SINGAPORE - For more than a year since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Carista Heng and her family of three have not stepped into a hairdressing salon.
The last time was before the circuit breaker in April last year.
But the locks of the 39-year-old housewife, her husband and eight-year-old son are neat and tidy. They have been having their hair cut in their home at Pine Close in Geylang by a mobile hairdresser.
They are among a growing number of people tapping mobile hairdressing services, with some hairdressers reporting 20 per cent more business since the pandemic began.
"My son dislikes wearing a mask, so it's hard to get his hair cut at a regular salon. Now our family get our haircuts done at home. I find it much safer," said Ms Heng, who engages the mobile hairdressing service provided by Ms Jacklyn Tan, 59, every two months.
Ms Tan has been offering mobile hairdressing services since 2016. With over 30 years of experience in the industry, she juggles salon appointments and mobile appointments from her studio - Jacklyn Tan Hair Studio. She has two outlets - in Punggol and Fortune Centre.
Ms Heng learnt about the mobile hairdressing service through an Internet search and contacted Ms Tan in July last year for the first appointment.
"When Covid-19 hit, I realised that there might be a higher demand for home hairdressing as people prefer to do social distancing. And it's true - more working adults approach me for haircuts now," said Ms Tan.
Under phase two (heightened alert) measures, which will run until Aug 18, services that require masks to be removed - including facials - have been disallowed.
Ms Tan said she offers her services only when the measures allow them. She is fully vaccinated, keeps her mask on all the time and sanitises all her equipment.
She also checks that her clients are fully vaccinated and limits herself to two home appointments each day as per current rules. She provides clean towels for her clients.
For some of the hairdressers, the mobile business is up 20 per cent, mitigating the drop in footfall at their hair salons.
A mobile haircut costs between $30 and $50, depending on the hairdresser, and does not include washing.
Ms Tan Cindy, 40, has provided mobile hairdressing services under her salon Share a Cut, in Jalan Bukit Merah, since 2018. The salon provides professional hair services for the disadvantaged, the vulnerable and people with special needs, with sponsors paying for the haircuts.
"This business is my way of giving back to society - a haircut makes you look good and feel good. I want people who are unable to come to a physical salon to enjoy that feeling too," said Ms Tan Cindy, who also serve clients with mobility issues.
Ms Stephy Lim, 33, started her mobile hairdressing service Stephy The Mobile Hairdresser in 2014. The mother of a nine-year-old girl and five-year-old boy likes the work flexibility.
She only works while her children are at school.
"I'm able to work part-time and at the same time be there for my children," said Ms Lim, who has worked for 15 years in salons here.
Mr Brandon Chia, 24, usually gets a haircut at a barber, but Covid-19 restrictions have made it difficult for him to visit the barber regularly.
"As long as the hairdresser has good reviews, I wouldn't mind trying it out. I'd like to support small businesses that might need it during pandemic times," added the third-year communications student at Nanyang Technological University.
Last September, Ms Jacklyn Tan had a booking to attend to an elderly bedridden woman, who was also wearing an oxygen mask.
Her last wish was to get a haircut at her home in Choa Chu Kang, and her daughter had made the booking. A few hours after the haircut, Ms Tan was told the woman had died.
"I feel that my job is meaningful as I can solve their problems with a haircut. It makes me happy," she said.
SINGAPORE - Lower-income households that have been directly affected by Covid-19 can now get additional financial support from a fund to help them cope with the protracted pandemic which has impacted many livelihoods.
More households are also expected to qualify for payouts, with the easing of the eligibility criteria to assess their current income instead of the income prior to being affected by Covid-19.
These changes to The Courage Fund took effect on Sunday (Aug 1), said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the National Council of Social Service (NCSS).
The fund currently disburses a one-time payout of up to $1,000 to help lower-income households whose incomes have been directly affected by Covid-19 - those who have a member who contracted Covid-19 or is placed on quarantine, stay-home notice, or leave of absence. As of July 13, about 2,300 households have tapped the fund.
When asked, MSF did not say how many additional households are expected to benefit from the changes, which come on the back of the latest round of tightened Covid-19 restrictions that will last till Aug 18.
The ban on dining in and other restrictions during the first round of phase two (heightened alert) from mid-May to mid-June had taken a toll on Singapore's labour market. Manpower Ministry (MOM) data showed that the number of workers employed fell in the second quarter of this year.
In June, some 3.7 per cent or 86,600 residents were unemployed as the pandemic affected both jobs and incomes.
Lower-wage workers are hit particularly hard by the pandemic, MOM data has shown.
On Sunday, MSF and NCSS said households that have been directly affected by Covid-19 more than once and continue to face job or income loss will now be able to get two tranches of assistance.
Households with a current gross monthly income of $6,200 or below, or a gross per capita monthly income of $2,000 and below, can qualify should they meet other existing eligibility criteria.
Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said lower-income households are hit harder by measures like quarantine orders, "as they deal with the anxiety of financial loss on top of the fear of potentially contracting the virus".
The fund complements other support measures, such as ComCare, the Covid-19 Recovery Grant and the Covid-19 Recovery Grant - Temporary.
It was set up in 2003 when Singapore was hit by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) outbreak. Last year, the Community Chest sought donations for the fund once again to support those affected by Covid-19 and dependants of those who died from the virus, among others.
As at July 13, the fund had received around $18.4 million in donations from the community to help those affected by Covid-19, with around $2.7 million disbursed to over 2,500 beneficiaries.
Singapore University of Social Sciences associate professor of economics Walter Theseira said Singapore's social safety nets and employment systems are not designed to cope with a disease that might require a substantial number of people to spend an extended time on medical or quarantine leave.
"The existence of the fund is to address a problem that should have been addressed through strengthening a national framework for employment-related medical benefits," he said.
He added that going forward, it is likely that official Government funding will have to be expanded beyond the existing quarantine order allowance scheme for workers serving quarantine orders or stay-home notices.
Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng, who chairs the government parliamentary committee for social and family development, welcomes the change to assess applicants' current income, which would make the scheme easier to understand.
He said the disbursements should be much higher going forward, given the enhancements.
Meanwhile, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Yeo Wan Ling said she has been receiving more requests for help from residents and frontline workers who have been affected by quarantine orders.
"For some of our households, especially those dependent on self-employed daily takings, being in quarantine puts them in a situation where they have a total income or livelihood loss," said Ms Yeo.
The financial support from the fund will help these households to cover the cost of their daily essentials during the periods when a member is under quarantine, she added.
Households wanting to apply for help from the fund can do so via this website.
Those who need help to complete their applications can call the ComCare Call hotline on 1800-222-0000, e-mail ask_SSO@msf.gov.sg or make an appointment to visit their nearest Social Service Office.
SINGAPORE - Former Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang has urged seniors to get themselves vaccinated against Covid-19 as soon as possible, in order to protect themselves and their families.
Among other concerns, unvaccinated seniors who get the disease could inadvertently pass it to their grandchildren, said Mr Low, who received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in April.
The 64-year-old was addressing seniors in both Teochew and Mandarin in a video posted on the WP's Facebook page on Sunday afternoon (Aug 1).
WP secretary-general Pritam Singh, who is Leader of the Opposition, started off the video with a message in Mandarin.
The party's efforts add to a series of moves by the Government and the health authorities to get seniors aged 60 and above to receive vaccination against Covid-19.
As at last Wednesday, about 77 per cent of seniors aged 60 and above had received two doses of Covid-19 vaccine. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that about 177,000 seniors had yet to receive their first dose.
On Sunday, Mr Low said the coronavirus has now spread across the world, and it seems unlikely to be eliminated.
"Singapore is prepared to live with Covid-19," he added, in reference to the Government's stance on Covid-19 becoming an endemic disease.
"But it is important to ensure that even if we get Covid-19, our health will not be seriously affected."
He noted that those who have been vaccinated will not have severe symptoms, but those who are not could face higher risks.
"Some people think that because they seldom leave home, there is no need to get vaccinated," Mr Low said. "But no matter how, you will be interacting with people. The person who infects you could be your family, your relative or your friend."
Infected individuals who are vaccinated might accidentally pass on Covid-19 to seniors, as they would be unaware of the infection due to the lack of symptoms, he noted.
"If unvaccinated seniors contract Covid-19, that would be serious," said Mr Low.
In recent weeks, the Government has stepped up its efforts to get seniors to go for Covid-19 vaccination. It has sought to make vaccination more accessible as well, through the deployment of mobile vaccination teams.
Late last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged seniors to get vaccinated, in videos uploaded on Facebook in four different languages.
SINGAPORE - Seven civic, cultural and historic buildings in the Bras Basah-Bugis precinct got a red-and-white makeover on Sunday night (Aug 1) ahead of Singapore's 56th birthday celebrations this year.
Lesser-known arts venues like the Objectifs - Centre for Photography and Film and the National Design Centre, both in Middle Road, as well as Stamford Arts Centre in Waterloo Street got a chance to shine as part of the annual National Day light-up.
The line-up includes first-timers such as The Cathay, which was Singapore's first skyscraper and the earliest air-conditioned cinema here when it opened in 1939.
Also among the illuminated is the nation's oldest surviving fire station - Central Fire Station in Hill Street - which is still active.
Last but not least are the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Queen Street and the National Museum of Singapore in Stamford Road.
These buildings, selected by the National Heritage Board, will be lit every night in August from 7.30pm to midnight.
SINGAPORE - Four Catholic churches here have been visited by people who tested positive for Covid-19, posted the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore on its website on Thursday (July 29).
They are: the Church of the Holy Spirit, the Church of the Holy Cross, the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and St Anne's Church. The visits took place from July 18 to July 25.
The archdiocese said: "In all cases, the persons involved were asymptomatic. All affected churches are working with the relevant government agencies to identify those who have been exposed and to activate the necessary precautionary measures."
It added that everyone has to remain vigilant and work together with church authorities to ensure the churches are safe places to worship.
"We would like to take this opportunity to advise all our faithful to take care of their health, and if they are unwell to refrain from attending Masses and seek immediate medical attention."
Those who are unwell can watch the daily online Mass broadcasts instead, it noted.
It will not be making further comment on the cases. The four churches made separate Facebook posts on the details of each case.
Father Henry Siew of the Church of the Holy Cross said on its Facebook page that the individual who tested positive for Covid-19 attended the 7.30am Mass on July 25 and is fully vaccinated.
She was likely infected at a market she visited earlier, he added.
"Worshippers who were in the same zone were contacted and placed under home quarantine order on July 28," he said.
Meanwhile, an individual with Covid-19 attended Mass at St Anne's Church, at 1.30pm on July 25 as well. She was believed to have been on church grounds since noon that day.
"Professional deep cleansing of our church will be done on Friday (July 30) to ensure that our church remains safe for all to worship," the church's parish priest, Father Jovita Ho, said on Facebook.
He added that the church has submitted the names of the parishioners who were there between noon and 2.30pm on July 25, including attendees, volunteers and ministry members.
Those present at the time should also monitor their own health and seek immediate medical attention if they show symptoms, the Facebook post said.
"All elderly parishioners, especially those unvaccinated, are also advised to attend online Mass instead during Phase 2 (heightened alert)," it added.
Over at the Church of the Holy Spirit, a Covid-19 case attended the 11am Mass on July 18. He is fully vaccinated.
Father Kamelus Kamus said in a note to parishioners that the Ministry of Health (MOH) has contacted and placed all who were seated in the particular zone on quarantine till August 1.
The church will also undergo sanitising and deep cleaning on Friday (July 30). It was cleaned previously on June 4.
Lastly, Father Paul Ngo from the Church of The Immaculate Heart of Mary said a Covid-19-positive individual visited the church on July 25 for the 5pm Mass.
All parishioners exposed to the affected person were contacted by MOH and isolated.
The church has since been deep-cleaned as well.
Churches have opened progressively since July last year. People are able to book Masses online using a Mass attendance registration system.
Mass capacities will be capped at up to 50, or up to 100 persons per Mass in August, depending on the type of Mass, the archdiocese said on its website.
SINGAPORE - An "animal corridor", comprising a series of linked green patches between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Southern Ridges that wildlife can travel through, has been identified by the National Parks Board (NParks).
This route, called the Clementi Nature Corridor, will pass through a nature park that will be carved out from the western half of the Dover Forest site. The eastern half will be used for public housing.
Other sites along this corridor include forested plots in Clementi - including the Clementi Forest - Toh Tuck and Maju, as well as the Rail Corridor.
NParks said this corridor provides urban planners with an overview of how wildlife connectivity in the area can be maintained, even if developments take place in the area in future. It was identified through a scientific study.
Said NParks in a statement on Friday (July 30): "There are no immediate development plans for the Toh Tuck and Maju sites, and no immediate plans for residential developments at the Clementi site."
It added that the corridor also takes into account the future transport infrastructure options in Clementi Road, by the fringe of Clementi Forest, to support existing educational institutions and residential estates there.
Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Professor of Conservation Koh Lian Pin, who heads the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions, said that in Singapore's fragmented forest landscape, connectivity is very important for the country's native flora and fauna.
"Such corridors and vegetated stepping stones allow birds, mammals and other wildlife to safely move between patches of forests to escape predators, forage for food, or even look for mates," he said.
This helps to maintain the genetic diversity of Singapore's wildlife, making them more resilient to threats such as diseases, Prof Koh added.
The Clementi Nature Corridor had been identified by NParks in consultation with a panel of local biodiversity experts, including Prof Koh, in an ecological profiling exercise.
This exercise essentially entailed the mapping out of vegetated areas islandwide, and then modelling the likely paths that six indicator species may take to move from plot to plot.
The six species include the Sunda pangolin and hill mynah, and were selected as they are sensitive forest dwellers that may venture out to forest edges, provided suitable habitat is created for them there.
NUS mammal scientist Marcus Chua, who was not involved in the scientific exercise, said that the ecological profiling exercise is a "clear sign of the application of scientific knowledge and methods to advise land use planning and making decisions that would be beneficial for Singapore".
He added: "I see it as part of continual improvement of how such decisions are made to balance land use decisions with regard to the need for environmental protection with other needs."
SINGAPORE - The revision of plans for the Dover Forest was an exercise in trust and transparency and showed the strides made by the Housing Board (HDB) since its last controversial development, Tengah town.
So, while the outcome for the Dover plot - that half be used for public housing, and the other half left fallow for now, with a segment of this conserved as a nature park - may not please everyone, it sets a benchmark.
It is an encouraging indication of how Singapore will approach future tough decisions about which green spaces should stay and which must go to meet other national needs.
This thorny issue is expected to persist amid a growing awareness of how greenery can mitigate urban heat and increasing interest in the country's urban spaces.
Two factors stand out in the way the Dover Forest issue was resolved.
The first is the authorities' willingness to involve Singaporeans in the decision. The HDB said that the 1,800-odd responses to its public consultation exercise on the fate of Dover Forest were factored into the final outcome.
Such consultations should continue for other major projects. They ensure that people have a stake in the city they live in.
The second heartening point is the authorities' use of science to justify conservation decisions.
With more people kindling relationships with the country's wild spaces, nature conservation is becoming an increasingly emotional issue.
Basing decisions on science, with planners being transparent about the data gleaned from studies, will help put into perspective the varying shades of green in Singapore.
For Dover, HDB had posted on its website the full environmental study at the end of last year, allowing those interested to scrutinise the findings.
But a similar study done for Tengah town, which is being built on a larger swathe of secondary forest, had not been publicly shared.
People had to rely only on HDB's summary of findings that the Tengah plot was of "low conservation significance".
But ecologists had considered the 700ha site an important connector between the forests in the western catchment with the central nature reserves.
The development plans included a forest corridor within Tengah town to serve as this link, but ST later found that a vegetated plot outside Tengah, which the corridor was supposed to connect, was cleared for another housing project.
The authorities later said they would take steps to improve the situation with an injection of greenery.
But for Dover, wildlife connectivity was a major consideration.
The tweaks made to the plans for Dover Forest to hold off development in the more biodiverse western half, and carve out a nature park there, had been informed by the findings from a scientific model developed by the National Parks Board in consultation with experts here.
The model had shown that the western half could be a stepping stone for wildlife moving from Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in the north, and the Southern Ridges further down.
There will always be competing demands on land in Singapore.
But more people are aware that nature, too, is essential - not simply something that is good to have. The Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, highlighted the importance of green spaces for relaxation.
A balance must be struck, and policymakers will always have the unenviable task of making the tough decisions.
But trust and transparency in the decision-making process can ease tensions.
SINGAPORE - The Housing Board on Friday (July 30) announced that it has revised plans for Dover Forest, with the eastern half to be developed for housing, and development plans for the western half put on hold.
A sizeable portion of the western half - which has richer biodiversity than the east sector - will be set aside as a nature park.
Here is a history of the site, as well as a summary of the board's latest plans for the area.
Timeline of events
Site zoned as "Residential (Subject to Detailed Planning)" in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's master plan.
Dec 20: HDB publishes a 155-page report following an environmental baseline study of Dover Forest. It welcomes public feedback on the findings.
Dec 21: National Development Minister Desmond Lee says Build-To-Order flats will be launched in the Ulu Pandan estate.
Jan 15: The Nature Society (Singapore) publishes a 13-page proposal to HDB, arguing for the forest to be designated a "public-cum-nature park".
Jan 16: The public feedback period closes.
Jan 28: Mr Lee says all feedback on the future of Dover Forest will be studied closely.
Feb 1: Mr Lee announces a four-week extension to the public feedback period, till March 1. Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza, who oversees the Ulu Pandan ward, proposes to Parliament alternative plots of land around the Ghim Moh neighbourhood for housing development.
July 30: HDB says development plans for the 33ha site will balance nature conservation and housing needs, with the western part of Dover Forest to become a nature park, and the eastern half largely used for residential developments. The plans account for findings from the environmental baseline study and about 1,800 responses received during the two feedback periods.
History of Dover Forest site
1800s to 1900s
• Most of the earliest settlers in the area during this period are Malays who live on the banks of Sungei Ulu Pandan and fish along the river for a living.
• They are later joined by Chinese settlers who grow rubber trees, durians, rambutans and other trees.
• Part of today's forest was within the estate of Tan Kim Seng, a prominent trader. A stone marker discovered in the western half of the forest is believed to have marked the boundary of his estate.
1920s to 1940s
• Dover Forest becomes part of a rubber plantation. It is believed that the plantation was abandoned during World War II and not re-established after the war.
• Sundry tree cultivation replaces rubber plantations, and some low-density settlements are established.
• Sungei Ulu Pandan is concretised and widened to cope with rapid development and to alleviate a severe flooding problem. The former river is also known as Ulu Pandan Canal today.
• Singapore Polytechnic moves to Dover, just south of the Dover Forest.
• Forest site is zoned a "Comprehensive Development Area" in the master plan.
• Site zoned as "Residential (Subject To Detailed Planning)" in Urban Redevelopment Authority's master plan.
• A public housing estate, Ghim Moh Valley, is completed at the eastern end of the forest.
• The School of Science and Technology is completed at the western end of the forest.
• Another public housing project, Ghim Moh Edge, is completed in the forest's eastern end.
• While the western half remains zoned for residential use, HDB said that development plans will be put off in the medium term and reviewed again around 2030. The review will take into account Singapore's land use needs at that time.
• The first of the housing projects in the eastern sector of Dover Forest will be launched in the second half of 2022.
• A natural stream in the eastern sector will be retained, with a 20m-wide buffer on both sides.
• A commercial node will likely be developed next to Dover MRT station, offering residents amenities, shops and eateries.
• Another vacant site nearby, next to Ulu Pandan Community Club, will be launched for public housing in 2022.
SINGAPORE - The cluster of Covid-19 cases linked to KTV lounges involves fewer than 50 foreign hostesses with valid work passes, all of which were approved before last year, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said on Tuesday (July 27).
In a written answer to a parliamentary question filed by Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC), Dr Tan said these work pass holders had been allowed to perform non-hostessing jobs since October last year, after their employers temporarily pivoted to other allowed business activities such as food and beverage (F&B).
"Nightlife establishments also hire work pass holders in other occupations, such as operations executives and waitresses. Even before Covid-19, they were not allowed to work as hostesses," Dr Tan said.
Mr Wee had also asked for the number of hostesses linked to the cluster who were social visit pass holders, and what measures were being taken to minimise the health risks posed by such interactions.
Dr Tan did not provide a figure for social visit pass holders, but he said foreigners with these passes working as hostesses are in breach of the Immigration Act.
He added that the police and various government agencies have been taking enforcement action against errant nightlife outlets, including revoking their licences permanently.
On July 12, the Ministry of Health said it was investigating infections among a group of Vietnamese social hostesses who had frequented KTV outlets that switched to operating as F&B outlets.
Nine Vietnamese women were arrested by the police, on July 21, for suspected involvement in vice-related activities, and at least six have had their short-term visit passes cancelled.
Preliminary investigations revealed that the women had allegedly provided sexual services via an online vice website, the police said.
Dr Tan said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) does not inspect nightlife establishments on its own, as work pass violations in such places are usually part of a broader pattern of illegal activity that involves breach of other laws.
He added: "If work pass holders are found to be engaging in unauthorised activities, they would be referred to MOM for enforcement actions under our work pass regulations."
Dr Tan also said the Government will continue to review enforcement efforts to ensure safe management measures are strictly adhered to.
SINGAPORE - An elderly recalcitrant offender, who has been in and out of jail since 2018 over multiple counts of molestation, is back behind bars for molesting two people, including an 11-year-old girl.
Poh Seng Khian, 86, who is also hard of hearing, had been sentenced to 18 weeks' jail last year for a similar offence.
He did not learn his lesson after his release and pleaded guilty on Wednesday (July 28) to two molestation charges. The Singaporean was then sentenced to 10 months' jail.
Poh, who was unrepresented, had earlier pleaded for the court to sentence him to a fine, adding: "I'm old and about to die."
He appeared in court on Wednesday in a wheelchair, but was not using one when he committed his latest offences.
He was sitting in bus service number 30 on Oct 23 last year when he targeted a 27-year-old woman, who was standing beside him.
Poh touched the victim's arm about five times and she shifted back slightly as she assumed that the touches were accidental.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Lim Woon Yee said: "In total, the accused touched (the woman) on her left bicep repeatedly for about 15 seconds, before he slowly got up from his seat with the help of his walking aid.
"After which, the accused stood on the small step near the victim while holding his walking aid in his left hand."
Poh then pretended to fall and used his hand to stroke her right inner thigh at around 1.30pm.
The woman grabbed his forearm and he apologised to her. She lodged a police report after she alighted.
At around 2.20pm on March 11, Poh boarded bus service number 98 and sat beside an 11-year-old girl.
He then placed the handle of his walking aid on her lap and molested her.
The shocked girl immediately shoved his hand away and removed the walking aid from her lap.
She got off the bus and told her mother about what had happened.
The woman took her daughter to Jurong Neighbourhood Police Post to lodge a report.
For molesting a child below 14 years old, an offender can be jailed for up to 10 years and caned. Poh cannot be caned as he is over 50 years old.