ATHENS - At least two flights were rerouted in Greece early Friday (Sept 18) as the country braced for a hurricane-like storm lashing the Ionian Sea.
Two Ryanair flights to the Ionian island of Cephalonia were unable to land at the local airport and were rerouted to Athens.
This comes as a rare Mediterranean cyclone which began to rake western Greece with heavy rains Thursday was expected to slam into the country in full force Friday, with hurricane-force wind and life-threatening flooding in some places, forecasters said.
Cyclone Ianos is an example of what meteorologists sometimes call a Medicane - a powerful type of storm all but unknown until the 1990s. It has been seen more often as the atmosphere and sea warm.
Greece's National Meteorological Service issued an unusual bulletin warning of extraordinary danger for southern portions of the country's mainland - a region known for its mild weather - beginning Thursday afternoon and continuing into Saturday. Forecasters warned that a foot or more of rain could fall in places.
Because Mediterranean storms do not originate in the tropics, meteorologists do not call them tropical storms or hurricanes. But Ianos qualifies in all but name, with cyclonic high winds and satellite images showing the characteristic dense wheel of cloud and a well-defined eye.
By late Thursday, as it crossed the Ionian Sea, it packed tropical storm-force winds. Greek civil protection agency said on Friday the winds were at over 100kmh on Friday.
Local residents have reported power outages, damage to roofs and falling trees.
A sailing boat moored off the island of Ithaki was carried away by waves but its two passengers managed to make it to shore, state news agency ANA said.
The civil protection agency has urged those in the storm’s path to refrain from non-essential travel and avoid basements.
"We had crews out earlier to clear roads, but we are now pulling them back," the mayor of Cephalonia’s capital Argostoli, Dionysis Minetos, told state TV ERT.
"It would be good for residents to stay indoors," he said.
The storm originated as a low pressure system over Libya, moving north and then east over the Mediterranean, brushing southern Italy and gaining power as it drew moisture from waters that have been as warm as 27 deg C in places.
Ianos was expected to pass across the Peloponnese, south of Athens, on Saturday and Sunday, weakening as it crosses land.
Greece has been hit by several weather-related crises in recent years, from flash floods and snowstorms to extreme heat waves and deadly wildfires.
COPENHAGEN - Large parts of Europe on Friday (Sept 18) geared up for broad new restrictions to stop the coronavirus, after infections worldwide topped 30 million and the World Health Organisation warned of "alarming rates of transmission".
Britain is limiting gatherings and France is set to roll out new curbs for major cities as governments across the continent battle fresh spikes of the disease.
More than 943,000 people have now died from Covid-19 since it first emerged in China late last year, according to an AFP tally, with Europe accounting for more than 200,000.
WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said a surge seen this month "should serve as a wake-up call" after the continent recorded 54,000 infections in a single day last week - a new record.
"Although the numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region," Dr Kluge told an online news conference from Copenhagen.
The Spanish capital of Madrid said it had been overwhelmed by the virus and called for decisive action from the central government, which is set to unveil a raft of new restrictions on Friday.
Madrid officials warned that the region's healthcare system was coming under increasing pressure, with one in five hospital beds occupied by Covid-19 patients amid a second wave of the illness.
Anxiety has been growing in the city about the prospect of a return to lockdown after a top regional health official on Wednesday raised the possibility for the worst-hit areas.
"It would be bad for shops, for small businesses and little bars that survive on people coming in," said 55-year-old Maribel Quesada. "People are really sick of being at home, the (spring) lockdown was very difficult."
In Britain, new curbs will take effect on Friday, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that pubs may have to close earlier to help avoid a "second hump" of infections.
About two million people in northeast England, including in the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland, will no longer be allowed to meet people outside their homes. Only table service will be allowed in bars and entertainment venues will have to close by 10pm.
The government already imposed rules across England on Monday limiting socialising to groups of six or fewer, as daily cases reached levels not seen since early May.
French authorities are also preparing tighter restrictions in several cities to curtail a resurgence that has seen nearly 10,000 new cases per day in the past week.
Health minister Olivier Veran said Lyon and Nice would be under new rules by Saturday, after curbs on public gatherings were imposed this week in Bordeaux and Marseille.
Israel is set to become the first developed country in the world to enforce a second nationwide shutdown, beginning Friday afternoon.
The move sparked protests in Tel Aviv late Thursday when hundreds took to the streets against the restrictions, which are set to take effect just hours before Jewish New Year and will cover other religious holidays including Yom Kippur.
The country has the world's second-highest virus infection rate after Bahrain, according to AFP figures. Under its new measures, residents will be limited to within 500m of their home.
As anger grows over how authorities worldwide have responded to the virus, some governments are facing legal action from citizens for alleged failures.
A French association of Covid-19 victims plans to file a legal complaint against Prime Minister Jean Castex, its lawyer said.
Suits have also been filed in China by bereaved relatives but many have had them abruptly rejected, while dozens of others face pressure from authorities not to file, according to people involved.
Families of victims accuse the governments in Wuhan and Hubei province, ground zero for the global pandemic, of concealing the outbreak when it first emerged, failing to alert the public, and bungling the response, allowing Covid-19 to explode.
"They say the epidemic was a natural calamity. But these serious outcomes are man-made, and you need to find who's to blame," said pensioner Zhong Hanneng, whose son died with the virus. "Our family is shattered," she added. "I can never be happy again."
Man linked to Telegram chat group that shared visuals of women here admits to having hundreds of obscene films
SINGAPORE - A man linked to a chat group that hosted multiple upskirt images pleaded guilty on Friday (Sept 18) to an offence under the Films Act.
Justin Lee Han Shi, 20, admitted that he was in possession of more than 400 obscene films last year.
Lee was among four Singaporeans arrested last October in islandwide raids that brought down the SG Nasi Lemak Telegram group chat.
When it was still active, the group had about 44,000 members.
The platform was allegedly used by the group to share obscene photos and videos of women in Singapore.
The other three nabbed by police were: Leonard Teo Min Xuan, 27; Liong Tianwei, 38; and a 17-year-old male, who can no longer be named in news reports due to recent amendments to the Children and Young Persons Act.
The law now covers those below 18 years old.
The cases against these three individuals are still pending.
Officers from Ang Mo Kio Police Division had arrested the four for their "suspected involvement in circulating obscene materials and promoting vice activities" through the chat group.
In the raid, police seized more than 10 electronic devices, including a central processing unit, a laptop, a hard disk and several mobile phones.
The group was reportedly set up about two years ago, with membership numbers spiking as more people became aware of it. The group charged $30 as entry fee.
Its existence was exposed on Sept 30 last year by a Twitter user who said that she was mentioned in the Telegram chat group.
This prompted many other Twitter users to express their disgust at the content being circulated in SG Nasi Lemak.
On Friday, the court called for a report to assess Lee's suitability for a probation.
He will be sentenced on Oct 16.
For each charge of being in possession of obscene films, an offender can be jailed for up to six months and fined up to $20,000.
SINGAPORE - After sexually stimulating himself in public over a pair of shorts, a 35-year-old man took photos of the garment.
He then uploaded the photos onto his Instagram account, which resulted in at least 38 police reports being lodged against him.
On Friday (Sept 18), Lim Wei Ming was fined $2,400 after pleading guilty to one count of causing public nuisance by posting the photos and one count of possessing four obscene video clips on his mobile phone.
Two other charges involving Instagram posts of Lim sniffing female undergarments and one count of sending four obscene video clips to another individual were taken into consideration by District Judge Tan Jen Tse.
The court heard that Lim, who is currently unemployed, committed his offences last year. He was a Grab driver then.
It was earlier reported that he was arrested on Aug 16 last year, after the posts of him sniffing lingerie started circulating online a day earlier.
Court documents state that sometime in 2018, Lim came across a black pair of shorts that was hanging on a clothing rack in the vicinity of Choa Chu Kang Street 51.
He sexually stimulated himself over the garment before taking photos of it.
Lim then placed the shorts back on the clothing rack and left.
On Aug 14 last year, he posted the photos of the shorts on his Instagram account with a caption stating his lewd deed and the location where he had committed it.
Lim deleted the photos soon after receiving complaints from other Instagram users.
In a raid on Aug 16 last year, police found four obscene video clips on his mobile phone.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Sean Teh told the court that Lim was found by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) to have a fetish concerning female clothes, with a preference for female intimate wear.
Urging the court to impose a $5,000 fine on Lim, the DPP said that Lim's Instagram post had caused a "significant amount of annoyance" to the public, with 38 police reports being lodged against him on the I-witness online platform.
Defence lawyer David Nayar said in mitigation that Lim has been undergoing psychiatric sessions at IMH to address his fetish.
In imposing a $2,400 fine on Lim, District Judge Tan noted that he had been in remand between August and September last year for his case.
For his offence of causing public nuisance, he could have been fined up to $1,000.
He could also be jailed up to 12 months and/or fined up to $40,000 for possessing the four obscene films.
PORTLAND, Oregon: Thousands of evacuees displaced by deadly wildfires in Oregon settled into a second week of life in shelters and car camping as fire crews battled on against the blazes, and search teams scoured the ruins of demolished homes for those still missing.
With state resources stretched to their limit, Oregon Governor Kate Brown has requested a federal disaster declaration from the White House to bolster US government assistance for emergency response and relief efforts.
Dozens of fires have charred some 1.8 million hectares of tinder-dry brush, grass and woodlands in Oregon, California and Washington state since August, ravaging several small towns, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least 34 people.
Eight deaths have been confirmed during the past week in Oregon, which became the latest and most concentrated hot spot in a larger summer outbreak of fires across the entire western United States. The Pacific Northwest was hardest hit.
The conflagrations, which officials and scientists have described as unprecedented in scope and ferocity, have also filled the region's skies with smoke and soot, compounding a public health crisis already posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Satellite images showed high-altitude plumes of smoke from the fires drifting as far east as New York City and Washington, DC, carried aloft by the jet stream.
The fires roared to life in California in mid-August, and erupted across Oregon and Washington around Labor Day last week, many of them sparked by catastrophic lightning storms and stoked by record-breaking heat waves and bouts of howling winds.
Weather conditions improved early this week, enabling firefighters to begin to make headway in efforts to contain and tamp down the blazes.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said 16,600 firefighters were still battling 25 major fires on Tuesday, after achieving full containment around the perimeter of other large blazes.
Firefighters in the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Los Angeles waged an all-out campaign to save the famed Mount Wilson Observatory and an adjacent complex of broadcast transmission towers from flames that crept to within 500 feet of the site.
RECORD ACREAGE LOST
At least 25 people have perished in California wildfires over the past four weeks, while more than 4,200 homes and other buildings have gone up in smoke, CalFire reported. Nearly 1.2 million hectares in California alone have burned so far - more than in any single year in its history - and five of the 20 largest wildfires on record in the state have occurred during that time frame.
One wildfire fatality has been confirmed in Washington state, where some 400 structures have been lost. Roughly 400,000 hectares have been blackened in Oregon, double the state's annual average over the past decade.
At the height of the crisis there, some 500,000 residents - at least 10 per cent of the state's population - were under some form of evacuation alert, many forced to flee their homes as swiftly advancing flames closed in on their neighborhoods. Over 1,700 structures, most of them dwellings, have been incinerated
At last count, some 16 people reported missing by friends or family remained unaccounted for in Oregon, emergency management officials said. Last week, authorities said they were bracing for possible mass casualties as search teams began combing wreckage of homes destroyed during chaotic evacuations.
In the fire-stricken southwestern Oregon town of Phoenix, uprooted families, many with young children, were sleeping in their cars, huddling at a civic center or in churches, City Council member Sarah Westover said.
"It's much more difficult to follow the COVID restrictions given the environment," Westover said.
Marcus Welch, a food service director and youth soccer coach in Phoenix, said he was helping a group of high school students whose homes were spared to run a donation center set up to assist evacuees from a mobile-home park reduced to ash.
"Every day, I hear a sad story. Every day, I hear a family displaced. People are crying because high school kids are giving them food, water. ... It's been a total blessing," Welch said. "Some people, they lost everything, so we encourage them to take everything they can."
Westover said her community was in grief, while fearing a flareup might force them to flee again. Her house in Phoenix was spared, but others nearby were leveled.
"It's like it cherry-picked - it burned down a house, then skipped two, then burned down another. I guess that's the way they kind of work with the embers flying around," Westover said.
Rhonda and Chuck Johnston, of Gates, Oregon, described celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary outside their RV playing card games and eating barbecued chicken in the parking lot of a fairgrounds after a hasty evacuation.
"This is something you never think you're going to go through," Rhonda Johnston said. "We grabbed a couple days' worth of clothes, pills, and two cars full of pictures and two dogs and a cat and our daughter."
BAYOU LA BATRE, ALABAMA - Hurricane Sally parked itself over the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday (Sept 15), churning slowly and lumbering at a sluggish pace toward land, representing a climate change reality that has made many hurricanes wetter, slower and more dangerous.
Sally's outer bands unleashed a relentless rain that began in the morning and continued unabated all day and into the night, threatening to deluge coastal communities in Alabama and Mississippi. Meteorologists worried - and almost marvelled - as the storm pushed forward at a speed of just 3.2 kilometres per hour, shifting erratically in its path and intensity.
Scientists saw Sally's stall over the warm waters of the Gulf as yet another effect of climate change in the United States, coming as wildfires along the West Coast have incinerated millions of acres and sent foul air into the atmosphere as far away as Washington, DC.
A scorching summer - made worse by the burning of fossil fuels, experts say - led to dry conditions that helped turn this year's wildfires into the worst ever recorded.
Fires were still burning out of control in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest on Tuesday, and air quality in the region - some of the worst in the world - prompted the closure of some schools, parks and beaches.
With the authorities pleading with residents to stay indoors, the hunt for missing people continued in scorched communities. In New Mexico, scientists were investigating whether the deaths of huge numbers of birds were caused by the smoke plumes altering their migratory routes or poisoning them in the air.
And all this amid a hurricane season that is among the most active on record. Last month, Hurricane Laura tore across southwest Louisiana, leaving a trail of destruction and cutting electricity that has yet to be restored to many communities.
Climate change has made hurricanes wetter and slower, scientists have found. Recent research suggests that global warming - specifically in the Arctic, which is warming much more rapidly than other regions - is playing a role in weakening atmospheric circulation and thus potentially affecting hurricane speed.
A 2018 study found that since the middle of the 20th century, translation speeds of all hurricanes and tropical storms had decreased by about 10 per cent. Another study that year that focused on Atlantic hurricanes found that the average speed of storms near the North American coast had slowed by more than 15 per cent.
In Bayou La Batre, Alabama, where Sally was already turning roads into rivers on Tuesday, Ernest Nelson, a retired commercial fisherman, reached a similar conclusion as he sought refuge under a house raised 3 metres the ground on concrete pillars.
Storms were getting bigger and more intense, he said. Nelson, who had worked the water for decades, gave his basis for that belief: "No meteorologist. No college degree. Experience."
On Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center reported that Sally's translation speed, the rate at which it moves forward, was about 2mph (3.2kph), and that the storm was not expected to accelerate much as it moved northward in the Gulf of Mexico toward an expected landfall on Wednesday (Sept 16). It was stalling, in effect, as it approached the Mississippi coast.
But rather than serve as a source of comfort, its languid speed only intensified the unease: Sally is dangerous, meteorologists warned, precisely because it is so slow. Its lingering could translate into major flooding, with more rain than the region typically records over several months.
Hurricane Paulette, by contrast, was zipping along in the Atlantic on Tuesday with a translation speed of more than 25mph after passing Bermuda two days earlier.
Other recent hurricanes have also stalled. A year ago, Dorian crawled over the Bahamas for a day and a half, causing widespread destruction from wind and storm surge. And Harvey, perhaps the best-known - and most costly - example of stalling, was no longer a hurricane by the time it slowed near Houston in August 2017. It had been downgraded to a tropical storm, but still it inundated the city and surrounding communities with 4 feet (1.2 metres) or more of rain over several days.
As Sally churned in the Gulf, the conditions left many living along the coast perplexed and unnerved. No strangers to hurricanes, they weighed the risks of hunkering down against fleeing.
The confusion came from the storm's apparent fickleness, as the forecast constantly evolved in recent days, with predictions that included reaching west of New Orleans or hitting Biloxi, Mississippi. On Tuesday evening, the forecast said it was continuing on a path aimed for Mobile Bay, Alabama, likely making landfall on Wednesday morning.
Still, officials and meteorologists said there was a measure of certainty in the threat that Sally posed. The rainfall could reach as high as 75cm in some areas from the Florida panhandle to Mississippi.
The rainfall would compound a storm surge that could reach as high as 1.8m around Dauphin Island and Mobile Bay on the Alabama coast, according to the National Hurricane Centre. Forecasters from the centre also warned of life-threatening flash floods.
"I can tell you from many years of experience and many times passed, I've seen streets and neighborhoods quickly fill up with 5, 6, 7 and even more depth of water in a short period of time," Sam Cochran, the Mobile County sheriff, said during a briefing on Tuesday.
And if residents stay behind, he added, it might be "a couple of days or longer before we can get you out".
A hurricane warning remained in effect for an area stretching eastward from Bay St Louis, Mississippi, near the Louisiana border, to Navarre, near the tip of the Florida panhandle - a distance that includes most of Mississippi's and Alabama's coastlines.
A tropical storm warning covered the area west of the Pearl River to Grand Isle, Louisiana - including metropolitan New Orleans - and east of Navarre to Indian Pass, Florida.
Officials urged people living along the coast and in low-lying areas to clear out, taking advantage of the storm's snaillike pace to avoid being trapped in floodwaters.
Intense waterfalls of rain began pelting Mobile, an old port city of about 190,000 people, Tuesday morning. The streets were mostly empty, but many residents had chosen to stay home to ride out a storm that was expected to deposit more than 60cm of rain.
Alonzo Johnson, a high school football coach, was sitting on the front porch of the 80-year-old Craftsman home where he lives with his family south of downtown. There was nothing to do but watch the rain and see how high it would go. Johnson, 47, said that floodwaters had gone to the bottom of a stop sign across the street in the past. During Katrina, the water had lapped up to the top of his porch, about 60cm off the ground.
"We're anxious," he said. If the water gets high enough, the family would retreat to the back of the house, which is a bit higher. "We'll find a safe space where we can get to praying."
Work pass changes unlikely to affect plans of foreign firms, but companies caution against anti-foreigner sentiments
SINGAPORE: International companies in Singapore said the Government’s move to raise the minimum salary requirement for foreign workers will not affect their plans here, as many firms already make an effort to hire locals.
When they do turn to foreigners, firms said it is often because specific expertise or language skills are needed.
“It is the non-availability of the specific skills, experience and expertise that makes you go for an EP (Employment Pass), and not a case of salary economics,” said Mr KV Rao, the Southeast Asia resident director of Tata Sons, which has 20 subsidiaries in Singapore.
For instance, in its subsidiaries NatSteel and Voltas, Mr Rao said it is hard to find locals for jobs that require them to go out to the field, such as civil engineers, construction supervisors and maintenance workers.
Apart from Tata Consultancy Services, a technology company, where about 40 per cent of its employees are locals, the bulk of workers in its other businesses are mostly made up of Singaporeans and permanent residents, said Mr Rao.
He added that most of the company’s EP holders were already paid above the minimum salary threshold.
The Ministry of Manpower had announced last month that for new EP holders, the minimum qualifying salary will go up by S$600 to S$4,500 in September, with a higher criteria for the financial services industry.
READ: Minimum qualifying salary to rise by S$600 for Employment Passes and S$100 for S Passes, higher requirement for financial services
Mr Ravi Shastri, Southeast Asia and Taiwan managing director of Thermo Fisher Scientific, said that the company has “a good diverse talent pool which is primarily made up of local talent from various backgrounds”.
“A minority of the workforce is made up of global talent due to the nature of being an MNC (multinational corporation) and Singapore being a regional hub for Thermo Fisher Scientific,” he added.
“Just as we have foreigners here on rotation, we have Singaporeans in other offices overseas as part of their career development plan,” Mr Shastri said.
The medical technology giant has been in Singapore for more than 30 years. Thermo Fisher said it has 1,600 employees here and plans to expand its workforce by another 400 “very soon”.
Both Tata and Thermo Fisher did not give the breakdown of their foreign and local workforce.
TALENT TRANSFER TAKES TIME
Heads of business chambers and analysts agreed that the recent changes to the labour policy are unlikely to alter the course of foreign companies in Singapore because the take-home pay is already above the minimum requirement.
Most foreign companies bring in foreigners when there are not enough local workers to perform a certain role or for a leadership position, said Mr Lee Quane, ECA International’s regional director of Asia.
“These are generally critical roles where the employee adds value to the company’s existing Singapore workforce through skills or knowledge transfer or where they are creating business for the company, and adding to Singapore’s economy by performing a role where the company is not able to source a person with the requisite skills locally,” he said.
"These types of roles typically require the employee being relocated to Singapore to possess skills and experience which means that the salaries they will earn will generally be in excess of the minimum wage requirements.”
Tata’s Mr Rao said that practically speaking, a company’s first choice is always to hire a local. Bringing in a foreigner always costs more, he emphasised, as the organisation has to provide them with allowance for housing, education for children, insurance and other living expenses.
Foreigners in Tata are here to take on senior positions that it cannot find locals to fill, he said.
“To be at the senior level, you need somebody with a track record and relevant international experience,” he said, adding many Singapore residents have risen to senior positions in Tata subsidiaries as well.
“The talent transfer is ongoing, but it is not overnight,” he added.
According to Dr Hsien-Hsien Lei, chief executive of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Singapore, American companies want to promote local talent but find it a challenge to do so right now.
She pointed to a manpower report that will be published by the chamber this month, which found that among half of the 127 companies surveyed, Singapore residents filled up only half or fewer of their senior level positions, that is, manager and above.
When asked what prevents them from hiring a local for these roles, 89 per cent of the companies said that the candidates lack necessary specialised skills or work experience.
For entry-level positions that require fewer than five years of professional experience, 47 per cent of the 127 companies said they had to hire a foreigner because the applicant lacked the technical skills essential for the job.
“But … definitely the conversation and this change is a reminder to our companies that we need to be more mindful of hiring practices, and overall workplace diversity," Dr Lei said.
Companies CNA spoke to stressed that they are making significant efforts to hire and train locals.
Tata Consultancy Services has offered fresh graduate and mid-career jobs through the Infocomm Media Development Authority's TechSkills Accelerator initiative, Mr Rao said, and most recently, it made available another 100 traineeships to polytechnic and university graduates through the SGUnited jobs scheme.
Thermo Fisher said it has been part of Workforce Singapore’s professional conversion programmes and SkillsFuture’s work-study programme - formerly known as the earn and learn programme - since 2017.
SINGAPORE’S EDGE BEING OPEN TO THE WORLD
Industry players and observers all said the tightening of foreign workforce requirements will not affect Singapore’s standing as an international hub, as it remains a place that is business-friendly.
“The whole world is a mess. If we’re looking at mitigating risks … I don’t think there’s a better place at the end of the day,” Dr Lei said, citing qualities such as Singapore’s transparent economy and digital networks.
Singapore’s generally low unemployment rate - the resident figure stood at 4.1 per cent in July amid COVID-19 - is another sign that companies are still entering the country and creating jobs for locals, CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said.
They cautioned, however, that Singapore should not take its reputation for granted, and that any perception that the country is turning inwards will cause it to lose its competitive edge.
Expatriates interviewed in recent news reports and those who commented in online expatriate community groups have indicated growing difficulty in finding a job in Singapore during the COVID-19 downturn, as firms tell them they need to prioritise locals. Some said they feel less welcomed in Singapore.
“Foreign talent has even been described as 'ballast' which can be jettisoned in tough times. That is a dangerous populist message which undermines all that we have collectively built,” said Mr Victor Mills, the chief executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce.
Instead, Singapore should ramp up efforts to attract entrepreneurs, innovators and researchers from across the world now to prepare for life after the pandemic, he said.
“Remember, all talent has choices. Why come here if they are not welcome? Singaporeans and their leaders took 50 years to build an exceptional brand,” he said, listing Singapore’s positive attributes like political stability and accessibility to Asian markets.
“The Singapore brand, like all reputations, was hard to build. Equally, like all reputations, it is easy to lose. We cannot, must not weaken our brand,” Mr Mills said.
Former Nominated Member of Parliament Mohamed Irshad, who represents the religious and youth communities, said that public perception of Singapore abroad could take a hit if anti-foreigner sentiments are allowed to take root, adding that the local community needs to understand that “it takes time to grow the talent”.
"(But) surely we will develop a globalised and competent Singaporean core," he added.
It is a message that Singapore’s leaders have been emphasising. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Parliament earlier this month that even as the Government makes policy adjustments, it must not give the impression that it no longer welcomes foreigners.
Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing also reiterated at a business forum that Singapore remains open to global talent.
“Let me be clear. We want the world’s best and brightest to be with Team Singapore – to augment our skills and capabilities, competing on our side rather than against us, and ultimately, to benefit Singaporeans, not to substitute or to hurt them,” he said last week.
SMALLER COMPANIES FACE CHALLENGES
While the tightening of foreign workforce policies will not have much of an impact for conglomerates like Tata that are firmly established in Singapore, many smaller companies may feel “stifled”, said Mr Rao, who is also the Singapore chair of the India Business Forum of the Confederation of Indian Industry, an association of Indian companies, banks and Indian government-linked companies.
He estimates that there are about 8,000 Indian entities registered in Singapore.
Dr Lei said that amid COVID-19, small and medium enterprises have been struggling. If hiring costs go up, they may have to “rethink their business model” and get the job done remotely instead of trying to get someone here.
Mr Brice Degeyter, the founder of sustainability startup Bizsu, said that while his current plan is to make use of government-issued job incentives to hire locals, there will be a time when he will need to hire a foreign worker.
“The company goal is to expand in other countries in the region. If we deal with companies in Thailand, it's important to speak Thai. As we are in sustainability, we need people who are knowledgeable on this topic. As we are close to the French community, it can be important to speak French,” said Mr Degeyter, who is a French employment pass holder.
“Can we find someone with at least two of these skills in Singapore? I would love to, that would be easier, but it's quite hard,” he said.
“If (policies are) too restrictive, they might leave Singapore and go somewhere else,” he added. “That's business lost for the country.”
“Over the long term, Singapore cannot be as attractive, fruitful and prosperous if it makes it harder for foreigners because it will lose its openness. And then everybody loses.”
Mosquitoes may be the bane of many Singaporeans' lives but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong didn't bat an eyelid when he got up close and personal with a scourge of them on Tuesday (Sept 15).
Documenting his visit to the Environmental Health Institute on his Instagram Stories, PM Lee shared a behind-the-scenes look at the facility, which produces Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes to fight dengue.
As part of his visit, he got a close-up look at the mosquitoes and had a go at a nifty-looking mozzie launcher.
He even sacrificed his arm for science, sticking it into an enclosure full of Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes.
However, the mozzies did not seem to be taking the bait, prompting PM Lee to quip: "I'm not tasty enough!"
Of course, the insects' lack of interest probably has more to do with the fact that male mosquitoes do not bite.
Project Wolbachia, a programme by the National Environment Agency (NEA), aims to fight dengue by suppressing the Aedes aegypti mosquito population.
This is done by releasing male mosquitoes carrying the Wolbachia bacterium, which then mate with the dengue-causing Aedes aegypti females and cause them to lay eggs that do not hatch.
The Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes have helped to reduce the Aedes aegypti mosquito populations at study sites in Yishun and Tampines by 90 per cent, NEA said.
Project Wolbachia is currently in its fifth phase and aims to cover approximately 15 per cent of HDB blocks in Singapore by March 2022.
OAKLAND - While Facebook has heralded improvements to its fight against disinformation in the United States, it has been slow to deal with fake accounts that have affected elections around the world, according to a post published by a former employee.
The employee, who worked on a Facebook team dedicated to rooting out so-called inauthentic activity on the service, said executives ignored or were slow to react to her repeated warnings about the problem.
"In the three years I've spent at Facebook, I've found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry," Sophie Zhang, the employee, wrote in a 6,600-word post shared with the entire company on her final day on the job.
As countries like Russia, China and Iran have continued sophisticated disinformation operations, Ms Zhang's post has drawn attention to smaller countries that run cheap and easy bot networks to influence their citizens.
In one example, bots promoted the president of Honduras. In another, they attacked opposition figures in Azerbaijan.
Facebook's failure to root out the bots, or automated accounts, operating on behalf of political figures raises questions for how effectively the company can police a platform used by over 2.7 billion people.
Ms Zhang was fired in August, and left the company in early September. In her post, she speculated that part of the reason she lost her job at Facebook was because she neglected the routine duties of her work to focus on the political activity by the false accounts.
In response to Ms Zhang's post, Facebook said the company regularly removed coordinated influence campaigns, and had a large team working on security.
"Working against coordinated inauthentic behaviour is our priority, but we're also addressing the problems of spam and fake engagement. We investigate each issue carefully, including those that Ms Zhang raises, before we take action or go out and make claims publicly as a company," said Liz Bourgeois, a Facebook spokeswoman. The company would not comment on why Ms Zhang was fired.
BuzzFeed News reported about the post earlier on Monday (Sept 14).
Ms Zhang's post details how she chanced upon the politically motivated activity by the bots. It was outside the scope of her duties at Facebook, she wrote, but she decided to take action and try to draw attention to the problem.
"I found and took down attacks of this sort worldwide - from South Korea to India, from Afghanistan to Mexico, from Brazil to Taiwan, and countless other nations," wrote Ms Zhang, who declined to answer questions from The New York Times about what she wrote.
"I have personally made decisions that affected national presidents without oversight, and taken action to enforce against so many prominent politicians globally that I've lost count."
Though she briefed Facebook executives, including a vice-president and members of the policy team, the company continued to drag its feet on taking action against the bots, wrote Ms Zhang.
She added that she was considered a low-level employee and was given neither support nor guidance on how to deal with the fake accounts. Instead, she wrote, she faced stonewalling and delays largely from Facebook's policy and legal teams.
A network that included false accounts boosting the Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, was discovered by Ms Zhang in 2019, but it took Facebook more than nine months to act, Ms Zhang wrote. Two weeks after Facebook removed the accounts, many returned.
Facebook was just playing "whack-a-mole", with the false accounts, wrote Ms Zhang. On her last day at the company, she searched and found current activity from the accounts, she added.
Ms Zhang discovered that the ruling political party in Azerbaijan was also using false accounts to harass opposition figures. She flagged the activity over a year ago, she said, but Facebook's investigation remains open and officials have not yet taken action over the accounts.
Facebook was "largely motivated by PR", wrote Ms Zhang, who added that "the civic aspect was discounted because of its small volume, its disproportionate impact ignored."
BRUSSELS/SAN FRANCISCO - Facebook on Tuesday (Sept 15) launched a climate science information centre to elevate credible sources on climate change, as critics question its role in the spread of misinformation on the issue.
Facebook said the project is modelled on its Covid-19 Information Centre, and launched a similar feature last month on voting in preparation for US elections in November.
The tool will be rolled out in the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, and eventually to other countries.
"The Climate Science Information Centre is a dedicated space on Facebook with factual resources from the world's leading climate organisations and actionable steps people can take in their everyday lives to combat climate change," the company said in a post.
It said articles from high-quality publishers and other sources on climate science news will also be available at the centre.
Facebook has faced allegations that it permits false claims around climate change through a policy that exempts opinion articles from its external fact-checking system.
It has said that it prioritises handling of misinformation that poses an immediate threat of harm, like bogus coronavirus cures or hate speech that could incite violence.
Facebook's global policy chief Nick Clegg said the company would continue exempting false claims about climate change posted by politicians, although these are often among the most popular content on the platform.
"No social media company has ever tried to do so for the simple reason that political speeches always are characterised by exaggerations, selected uses of statistics, and exaggerated claims of virtues from one candidate and vices of others," Clegg told reporters.
The company has not measured the effectiveness of its coronavirus information centre in countering false narratives about the pandemic, although product chief Chris Cox said it has seen 600 million people clicking on the tool, which executives considered a success.
Facebook also confirmed that its global operations will achieve net zero carbon emissions and be 100 per cent supported by renewable energy this year.