WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump pressured the government's top public health experts on Wednesday (July 8) to water down recommendations for how the nation's schools can reopen safely this fall and threatened to cut federal funding for districts that defied his demand to resume classes in person.
Once again rejecting the advice of the specialists who work for him, Mr Trump dismissed the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention's "very tough & expensive guidelines", which he said asked schools "to do very impractical things".
Within hours, the White House announced that the agency would issue new recommendations in the days to come.
The president's criticisms, in a barrage of Twitter threats, inflamed a difficult debate that has challenged educators and parents across the country as they seek ways to safely resume teaching American children by September.
Even as the coronavirus is spreading faster than ever in the United States, Mr Trump expressed no concern about the health implications of reopening in person and no support for compromise plans that many districts are considering.
His all-or-nothing stance left him at odds with the nation's two largest school districts.
Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City announced shortly after Mr Trump's tweets that schools would not fully reopen in September, with students attending classes in person only one to three days a week to accommodate social distancing. The chief public health officer in Los Angeles County told school officials on Tuesday to be prepared to continue learning entirely from home given the surge of infections in California.
But Mr Trump's attack on the CDC underscored his growing impatience with public health experts he considers obstacles to his ambitions of reopening the country after months of lockdown.
As he significantly trails Joe Biden, his presumptive Democratic challenger, in most polls, the president has brushed off warnings and pushed states to reopen businesses in hopes of reviving the crippled economy before the election on Nov 3, a goal that would be hamstrung if parents had to remain at home with their children this fall.
"I disagree with @CDCgov," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, a day after hosting a series of calls and events to pressure schools to reopen fully. "While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!"
During a coronavirus task force briefing later on Wednesday afternoon, Vice-President Mike Pence announced that the CDC would issue new recommendations next week, saying the guidelines should not be a reason for schools to stay closed.
"We just don't want the guidance to be too tough," he said, promising "five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward".
The agency has recommended for weeks that schools that remain open modify layouts to maintain social distancing, install physical barriers where that is not possible, increase disinfection and cleaning of facilities, avoid serving communal meals in cafeterias, discourage sharing objects and ensure ventilation systems are up-to-date. If a school has a confirmed case, the guidance says, students and "most staff" should be dismissed for two to five days while local health officials consider what to do next.
An administration official, who discussed internal deliberations on condition of anonymity, said the new guidance had been in development for weeks but had yet to be cleared by top CDC or task force officials. The guidelines would address how schools can reopen and whether parents should send children, most likely including a checklist for making that decision. The official denied that Mr Trump or other White House officials had pressured the agency to ease the existing guidelines for schools, which were updated in April.
Another official said that some in the White House had learnt of the CDC's plans to distribute new guidance only on Tuesday, when Dr Robert Redfield, the agency's director, told governors about it in a call led by Mr Pence. Dr Redfield said on Wednesday that Americans should not interpret CDC guidelines as requirements.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and one of the coronavirus task force's most prominent members, did not attend the briefing on Wednesday, an absence that drew attention.
Dr Fauci later said in a brief telephone conversation that he was part of a small group of officials asked to call in from the White House Situation Room to a meeting the task force held before the briefing. Dr Fauci said the officials who called in were less relevant to the topics discussed in the briefing.
In taking on defiant educators, Mr Trump invoked the one lever he had - federal funding - to impose his will on schools, which are traditionally run by localities and states.
"In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter. "The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if US schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!"
In reality, it may be a hollow threat. The president has no control over about 90 per cent of school district budgets, which are generally financed by local property and sales taxes. And he has little control over federal funding already appropriated by Congress.
"Trump has no legal authority to withhold funds," Mr Arne Duncan, the secretary of education under President Barack Obama, said during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday. "Threatening people, bullying them, lying doesn't stop the virus from spreading."
He added: "It's ludicrous. It'd be funny if it wasn't so sad."
The Education Department may be able to reroute or withhold some emergency coronavirus relief funding that school districts say they desperately need to fund staff, programming and the public health measures recommended by the CDC. And the president could veto additional funds that schools want from Congress this summer.
On Wednesday, Ms Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said Mr Trump would seek to "substantially bump up money for education" in the next coronavirus relief package, but "this money should go to students".
A senior House Democratic aide said lawmakers would most likely push to limit the president's authority to withhold school funds in a next round of relief.
Many parents, educators and doctors believe that the social, educational and psychological costs of a prolonged shutdown or online learning now outweigh the risk of the virus itself, a position expressed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. But how schools reopen safely is a matter of serious discussion.
While children have proved less susceptible to the virus, teachers are more vulnerable because of their age. Many have expressed concern about returning to work in buildings that were never intended to keep children 6 feet apart or otherwise prevent the spread of a deadly virus.
Dr Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said the mortality rate for those 25 and younger was less than a tenth of a per cent, though she cautioned there was much to learn.
"Until we know how many have been infected, we have no evidence that there is significant mortality in children without coexisting diseases," she said.
But she added that children might be a threat to relatives in multigenerational homes.
"Americans have done a great job in keeping infection rates low in children in the sheltering time," she said. "We are worried now that as cases spread that it is getting to the older parents and the grandparents."
ABIDJAN - Amadou Gon Coulibaly, Ivory Coast's prime minister and the ruling party's candidate for an October presidential election, died on Wednesday (July 8), President Alassane Ouattara said.
The death of Gon Coulibaly, 61, who had had heart surgery in 2012 and had just returned from cardiac examinations in France, is likely to set off a scramble within the ruling RHDP party to replace him as its presidential candidate.
There is no clear-cut replacement for him in an election widely considered a test of stability for the world's top cocoa producer.
Defence Minister Hamed Bakayoko had served as interim prime minister while Gon Coulibaly was in France for two months for tests and rest.
"Fellow compatriots, Ivory Coast is mourning. It is with deep pain that I announce to you that Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly has left us," Ouattara said in a statement read on national television by the presidency's secretary general.
Gon Coulibaly had returned from France just six days earlier. He became unwell on Wednesday after taking part in the weekly Cabinet meeting and was taken to hospital, where he passed away, Ouattara said.
Ouattara had designated Gon Coulibaly as the RHDP candidate in March after announcing that he himself would not seek a third term.
"It's really a shame. He was well on his way to leading Ivory Coast as president," said Bertin Malan, a resident in Abidjan's Yopougon neighbourhood.
Derided by critics as uncharismatic, Gon Coulibaly rode Ouattara's coattails to the heights of Ivorian politics.
In a tweet, Ouattara paid tribute to "my younger brother, my son, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who was, for 30 years, my closest partner".
Gon Coulibaly served as secretary-general of the presidency from 2012-17 before being appointed prime minister.
He had also served as agriculture minister under Ouattara's predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo.
The other main candidate in the October election is octogenarian ex-president Henri Konan Bedie, who declared he would run last month.
Guillaume Soro, a former prime minister and ex-rebel leader, was also considered a contender but in April was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for embezzlement.
Ouattara's first election win, when he defeated Gbagbo in 2010, sparked a brief civil war in which about 3,000 people died. Political tensions have been rising ahead of October's poll.
SINGAPORE - There are 125 new coronavirus patients confirmed as of Thursday noon (July 9), taking Singapore's total to 45,423.
They include 21 community cases, comprising four Singaporeans or permanent residents and 17 work pass holders, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Of these 21 cases, five were close contacts of earlier cases and had already been placed on quarantine, MOH said. Epidemiological investigations are being done for the other cases.
There is also one imported case who had been placed on stay-home notice when the person arrived in Singapore.
Migrant workers living in dormitories make up the vast majority of the other cases.
More details will be announced on Thursday night.
Earlier on Thursday, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said that the Al-Ansar Mosque in Bedok North was notified by MOH on Tuesday that a Covid-19 patient had visited the mosque for evening prayers eight times between June 26 and July 2.
As a precautionary measure, the mosque was closed from Tuesday evening until Wednesday for comprehensive cleaning and disinfection to be done, said Muis.
The mosque resumed prayer services on Thursday, and Friday prayers will be carried out as planned on July 10.
On Wednesday, seven worker dormitories were cleared of patients who tested positive for Covid-19. These dorms now house only recovered individuals and those who have recently tested negative for the virus.
MOH said on Wednesday that the inter-agency task force has been clearing dormitories through aggressive testing of migrant workers residing there.
The seven dormitories, which are also now closed clusters, are at Tuas South Street 12, 109 Ubi Avenue 4, 11 Defu Lane 1, 12 Kwong Min Road, 18 Woodlands Industrial Park E1, 55 Genting Lane and 6 Tuas View Square.
MOH also said on Wednesday that a 69-year-old Singaporean man who had a history of medical conditions - including diabetes, hypertension and chronic kidney disease - died on Tuesday and was confirmed to have Covid-19.
The preliminary cause of death was cardio-respiratory failure, pending further investigations by the coroner.
On Tuesday, he was found unresponsive at home and was taken to Sengkang General Hospital's emergency department, where he was confirmed to have the virus.
He is Singapore's 13th case of a patient who tested positive for the coronavirus but died from other causes.
On Wednesday, MOH also added Penang Culture, Don Don Donki at Jem and the Singtel outlet at Jurong Point to its list of places visited by Covid-19 patients while they were infectious.
Of the nine cases in the community announced on Wednesday, three were linked to previous cases or clusters, while six were unlinked at the time.
There were also three new imported Covid-19 patients on Wednesday. They were a Singaporean who had returned from the Philippines on June 26, and two Indian nationals who are dependant's pass holders and had returned from India on June 26.
All three were placed on 14-day stay-home notices when they arrived in Singapore and were tested while serving the notices.
Migrant workers living in dormitories made up the remaining 146 cases.
MOH also announced a new cluster at a dormitory in 12 Kian Teck Crescent.
The average number of new daily cases in the community during a week has increased from eight cases two weeks ago to 14 in the past week.
The number of unlinked cases in the community during a week has increased from a daily average of four cases to six over the same period.
With 321 cases discharged on Wednesday, 41,310 patients have fully recovered from the disease.
A total of 215 patients remain in hospital, including one in the intensive care unit, while 3,734 are recuperating in community facilities.
Singapore has had 26 deaths from Covid-19 complications.
Globally, the virus outbreak, which began in December last year, has infected more than 12.1 million people. More than 551,000 people have died.
SINGAPORE - A self-proclaimed "spiritual healer" was jailed for 15 months on Thursday (July 9) for molesting two women.
He had done so on the pretext of performing rituals on them.
Ab Razak Ab Hameed, 66, also took videos of the victims' exposed bodies.
He had earlier pleaded guilty in March this year to two counts each of molestation and insulting a woman's modesty.
Five other similar charges involving two other victims were taken into consideration by Principal District Judge Victor Yeo during sentencing on Thursday.
The court heard earlier that Ab Razak performed massages and exorcism rituals on a foldable bed behind a curtain in his shop, where he sold second-hand bicycles and offered bicycle repair services.
On May 25 last year, he told a 39-year-old woman who went to his shop that he could perform a ritual to protect her from "black magic".
When she agreed, he asked her to sit on a chair and close her eyes. He lifted the woman's shirt and bra, exposing her chest. He then applied oil on it.
He also took a video and several photographs of her exposed body using his mobile phone.
On another occasion a month later, Ab Razak told a 34-year-old woman that she was "possessed" and that he could perform an exorcism ritual on her.
He also told the woman to keep her eyes closed throughout the ritual and asked her mother, who was accompanying her, to wait outside the shop.
Leading the woman to a foldable bed, Ab Razak then instructed her to remove her T-shirt and wrap a sarong over her torso.
While she was lying face up on the bed, he molested her and took a video of her exposed body with his mobile phone.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Benedict Chan had earlier urged the court to jail Ab Razak for at least 15 months, noting that he had made skin-to-skin contact with both victims.
Highlighting his client's age, poor health and limited mobility among other things, defence lawyer Gregory Fong had pleaded in mitigation to impose either a fine or a jail term of no more than six months.
Also pleading for the court's leniency, Ab Razak said in a letter that he had gone for knee replacement surgery. He was seen in court on Thursday relying on elbow crutches to move around.
In sentencing Ab Razak, Principal District Judge Yeo said he was satisfied the Singapore Prison Service would be able to manage the 66-year-old's medical issues.
For each count of molestation, Ab Razak could have been jailed for up to two years and fined. He cannot be caned as he is over 50 years old.
Offenders can be jailed for up to a year and fined for insulting the modesty of a person.
SYDNEY/MELBOURNE - Lockdown measures were re-imposed in Australia’s second biggest city on Tuesday, confining Melbourne residents to their homes unless undertaking essential business for six weeks, as officials scramble to to contain a coronavirus outbreak.
The decision, which affects around 4.9 million people, was announced just hours before the busy border between Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, and New South Wales is scheduled to close for the first time in a century.
From midnight on Wednesday, everyone in Melbourne will be required to stay home unless travelling to work, studying, shopping for food or attending medical appointments.
Restaurants, cafes and bars will be able to provide takeaway service only, gyms and hair salons closed, household gatherings limited to two people and the current school vacation extended.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said the restrictions were onerous but necessary.
“I would, with the greatest of respect, put it to you getting this virus and dying from it is very onerous too,” he said during a televised media conference.
Victoria was responsible for 191 of the 199 new cases reported nationally on Tuesday, the biggest one-day rise since early April. The spike has worried officials, even though the national total of almost 8,800 cases and 106 deaths is far below many other countries.
“We have to be clear with each other that this is not over,” Andrews said. “And pretending that it is because we all want it to be over is not the answer. It is indeed part of the problem. A very big part of the problem.”
Andrews had over the weekend reinstated strict social-distancing orders in more than 30 Melbourne suburbs and put nine public housing towers into complete lockdown because of the recent outbreak.
Hundreds of police officers and army troops were being deployed to enforce the closure of Victoria’s border with New South Wales from midnight on Tuesday.
The state line is highly porous, stretching hundreds of kilometres. It is heavily used daily by commuters, school children and road freight.
People caught crossing the border without permission via any of the 55 roads, or several river and wilderness crossings, will face penalties including a fine of A$11,000 (S$10,600) and six months imprisonment.
A second region in Victoria, where recent Covid-19 cases have been detected and which is home to 44,000 people, will face lockdown restrictions similar to Melbourne.
The border closure and reintroduction of restrictions in Melbourne deal a blow to Australia’s hopes for quick economic recovery as it approaches its first recession in nearly three decades, driven by social distancing restrictions imposed in March.
For businesses on the border, which last closed during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919, it also poses an immediate logistics headache.
Daily travel permits will be granted to people who live in border towns and cities but with the closure just hours away, the application system was still being developed.
Kevin Mack, the mayor of Albury, a border town on the NSW side, said with an estimated 50,000 car movements across the state line every day “it will be a nightmare for everyone.”
“About a quarter of my staff like me live in NSW, and cross that border every day to come to work,” said Paul Armstrong, who runs a petrol station in Wodonga, a border town on the Victorian side. “I don’t know if they are going to be able to get in.”
Outside of the border towns, Victoria residents will be able to apply for a permit, but will need to prove a special need for their travel. Freight transporters will be free to cross the border without a permit, but will be subjected to random stops.
NEW YORK - Facebook Inc, Google and Twitter Inc - all of which are blocked in the mainland - are now headed towards a showdown with China that could end up making Hong Kong feel more like Beijing.
Hours after Hong Kong announced sweeping new powers to police the Internet on Monday night (July 6), those companies plus the likes of Microsoft Corp and Zoom Video Communications Inc all suspended requests for data from the Hong Kong government. ByteDance Ltd's TikTok, which has Chinese owners, announced it would pull its viral video app from the territory's mobile stores in the coming days.
Their dilemma is stark: Bend to the law and infuriate Western nations increasingly at odds with China over political freedoms, or simply refuse and depart like Google did in China a decade ago over some of the very same issues. Much like that seismic event shook the mainland in 2010, Big Tech's reaction now could have a much wider impact on Hong Kong's future as a financial hub.
"Google is pretty important to people here, and if that's cut off then it's really extremely serious," said Mr Richard Harris, a former director at Citi Private Bank who now runs Port Shelter Investment Management in Hong Kong.
"In Hong Kong we don't know where the boundaries are, and that's threatening to a lot of business people."
Over the past week, Hong Kong authorities have begun explaining how they'll enforce a law that officials in Beijing called a "sword of Damocles" hanging over China's most strident critics.
The legislation, which sparked the threat of sanctions from the Trump administration and outrage elsewhere, has had a chilling effect on pro-democracy protesters who demonstrated for months last year while also raising fresh questions for businesses.
On Monday night, the Hong Kong government announced sweeping new police powers, including warrant-less searches, property seizures and online surveillance. If a publisher fails to immediately comply with a request to remove content deemed in breach of the law, police can seek a warrant to "take any action" to remove it while also demanding "the identification record or decryption assistance".
"We are absolutely headed for a showdown, and there are no indications that the Hong Kong government is particularly prepared if Facebook or another company refuses a removal request," said Mr James Griffiths, a journalist and author of The Great Firewall: How To Build And Control An Alternative Version Of The Internet.
"These companies appear to have realised that there is no compromise they could make that would truly satisfy Beijing or make them seem trustworthy. This could make them more willing to stand up against Chinese censorship in Hong Kong."
American Internet giants have made overtures towards Beijing in recent years as the market exploded, but few have so far actually acceded to China's censorship framework.
Of the rare examples, Microsoft's LinkedIn censors content to allow it to operate a Chinese version, while Apple Inc complies with local regulations in policing its app store and other services. Reports that Google entertained the notion of returning - via potentially a censored version of search called Project Dragonfly - enraged lawmakers and its own employees torpedoed the idea.
Twitter and Facebook have never been consistently available in China, but Mr Mark Zuckerberg also flirted with Beijing before abandoning the notion as regulatory scrutiny and a user backlash grew at home. In both instances, external factors helped scupper the feasibility of operating in the world's No. 2 economy.
"I worked hard to make this happen. But we could never come to agreement on what it would take for us to operate there, and they never let us in," he said last year in a speech at Georgetown University.
"And now we have more freedom to speak out and stand up for the values we believe in and fight for free expression around the world."
Still, the Internet heavyweights are already censoring content across the world for both authoritarian regimes and Western democracies, according to Mr Ben Bland, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute in Australia. After a mass shooting last March in Christchurch, New Zealand, top social media companies joined with more than 40 countries in a concerted call to end the spread of extremist messaging online.
Germany has banned online Nazi and right-wing extremist content, and most countries have blocks in place against online pornography and criminal activity. In Thailand, strict lese majeste laws lead to censorship of content deemed offensive to the royal family, while communist-run Vietnam expunges anything deemed "anti-state".
Big tech companies must gauge the importance of the markets in China and Hong Kong with possible reputational damage in other places they operate, according to Stuart Hargreaves, a law professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong who researches surveillance and privacy issues.
"I do not expect to see the Great Firewall extended from mainland China to Hong Kong, at least in the medium term," he said.
"It is not necessary for Beijing's goal of tamping down certain sentiments and would be the obvious end of Hong Kong as a global city and its particular role as an Asian finance hub."
The exit of TikTok, the viral video app that has insisted it operates independently of Beijing, could actually benefit the Communist Party by removing a forum pro-democracy protesters have used to post videos calling for an independent Hong Kong. Last year, demonstrators used the Reddit-like forum LIHKG as well as Telegram to organise leaderless protests.
TikTok on Tuesday played up its US ties while pushing back against comments by US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who said the government is considering a ban of the short video app.
"We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked," a company spokesman said, adding that it's led by an American CEO.
Platforms like Telegram that provide end-to-end encryption could become increasingly popular, said Dr Joyce Nip, senior lecturer in Chinese Media Studies at the University of Sydney. Telegram said it has never shared data with Hong Kong authorities, adding that it doesn't have servers in the territory and doesn't store data there.
Hong Kong's leader, Mrs Carrie Lam, didn't answer a question on Tuesday on her response to tech companies that stopped processing data requests from her government. Still, she played down any long-term impact on the city's position as a financial hub around the same time that Pompeo released a statement blasting the Communist Party's "Orwellian censorship" in Hong Kong.
There "has been an increasing appreciation of the positive effect of this national security legislation, particularly in restoring stability in Hong Kong as reflected by some of the market sentiments in recent days", Mrs Lam said a day after local stocks entered a bull market.
"Surely this is not doom and gloom for Hong Kong."
The regulations stemmed from a new national security committee created by the law that includes Mrs Lam and Mr Luo Huining, Beijing's top official in the city. While China's leaders know Hong Kong needs a free flow of information to function as a world-class financial centre, "much seems to rest in the hands of the few newly empowered bureaucrats who will police the new laws", according to Mr Steve Vickers, chief executive officer of Steve Vickers and Associates, a political and corporate risk consultancy.
"Foreign firms are on something of a knife edge here, caught between their natural affinity with freedom of information and their commercial desire to operate in the huge Chinese market," said Mr Vickers, a former head of the Royal Hong Kong Police Criminal Intelligence Bureau.
"It is now more a matter of what is actually done, as opposed to what is being said - by either China or the foreign IT companies - that will be the key."
Singapore GE2020: Inconsistent manpower policies and renegotiating FTAs will erode confidence in S'pore, says Chan Chun Sing
SINGAPORE - Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Wednesday (July 8) warned against reopening negotiations on free trade agreements (FTAs) and implementing inconsistent manpower policies.
To do so would further erode confidence in Singapore, and reduce the country's attractiveness to investors in a world where protectionism is growing, said the PAP's second assistant secretary-general.
At a People's Action Party press conference, Mr Chan noted that global investor and consumer confidence has gone down.
"What we need to do is make sure that we have a conducive environment to inspire confidence in investors to plant their investments in Singapore, to create good jobs," he said.
Over the nine-day general election campaign period, some opposition parties - notably the Progress Singapore Party - have called for Singapore to review FTAs such as the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement.
The PSP, led by former PAP MP Tan Cheng Bock, has also proposed introducing a quota for Employment Pass holders and lowering the quota for S Pass and work permit holders.
"At this point in time, we must be careful," Mr Chan said at the press conference. "Amidst growing protectionism, reopening FTA negotiations and inconsistent manpower policies will further erode confidence in Singapore and erode our attractiveness as a choice destination for investments."
He listed two things that Singapore has to get done within the next six to 12 months.
The first is to uphold existing bilateral and multilateral FTAs, so that Singapore can continue to access the overseas market.
"Now this is not easy. There are inherent forces that are going to bifurcate the trading relationships... the technological relationships," Mr Chan said.
His own ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will have to work to "mobilise like-minded partners" to this end.
Singapore hopes to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership deal - the world's largest trade pact - before the end of this year. It is also pushing to make deals on as many digital economic partnership agreements as possible, which will create new opportunities for businesses, he added.
The second thing that Singapore needs to do, Mr Chan said, is demonstrate to the world that it can have "consistent and coherent long-term policies".
"We need to demonstrate to the world and distinguish ourselves as an open and connected hub, so that people will put their long-term investments into Singapore," he said.
This will allow businesses to seize new opportunities and workers to secure the new jobs that emerge, he added.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Workers' Party candidate Leon Perera pointed out that foreign direct investment grew after the 2011 General Election, even though the ruling party lost Aljunied GRC that year.
Asked for his response to this, Mr Chan said anyone looking at long-term investment trends over many years will inevitably find that it moves upwards.
"But the real question is: Is this due to the effort, or would we have gone on an even higher trajectory if not for the obstacles that we faced?" he asked.
"I think it is wrong to assume that investments will come in to Singapore, regardless of what happens in Singapore."
In the first four months of this year, the Economic Development Board (EDB) secured a total of $13 billion in investment commitments for Singapore. This is higher than the yearly amounts secured from 2013 to 2018, and exceeds the $8 billion to $10 billion initially projected fro the whole of this year. The EDB secured $15.2 billion last year.
Mr Chan pointed out that it is an "immense challenge" to attract both foreign and local investment to Singapore, and noted that local businesses are facing great uncertainty.
Investors will be looking at whether Singapore can still provide a "safe harbour", and have continuity as well as coherence in its policies, he added.
"At this point in time, the last thing we need to do is add to the uncertainty," he said.
"It is not correct to say that, regardless of what happens in this election, people will continue to have the confidence to plant their investments in Singapore."
SINGAPORE - Nurse Antoinette Goh wants her patients to stay out of hospital.
Beyond providing medical care and support while they are warded, she sees the role of nurses as helping patients "continue to stay healthy after their discharge from the hospital to reduce the possibility of re-admission", said the assistant nurse clinician at the National University Health System's Regional Health Office.
As part of her job scope, she helps recovering patients' transition from the hospital to their home environments, taking into account their medical and social needs.
For instance, she conducts home visits to ensure that the patients' living environments are safe, and that they have the necessary support from their family members.
The patients she works with are often elderly, with complex medical conditions or several illnesses at the same time.
"I believe in empowering people, by helping them take ownership of their medical conditions," said Ms Goh, 31. This entails identifying their needs, helping them understand their medical conditions, and take active steps for their well-being such as watching their diets.
Outside of work, she volunteered at nursing homes and hospices, and is a regular on humanitarian trips to Cambodia, where she helps to set up mobile medical clinics and teach first aid to the communities there.
Ms Goh was one of 100 nurses presented with the yearly Nurses' Merit Award by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Wednesday (July 8).
The award is given to nurses who have "displayed noteworthy and exceptional performance, participated in professional development, and contributed to raising the nursing profession," said the MOH.
They come from a variety of care settings, spanning the community care sector, private hospitals and public healthcare institutions.
Each award comes with a medal to be worn as part of the nurse's uniform, and a cash prize of $1,000.
Currently 42,000-strong, the nursing workforce has grown over the years from 36,000 in 2013, and its role has expanded to encompass community nursing, education, research and technology so as to improve the quality of care for patients and their resulting health and quality of life.
Mr Koh Chee Meng, an assistant nurse clinician at the Institute of Mental Health, was part of a team that piloted the institution's Recovery Oriented Transition Care Model last April. Under this programme, he conducts weekly home visits to follow up with discharged patients from his ward to ensure that they are coping well.
"I think it's important for us as nurses to ensure that they're not left alone, and for them to remember that we still care for them even when they are no longer in the hospital with us," he said.
He added that building rapport with the patients has made it easier for them to share the problems and worries that they struggle with.
The 60-year-old said he is a firm believer in life-long learning, and completed his nursing degree in May this year.
Mr Koh, who has been in nursing for 36 years, also holds a diploma in nursing from Nanyang Polytechnic, as well as an advanced diploma in nursing for mental health.
The degree course helped him learn how to better communicate with his patients and understand their needs, which has helped him to guide and support them along their road to recovery, said Mr Koh, who leads a team of nurses at IMH.
To support the professional growth of nurses in community care, MOH launched a Community Nursing Competency Framework in January, which defines the scope of work, roles and competencies of nurses at various stages of their career.
Besides providing greater clarity on their roles as community nurses, this will ensure that training and development can be better structured and organised.
Nurses who are keen in developing further clinical skills and knowledge in specific areas will be able to sign up for courses on the new National Nursing Academy website, which was launched in March to promote lifelong learning for nurses.
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GENEVA/MOSCOW - Temperatures in Arctic Siberia soared to a record average for June amid a heat wave that is stoking some of the worst wildfires the region has ever known, European Union (EU) data showed on Tuesday (July 7).
Global temperatures last month were on a par with a 2019 record, and "exceptional warmth" was recorded over Arctic Siberia, the EU's earth observation programme Copernicus said, part of a trend scientists are calling a "warning cry".
Average temperatures in the region were more than 5 deg C above normal and more than a degree higher than the two previous warmest Junes, in 2018 and 2019, the data showed.
The World Meteorological Organisation is also seeking to confirm reports of a temperature reading of more than 38 deg C in Siberia, which would be the highest temperature recorded north of the Arctic Circle.
"What is worrisome is that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world," said Mr Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.
The exceptional heat has sapped moisture from the earth across the region's vast boreal forests and tundra, fanning wildfires that have intensified since mid-June.
The Russian forestry agency said that, as of July 6, there were 246 forest fires covering 140,073ha and an emergency situation has been declared in seven regions. Russian state TV footage this week showed planes dumping water near huge columns of white smoke.
Copernicus says the fires have surpassed the record number of blazes seen in the region in the same month of last year.
"Higher temperatures and drier surface conditions are providing ideal conditions for these fires to burn and to persist for so long over such a large area," said Mr Mark Parrington, senior scientist at Copernicus.
Wildfire carbon dioxide emissions from the region last month were an estimated 59 megatonnes, compared with 53 megatonnes last year, the EU said.