Asian Insider, Feb 5: Coronavirus, Singapore’s local-foreign labour mix, penalties for PMD offences, latest US political developments

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In today's bulletin: We look at the continuing fallout of the coronavirus pandemic with Singapore recording its first cases of local coronavirus transmission, the Parliamentary debate on the nation's local-foreign labour mix strategy, raised penalties for active mobility offences, the results of the US Democratic Party's Iowa state Caucus, and US President Donald Trump's 3rd State of the Union Address.

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THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC: SINGAPORE RECORDS FIRST LOCAL TRANSMISSION

Here is the latest: Singapore has recorded its first cases of local coronavirus transmission, with four women here infected who had not travelled to Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. Two work at Yong Thai Hang, a Chinese health products shop in Cavan Road, in Lavender, that caters to Chinese tour groups.The third is a maid of one of the women, while the fourth is a tour guide who had taken groups to the same shop.

No community transmission yet: Although three Singapore residents and a foreign domestic worker here with no travel history to China have been infected by the coronavirus, it does not constitute widespread community transmission. Health Minister Gan Kim Yong explained at a press conference on Tuesday (Feb 4) that this is because the source of infection for all four people is known.

Coronavirus deaths in China climb: The number of confirmed deaths in China's coronavirus outbreak has risen above 490, after authorities in Hubei province reported 65 new fatalities.

Singapore schools cancel large gatherings: Assemblies, camps, mass celebrations and other large group activities will be suspended here from February 5 after the first local transmission of the coronavirus was reported on February 4.

First coronavirus patient discharged: A man from Wuhan, China, who previously tested positive for the coronavirus has since recovered and was discharged from the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) yesterday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has said. Another patient could be discharged in the next few days, the ministry's director of medical services Kenneth Mak told a press conference yesterday. The patient discharged yesterday is a 35-year-old Chinese national who arrived in Singapore on Jan 23 and stayed at Marina Bay Sands.

Cruise ship quarantined: At least 10 people on a cruise moored off the coast of Yokohama have tested positive for the new coronavirus, Japan's Health Minister said on Wednesday (Feb 5). They are among 31 people whose test results have come in, out of 273 people who have been screened so far, Mr Katsunobu Kato told a news conference. There were 3,711 people on the Diamond Princess liner, comprising 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew members from 56 countries and regions.

Latest: Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific has asked its 27,000 employees to take up to three weeks of unpaid leave as the airline battles a fall in demand caused by a coronavirus outbreak.

Also read:

Can touching a doorknob lead to infection?

As the virus continues to claim more victims, more international carriers have cut flights to and from China. The latest is United Airlines.

Sequencing the virus genome

ROOM TO EASE SINGDOLLAR AMID VIRUS SCARE

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said on Wednesday (Feb 5) that there is sufficient room within its policy band to accommodate an easing of the Singapore dollar exchange rate in line with any weakness in the economy from the coronavirus spread. The MAS noted that its monetary policy stance remains unchanged. "However, there is sufficient room within the policy band to accommodate an easing of the Singapore dollar nominal effective exchange rate (S$NEER) in line with the weakening of economic conditions as a result of the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China and other countries, including Singapore."

Also read: Central banks in Asia face increasing calls to cut interest rates as they jump into action against a spiraling coronavirus crisis that's hammering tourism, travel and confidence across the region.

PARLIAMENT DEBATES LOCAL-FOREIGN WORKER MIX

The right mix of local-foreign manpower needed to create growth and jobs: The workforce in Singapore requires the right mix of local and foreign manpower to enable people and enterprises to "punch above our weight". But continual fine-tuning is needed to achieve it, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday (Feb 4).

At the same time, the concentration of workers from various source countries must be managed according to the acceptance of foreigners by society and the manpower needs of employers, he told the House. The minister, who had addressed the issue at length last month in various settings, sought again yesterday in Parliament to explain why foreigners are needed to bring in high quality investments and jobs for Singaporeans.

Read more:

Parliament: Chan Chun Sing, Pritam debate whether Singapore can have zero growth in foreign workforce

Parliament: Total employment in 23 key industries grew between 2015 and 2018

SEVERE PENALTIES INTRODUCED FOR ERRANT USERS OF PERSONAL MOBILITY DEVICES

All motorised PMDs banned on footpaths from April: Errant users of electric scooters, electric bicycles and other active mobility devices will face more severe punishment, with bigger fines and longer jail terms for several offences.Apart from e-scooters, all other motorised personal mobility devices (PMDs) will also be banned from footpaths from April this year, under changes to the Active Mobility Act passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 4). In another change, those under age 16 will no longer be able to ride e-scooters on public paths without adult supervision.

Also read: Mobility devices: Of blind spots and magical policy thinking

IOWA CAUCUS RESULTS FIASCO HAUNTS DEMOCRATS

Democratic Party candidates Pete Buttigieg, 38, and Bernie Sanders, 78, were leading in the Iowa Caucuses in the first results announced almost 24 hours since the caucuses started, signalling the potential emergence of the Democratic candidate to challenge President Donald Trump in the 2020 elections. By 5pm (6am Singapore time), only 62 per cent of results were available, with no word on the final count. They showed former vice-president Joe Biden trailing fourth behind former mayor Mr Buttigieg, Senator Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren. The delay in the results because of a "coding problem" on an app used by the Iowa Democratic Party, has come as a major embarrassment for the party and the state of Iowa as well.

Read more: Nevada Democrats will not use reporting app that led to Iowa's delayed caucus results​

TRUMP TRUMPETS US ECONOMY

The State of the Union Speech: United States President Donald Trump said he is building "the world's most prosperous and inclusive society" in a triumphant State of the Union address delivered on the eve of his likely acquittal in the Senate's impeachment trial and as he reached the highest public approval of his presidency. Mr Trump laid out his argument for re-election, centred on the strength of the US economy and what he called the "great American comeback" during his first term in office. "In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America's destiny," he said on Tuesday (Feb 4) from the House chamber. "We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back."

Read more:

Dogged by impeachment, Trump goes head to head with Congress in State of the Union speech

State of the Union snubs: Trump spurns Pelosi handshake, she tears up his speech

IN OTHER NEWS

MALAYSIA'S LARGEST POLITICAL PARTY BACKS MAHATHIR: Umno, now in opposition, is backing Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad remaining in office, in what would be a huge blow to hopes that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will ascend to the premiership around May under a deal agreed by the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition for a mid-term transition.Party sources told The Straits Times that Umno president Zahid Hamidi, who was previously allied to Mr Anwar, the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president, now wants his party to support their former leader, Tun Dr Mahathir.

FOUNDER OF THE HIDING PLACE DIES: Pastor Philip Chan, who dedicated his life to helping drug addicts and co-founded halfway house The Hiding Place with his wife Christina, died on Monday (Feb 3). Mr Chan, who suffered from liver cancer, was 69.

NO MORE GROUP PASSPORTS FOR MALAYSIANS: Malaysians who travel to Singapore as a group from next year will have to use individual passports instead of group travel documents. The Singapore authorities will stop accepting the Malaysian Collective Travel Document (MCTD) from Jan 1 next year, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said on Wednesday (Feb 5). The MCTD is a travel document issued by Malaysia's immigration department to groups of five to 20 Malaysians, substituting the use of individual passports.

That's it for today. Thanks for reading and we'll be back tomorrow.

- Ven

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