaigners in Singapore to renew their efforts.

And in Taiwan, lawmakers took the unprecedented step last year to legalise same-sex marriage, making the island the first place in Asia to do so.

Singapore’s ban, introduced in 1938, carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail for homosexual acts.

AFP

Coronavirus: Singapore Charges Man With Virus For Lying To Health Officials

This photograph taken on February 22, 2020 shows a volunteer (L) taking a temperature of a church member attending a small group service as a protective measure to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus at the Heart of God church in Singapore. Roslan RAHMAN / AFP

 

A Chinese man infected with coronavirus and his wife have been charged in Singapore for lying to health authorities investigating whether they had passed the illness to others, officials said Wednesday.

Singapore has recorded nearly 100 cases of the COVID-19 infection since the illness first originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December.

With nearly 2,800 confirmed deaths and more than 81,000 cases worldwide, Singapore has banned the entry of visitors who have travelled through China or parts of South Korea within two weeks of their arrival.

Hu Jun, originally from Wuhan, arrived in Singapore on January 22 and later tested positive for the illness. The 38-year-old has since recovered and been discharged from hospital.

His Chinese wife, a resident of the city-state, was issued a quarantine order.

Singapore’s health ministry said the couple “had given false information… about their movements and whereabouts” to officials investigating whether they could have passed the infection on to others.

They were charged because of the potentially serious risk their actions had posed to public health, the ministry added.

The pair face a fine of up to US$7,150 and six-month imprisonment if convicted.

Retracing the movements of those infected with the virus is crucial in tracking down individuals who may have been exposed, and prevent further spread.

In a separate case, immigration officials said Wednesday it had withdrawn an unnamed foreigner’s permanent resident status for violating an order to stay at home in self-quarantine after his recent travel to China.

AFP

Singapore Confirms First Case Of Coronavirus

Medical staff members carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated, in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on January 18, 2020.  STR / AFP

 

Singapore Thursday confirmed its first case the new SARS-like virus which has killed 17 people in China and spread to multiple countries including the United States.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the patient was a 66-year-old man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore with his family on Monday.

He was immediately isolated after arriving at a hospital with a fever and cough, and test results later confirmed he was infected with the coronavirus.

One of his travelling companions, a 37-year-old man from Wuhan, has also been admitted to hospital as a suspect case.

Prior to admission, they had stayed at a hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, the ministry said.

It added that Singapore was expecting more cases and alarms “given the high volume of international travel”.

Singapore’s Changi Airport started screening flights from Wuhan at the beginning of the month, and on Wednesday extended the checks to all flights from China.

The travel hub receives over 430 flights from China every week.

The virus has caused alarm in China and abroad because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Singapore was among the hardest hit by SARS with 33 deaths.

AFP

US Approves $2.75bn Fighter Jet Sale To Singapore

 

 

The United States has approved the sale of up to 12 F-35 fighter jets — one of the most advanced warplanes ever built — to Singapore for around $2.75 billion, officials said Friday.

The city-state last year said it planned to buy four of the jets, with an option to purchase eight more, picking the Lockheed Martin model over rivals from Europe and China.

Despite its small size, Singapore has one of the region’s best-equipped armed forces and spends a large chunk of its national budget on defence.

The State Department had approved the jet sale, said the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, adding Congress had been notified and must now also give the green light.

“Singapore is a strategic friend and major security cooperation partner and an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Asia-Pacific region,” said the agency.

It added that the deal “will not alter the basic military balance in the region”.

The affluent city-state spent several years assessing which fighter jet should replace its aging fleet of F-16s before choosing the F-35s.

It is a supersonic plane whose advanced stealth characteristics allow pilots to avoid detection by radars, according to Lockheed Martin.

Its advanced electronic warfare capabilities enable pilots to locate and track enemy forces, jam radars and disrupt attacks.

The Singapore military also has F-15 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, and submarines in its arsenal.