SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) reported on Monday (Jan 18) that two new community COVID-19 cases were linked to a police para-veterinarian who had earlier tested positive, forming Singapore's latest cluster.
The two cases reported on Monday are both family members of Case 59365, a 44-year-old Singaporean man who works as an administrative officer at the same location as the para-vet.
The para-vet's identified close contacts, including his family members and co-workers, have been isolated and placed in quarantine. The para-vet's wife was reported to have the disease on Jan 16.
Twenty-five police dogs who had interacted with the para-vet have also tested negative for the coronavirus.
Here is how the cluster unfolded:
PARA-VET CONFIRMED TO HAVE COVID-19
The MOH reported that the sole community case on Jan 14 was a 32-year-old Singaporean who works as as a police para-vet at 2 Mowbray Road.
His job mainly involves tele-consultations with dog handlers, MOH said.
According to MOH, the para-vet developed a fever on Jan 11 and visited a general practitioner clinic on the same day, where he was tested for COVID-19 as part of enhanced community testing.
The para-vet remained at home on medical leave until his result came back positive on Jan 13, when he was taken to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). His serological test was negative, indicating it is likely a current infection, said MOH.
The para-vet's identified close contacts, including family members and co-workers, have been isolated and placed on quarantine, and will be tested at the start and end of their quarantine period to detect asymptomatic cases, added the Health Ministry.
3 OFFICERS QUARANTINED, 25 DOGS TEST NEGATIVE
The next day, the police said that three of its officers who were in close contact with the para-vet have been quarantined.
Twenty-five police dogs that had interacted with the para-vet two weeks before he showed symptoms also tested negative for COVID-19, the police said.
The police added that the para-vet cares for the medical and grooming needs of dogs in the K-9 unit, and that his job does not require him to work outside his assigned base.
The Animal and Veterinary Service said it tested the 25 police dogs as a precautionary measure, using a polymerase chain reaction test method for animals as recommended by the World Organisation for Animal Health.
The police are also monitoring the dogs' health regularly, adding that the dogs have not shown any respiratory symptoms.
The K-9 unit remains operational, the force said, with workplace segregation measures for the work unit of any officer who had interacted closely with the para-vet.
It has also cleaned and disinfected common areas that the para-vet could have visited, including work stations, lift lobbies, meeting rooms, pantries and toilets.
PARA-VET'S WIFE TESTS POSITIVE
On Jan 16, MOH reported that the para-vet's wife tested positive for COVID-19. The 28-year-old had been in quarantine since Jan 13.
She had developed acute respiratory infection symptoms on Jan 14 and was tested for the coronavirus. Her result returned as positive the next day, and she was also sent to NCID. Her serological test was negative.
The woman works as a prison staff officer with the Singapore Prison Service but does not interact with inmates, MOH said. She was mainly working from home during this period.
2 MORE CASES, CLUSTER IDENTIFIED
On Jan 17, MOH reported that a 44-year-old Singaporean man who works as an administrative officer at the police's K-9 unit has COVID-19.
The administrative officer had developed a dry throat on Jan 7 – earlier than the para-vet's onset of symptoms – but had not sought medical treatment, MOH said.
The administrative officer was tested on Jan 15 as part of special testing operations at the para-vet's workplace. His result came back positive on Jan 16 and he was taken to NCID. His serological test was negative.
After the administrative officer was confirmed to have COVID-19, MOH on Jan 16 contacted one of his family members, a 44-year-old Singaporean woman, as part of contact tracing efforts.
The woman, a homemaker, was tested for COVID-19 on Jan 16 when she reported she had developed a fever and chills on Jan 9, as well as the loss of smell and taste on Jan 13. She did not seek medical treatment, MOH said.
Her test result came back positive on Jan 17, and she was taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital. Her serological test was negative.
2 MORE CASES DID NOT SEEK MEDICAL TREATMENT
The two cases reported on Jan 18 are both family members of the 44-year-old Singaporean man who works as an administrative officer at the same location as the para-vet.
One case is the man’s spouse, a 43-year-old Singaporean woman who is a homemaker, while the other is a 66-year-old Malaysian woman who is a long-term visit pass holder. Both experienced symptoms including diarrhoea and loss of taste but had not sought medical treatment.
MOH said epidemiological investigations are ongoing, and "strongly" urged everyone to do their part to reduce the risk of transmission.
"Those who are unwell, including those showing early or mild symptoms, should be socially responsible and seek medical attention immediately and stay at home to prevent the spread of illness to others," it said.
As of Jan 18, a total of six confirmed cases have been linked to the para-vet cluster.
SINGAPORE - A full-time national serviceman (NSF) who duped the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) into disbursing $2,500 from the Temporary Relief Fund (TRF) for his benefit was sentenced on Tuesday (Jan 19) to 18 months' probation.
The court heard that Yee Jia Hao, 20, used his ill-gotten gains to gamble and has not made any restitution.
Yee had submitted four bogus Covid-19 grant applications in April last year to receive monies from the TRF, a fund to deal with the economic and social impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Three applications were accepted while one was rejected.
The fund is administered by MSF and the People's Association.
As part of his probation, the Singaporean has to remain indoors from 10pm to 6am every day and perform 60 hours of community service.
He must also attend a gambling-relapse prevention programme. His parents and brother were bonded for $5,000 to ensure his good behaviour.
Yee had pleaded guilty last year to three counts of cheating and one count of attempted cheating.
Six other charges, mainly for cheating, were considered during sentencing.
The TRF, a financial support scheme the Government announced in March last year as part of the Resilience Budget, opened its application from April 1 to 30, 2020.
The court heard that Yee first accessed the online TRF portal using his own SingPass credentials on April 17 last year where he made a false declaration, claiming that he had lost at least 30 per cent of his personal income owing to the outbreak.
Among other things, an applicant for relief must have a household income of up to $10,000 or earn up to $3,100 a month before losing his or her job.
The applicant must also be retrenched or suffer at least 30 per cent loss of personal income due to the pandemic after Jan 23 last year.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Jeremy Bin said that Yee was aware that he did not meet the eligibility criteria and had not lost his personal income due to the pandemic.
The prosecutor said: "Rather, his personal income had increased, as he had been unemployed prior to Covid-19, and was a full-time NSF thereafter.
"Furthermore, the accused declared that his income prior to Covid-19 was $960, and his income after it was affected by Covid-19 was $672, exactly 30 per cent less. These numbers were fictitious."
MSF disbursed $500 to Yee three days after he submitted his application.
He then continued cheating the ministry of more money but used SingPass credentials belonging to other people, including his father.
The DPP said Yee had deliberately sought to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic and the Government's response to it for financial gain.
He added: "The TRF is not 'free money' to be taken at one's whim and fancy. It was a specific scheme to help those truly in need to tide over the short-term financial impact of losing income or jobs."
Yee was caught after an MSF officer lodged a police report on May 27 last year.
For each count of cheating, Yee could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.
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SINGAPORE - A Republic Polytechnic (RP) student appeared in a district court last week after he allegedly recorded a woman inside a toilet at Jurong West Community Building.
Gerald Che Hong Yao, 20, who faces a single voyeurism charge, is accused of committing the offence at around 11.40am on Jan 11.
RP told reporters in a statement on Monday (Jan 18) that the Singaporean is still one of its students.
"RP takes a strong view against sexual misconduct, and will not hesitate to mete out disciplinary action against any student found guilty of such acts. As court and internal proceedings are ongoing, RP is unable to comment further," said its spokesman.
On Jan 14, Che was ordered to be remanded at the Institute of Mental Health for psychiatric observation.
His case has been adjourned to Jan 28.
If convicted of voyeurism, he can be jailed for up to two years and fined or caned.
Che was just one of several local tertiary students who were hauled to court in recent months over similar offences.
For instance, Singapore Management University student Tien Kiat Chong, 24, is accused of targeting a woman 19 times and secretly filming upskirt videos of her between May 28 and Sept 3, 2019.
He was charged last year with one count each of insulting a woman's modesty and being in possession of 37 obscene videos.
The videos were said to have been found on him at around 9pm on Sept 4, 2019, when he was at Sengkang MRT station.
Tien's case is still pending.
Separately, a National University of Singapore undergraduate, who took voyeuristic videos of women in student dormitory showers, was sentenced to 12 weeks' jail and given a fine of $1,500 last October.
Joel Rasis Ismail, 27, filmed the victims between March and May 2019 in Raffles Hall, in the toilet of a "female-only" floor that men are barred from accessing.
He had pleaded guilty to three charges of insulting a woman's modesty and one of criminal trespass. Another seven similar charges were taken into consideration during sentencing.
Child molester sentenced to preventive detention for reoffending 10 months after release from prison
SINGAPORE - A man sentenced to 10 years' preventive detention in 2009 for molesting six children, including a one-year-old baby, will be back behind bars for molesting a 10-year-old girl just 10 months after his release in 2019.
Cleaner Salim Abdul Rahman, now 61, was sentenced on Monday (Jan 18) to 12 years' preventive detention. He pleaded guilty to the molestation charge in December last year.
The court heard that the Singaporean has "paedophilic sexual interest" and a high risk of reoffending.
However, an Institute of Mental Health report states that he was not suffering from any psychiatric disorders or illnesses when he molested his latest victim on Oct 1 last year.
Preventive detention is meted out to recalcitrant offenders aged over 30 and it does not offer the usual one-third remission for good behaviour.
The detention order can last up to 20 years, and those given such a sentence will receive a substantial period of imprisonment to protect the public.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Colin Ng said that Salim, who was released from prison on Dec 27, 2019, targeted the victim on Oct 1 last year.
The cleaner was on a bus at around 1.40pm when he spotted the girl, who was in her school uniform.
After the pair alighted at the same bus stop, Salim decided to approach her. He had "evil thoughts of doing something bad" and wanted himself to "feel good", said the DPP.
As the girl was walking home, he touched her shoulders from behind.
She turned around and he tried to strike a conversation with her. The girl ignored him, as she did not know him.
The DPP said: "Despite the victim's refusal to answer his questions, the accused persisted in striking a conversation with the victim. The accused took out $1.50 from his pocket, handed it to the victim, and told her to keep the $1.50.
"The victim accepted the $1.50, as she was afraid to incur the wrath of the accused should she reject his gesture. The accused then held the victim's right hand and told her to follow him to his house."
Salim took the girl to a nearby block of flats and molested her along a staircase when she refused to follow him any further.
The terrified girl ran home and broke down when she arrived at her flat.
She told her grandmother about her ordeal and the 68-year-old woman accompanied the girl to a police station to make a report.
Officers arrested Salim at around 8pm that day, the court heard.
For molesting a child below 14, an offender can be jailed for up to five years and fined or caned. Salim cannot be caned, as he is over 50 years old.
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TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS - Hundreds of Central Americans camped overnight outside the bus terminal in the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, anxiously awaiting the departure early on Friday morning (Jan 15) of a migrant caravan hoping to reach the United States.
Local television footage showed an increasing number of families, many carrying young children, gathering throughout the evening on Thursday, despite Central American authorities deploying soldiers to regional borders to deter migrants from crossing.
This week's caravan will be the first of the year and comes less than a week before US President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Mr Biden has promised a more humane approach to migration, in a departure from outgoing President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant policies.
As well as dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Central America is reeling from a growing hunger crisis, high rates of violence, and the devastating fallout of two major hurricanes that battered the region in November.
Authorities in Central America and Mexico have stepped up efforts to stop the caravan well before the US border, using anti-coronavirus measures as the latest tool to curtail migration.
That will likely be a relief for Mr Biden, whose aides have privately expressed concerns about the prospect of growing numbers of migrants seeking to enter the United States in the early days of his administration.
On Thursday, Guatemala cited the pandemic in order to declare emergency powers in seven border provinces migrants frequently transit through en route to Mexico.
The measures limit public demonstrations and allow authorities to disperse any public meeting, group or demonstration by force.
Honduras and Guatemala have announced they will deploy thousands of soldiers to preemptively stop caravan members, while Mexico also deployed agents to its southern border on Thursday.
WASHINGTON - Federal prosecutors offered an ominous new assessment of last week's siege of the US Capitol by President Donald Trump's supporters on Thursday (Jan 14), saying in a court filing that rioters intended "to capture and assassinate elected officials".
Prosecutors offered that view in a filing asking a judge to detain Jacob Chansley, the Arizona man and QAnon conspiracy theorist who was famously photographed wearing horns as he stood at the desk of Vice-President Mike Pence in the chamber of the US Senate.
The detention memo, written by Justice Department lawyers in Arizona, goes into greater detail about the FBI's investigation into Chansley, revealing that he left a note for Mr Pence warning that "it's only a matter of time, justice is coming".
"Strong evidence, including Chansley's own words and actions at the Capitol, supports that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States government," prosecutors wrote.
A public defender representing Chansley could not be immediately reached for comment. Chansley was due to appear in federal court on Friday.
The prosecutors' assessment comes as prosecutors and federal agents have begun bringing more serious charges tied to violence at the Capitol, including revealing cases on Thursday against one man, retired firefighter Robert Sanford, on charges that he hurled a fire extinguisher at the head of one police officer and another, Peter Stager, of beating a different officer with a pole bearing an American flag.
In Chansley's case, prosecutors said the charges "involve active participation in an insurrection attempting to violently overthrow the United States government", and warned that "the insurrection is still in progress" as law enforcement prepares for more demonstrations in Washington and state capitals.
They also suggested he suffers from drug abuse and mental illness, and told the judge he poses a serious flight risk.
"Chansley has spoken openly about his belief that he is an alien, a higher being, and he is here on earth to ascend to another reality," they wrote.
The Justice Department has brought more than 80 criminal cases in connection with the violent riots at the US Capitol last week, in which Mr Trump's supporters stormed the building, ransacked offices and in some cases, attacked police.
Many of the people charged so far were easily tracked down by the FBI, which has more than 200 suspects, thanks in large part to videos and photos posted on social media.
Mr Michael Sherwin, the Acting US Attorney for the District of Columbia, has said that while many of the initial charges may seem minor, he expects much more serious charges to be filed as the Justice Department continues its investigation.
SINGAPORE - Road potholes have proliferated across the island after heavy rains in the last several weeks, raising concern among motorists and cyclists a like.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng on Friday (Jan 15) told The Straits Times he is aware of the situation: "The rains this year have been heavier and more protracted. We're seeing four times more potholes than usual."
He explained that with persistent rain, water seeps into the ground, softens the soil, and the tarmac above gives way when vehicles go over them.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is combing the roads and making repairs as soon as possible, he said. But because of the pandemic, contractors' access to workers has been affected, he noted.
Given the size of the road network, he urged road users to be on the lookout and alert the authorities if they come across a pothole - either on the OneService app or MyTransport app.
Avid cyclist Richard Toh, 53, said he has been alerting the authorities. "I cycle on a daily basis, from Woodlands to Shenton Way, from Woodlands to Neo Tiew - there are potholes everywhere I turn," the retiree said.
Mr Toh added that while it is usual to see more potholes after a rainy spell, "the number and size of potholes have gone up this year".
Another cyclist, Imran Talib, 46, said he tripped over a pothole in Old Airport Road last week and fractured a rib. "It was covered by a puddle," the regional sales manager said. "I didn't see it till it was too late."
He went to a hospital and an X-ray revealed a hairline fracture. "I'm okay. Still mobile," he said.
Mr Lee Teck Send was not so fortunate. Last August, he rode over a pothole, fell, sustained brain injuries, and died in hospital days later - according to Facebook posts by his family and fellow riders. While his case was not from the recent spate, Mr Toh said it highlighted the dangers of potholes.
Mr Bernard Tay, president of the Singapore Road Safety Council, said the LTA usually aims to repair potholes within 24 hours. But with the persistent rain, work could not be carried out as quickly, he added.
Mr Tay pointed out that two-wheelers - like cyclists and motorcyclists - are more vulnerable, and riders should take precautions such as wearing proper gear and riding at lower speeds.
"For four-wheelers, they should avoid going over the potholes too," Mr Tay said. "But if they cannot, they should slow down before going over them. They should not apply the brakes while going over them, or the vehicle might dive and sustain damage."
He also advised motorists to ensure their vehicle are in good condition, with more attention paid to windscreen wipers, headlights, tyres and brakes.
Freelance motoring writer Wong Kai Yi, 31, said: "As both a driver and cyclist, these potholes are no mere eyesores - they affect both traffic and safety. Several times, I had to avoid potholes large enough to swallow a bicycle wheel."
The communication manager added: "I notice some motorists, perhaps those who are familiar with the deteriorating road conditions, keeping to one side of the lane where they can then avoid all the potholes. That means they sometimes straddle lane markings, and some cars on the neighbouring lane end up having to swerve around them, creating a nuisance on the road.'
He added that some areas which have been repatched appear to have been done so in a haphazard manner, resulting in an uneven and uncomfortable road surface.
The authorities should aim to prioritise patching potholes, and perhaps "take proactive action to shore up road conditions," he said.
Meanwhile, a Gojek community group started listing locations of potholes on Facebook on Friday. Within the first three hours, more than 20 sites have been listed.
An LTA spokesman said: "We would like to seek commuters and motorists' understanding as we work with our contractors to expedite the repair works."
SINGAPORE - A 27-year-old man linked to the 2019 Orchard Towers murder was sentenced to five months' jail on Friday (Jan 15) for disposing of a bloodstained T-shirt worn by the alleged killer.
Loo Boon Chong was also fined $1,000 for a separate gambling-related offence.
He was among a group of seven originally charged with the murder of Mr Satheesh Noel Gobidass, 31.
Loo's murder charge was later reclassified to that of consorting with 29-year-old Tan Seng Yang, who was carrying a foldable karambit knife in the incident on July 2, 2019.
The weapon is a curved blade resembling a claw.
Loo had earlier pleaded guilty to one charge of obstructing justice by disposing of a bloodstained T-shirt worn by Tan, who is the only member of the group still facing a murder charge.
He had also admitted to an offence related to a separate incident in February last year, where he gambled over a game of dice in a public place.
Loo and his six friends had patronised Naughty Girl Club on the second floor of the shopping mall in the wee hours of July 2, 2019.
While in the club, they got into a dispute with another group. The ensuing fight, which Loo tried to stop, saw Tan injure a security officer and another patron.
Loo's group eventually left the club and took the lift to the ground floor of the shopping mall where Mr Satheesh, who was present in the club earlier, confronted one of them.
Several members of Loo's group then attacked him, with Tan inflicting multiple injuries to Mr Satheesh's head and neck area with the knife.
Loo did not join in the assault, court documents state.
The group fled before Mr Satheesh collapsed on the ground. He later died at about 7.25am at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Following the brawl, Loo returned home. Tan accompanied him and took a shower there and changed his clothes.
Loo later gave him $50 for transport and a pair of slippers.
When he realised that Tan had left his white bloodstained T-shirt in his bedroom, he disposed of it at a communal rubbish chute. The T-shirt was not found by the police.
In their submissions, Deputy Prosecutors Ang Feng Qian, Dora Tay and Benedict Teong urged the court to jail Loo for at least six months for obstructing justice.
The DPPs said he should also be fined $1,000 for the gambling offence.
Loo's lawyers Sunil Sudheesan, Diana Ngiam and Sujesh Anandan asked for their client to be jailed for up to two months, saying in their mitigation plea that he was sincerely remorseful for impulsively throwing away the T-shirt.
Ms Ngiam also told the court on Friday that Loo would not be able to pay the $1,000 fine, and asked for him to be jailed for up to an additional five days instead.
For intentionally obstructing justice, Loo could have been jailed for up to seven years and/or fined.
Tan is the only member of the group still facing a murder charge. His case will be heard in the High Court.
Four others were dealt with last year.
Mr Chan Jia Xing, 27, was given a conditional warning for consorting with a person carrying an offensive weapon in a public place.
A conditional warning does not amount to a conviction or a finding of guilt, and does not leave a criminal record.
Natalie Siow Yu Zhen, 24, was sentenced to five months' jail for assault and for being in the company of Tan.
Office administrator Joel Tan Yun Sheng, 27, was jailed for four weeks for assault.
Hotel receptionist Ang Da Yuan, 27, was sentenced to eight months' jail and six strokes of the cane for assault and being in the company of Tan.
The case against Tan Hong Sheng, 23, who faces a consorting charge, is pending.
Those convicted of consorting with a person carrying an offensive weapon in a public place can be jailed for up to three years and receive at least six strokes of the cane.
A conviction for murder carries the death penalty.