Afghanistan's first-ever robot waitress glides up to a table of curious diners in central Kabul and presents them with a plate of French fries.
"Thank you very much," the machine says in Dari, one of Afghanistan's two main languages.
Restaurant manager Mohammad Rafi Shirzad says the humanoid robot, imported from Japan and designed to look vaguely like a women wearing a hijab, has already pulled in new customers since it started working last month.
"It is interesting for many people here to see a robot in real life," he said. "Sometimes kids jump in joy and surprise when they see the robot bring them food."
While robots are becoming increasingly commonplace in Japan and China, they are not unusual in conflict-wracked Afghanistan.
After decades of war that has left much of the country's infrastructure in ruins, the sight of a battery-powered waitress has provided some light relief in Kabul.
Nine-year-old Ahmad Zaki was desperate to see the machine.
"I saw the robot on TV, and asked my father to take me to this restaurant," he said.
Named "Timea" and measuring about 150 centimetres in height, the robot performs only rudimentary tasks. It delivers plates to tables, which diners then take from a tray, and can say basic phrases including "Happy Birthday".
It also can stop when it comes across an obstacle, and customers can place orders via a touch panel.
But the story is not without controversy. Some Afghans see Timea as a threat to the country's dire unemployment situation.
"This is ridiculously wrong," Facebook user Kashif Abobaker wrote. "They employ a robot when there are tens of thousands of young people desperately looking for a job."
An accident occurred near 327 Jalan Besar yesterday morning, which left a car overturned in the middle of the road.
An eyewitness, Mr Mike Ho, said he was on his way to work at Sing Huat Hardware & Machinery, which is located in the area, when he saw the car flip over after colliding with another vehicle that was travelling alongside a double-decker bus.
Mr Ho, a sales manager in his 50s, immediately called for an ambulance.
His colleague opened the door of the overturned vehicle to assist the driver out of the car. The driver was wearing a sarong and looked to be in his 30s, Mr Ho said. He crawled out and walked to the side, looking stunned, Mr Ho added.
Another eyewitness, Mr Jay Lim, 48, told reporters he was awoken by the crash, despite being 15 storeys up at home.
Out of his window, Mr Lim saw the accident and the traffic congestion it caused.
He said: "All the cars had to filter to the right side of the road. The jam lasted around one hour."
When Mr Ho realised the congestion the accident had caused, he and his colleagues gathered LED-equipped safety vests and traffic light batons from their hardware store and helped direct traffic past the accident while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
Mr Ho said: "We were afraid other people will get into an accident. We had the equipment to help so we wanted to make it easier for other cars while the authorities were coming."
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said they were alerted to the incident at 8am yesterday.
A spokesman said a person was assessed by SCDF paramedics but refused to be taken to hospital.
The Grace Assembly of God may be the site of the biggest coronavirus cluster in Singapore with 16 confirmed cases and over 70 staff served with Home Quarantine Orders, but the 4,000-strong church is banding together to prove that they are stronger than any virus.
And leading the church from his isolation ward at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) is senior pastor Wilson Teo.
Speaking to AsiaOne on Feb 17, Teo, who has spent a whole week (and counting) at NCID after testing positive for COVID-19, shared that he is on the road to recovery.
While the infection is usually accompanied by symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties, Teo said he is "no longer having the initial fever" and is "feeling well without any medication".
Of course, living in isolation has not been easy for the father of three, who was admitted on Feb 11.
"I certainly miss my family and friends, and my freedom," he said. "But I understand this isolation is a necessity and is only temporal."
On the bright side, Teo said he has been in contact with his family "thanks to technology" and has received encouraging messages and emails from congregants that have "blessed [him] tremendously".
The church may have shuttered its premises until Feb 25 as a precautionary measure, but it's business as usual for Teo.
He has been participating in meetings with staff members, prayer sessions and keeping tabs on the members of the church online, he said, adding that he was "so proud" of the congregation for its ground-up initiatives, including organising deliveries of food and groceries to church staff who are on home quarantine.
Other initiatives by the community include daily online meetings, video calls and Telegram groups set up to organise synchronised prayer sessions.
Amidst the swelling of community spirit in the church, Teo also announced in a statement on Feb 17 that one of their staff members who had been admitted into NCID for treatment was discharged.
For Teo and his congregation, it's onwards and upwards from here.
"Despite this being a difficult time for the church, we are greatly heartened by the support and concern that we have received not just from our own members, but from other churches and even from the public as well," he said.
"We are very encouraged by all these and we believe this episode will only make us stronger as a church."
The death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak surpassed 1,600 in China on Sunday, with the first fatality reported outside Asia fuelling global concerns.
More than 68,000 people have now been infected in China from a virus that emerged in central Hubei province in December before spreading across the country and some two dozen countries.
Amid criticism over the handling of the crisis, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for tighter policing to protect social stability, while Beijing ordered people returning to the capital to self-quarantine for 14 days in the latest drastic measure aimed at containing the virus.
An 80-year-old Chinese tourist died from the new coronavirus, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said Saturday.
Only three other deaths have been recorded outside mainland China — in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Japan.
The death toll in China, meanwhile, rose to 1,662 Sunday after Hubei reported 139 new deaths.
Several countries have banned arrivals from China and major airlines have cut services to the country.
The biggest cluster outside China is on a quarantined cruise ship off Japan, with 285 infections now as dozens more cases were confirmed.
A US State Department spokesperson said Americans stranded on the vessel would be evacuated, and would face a further quarantine of two weeks in the United States.
The virus spread last month as millions travelled across the country for the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended by three days — more than a week in some cities — in an effort to prevent further contagion.
People have slowly started to return to work in the past two weeks, though many are doing their jobs from home and schools remain closed.
Beijing's municipal government enacted a rule on Friday requiring all people coming to the capital to quarantine themselves for 14 days, warning that violators would be punished, according to official media.
It was unclear how authorities would enforce the measure.
Chinese authorities have placed some 56 million people in Hubei and its capital Wuhan under quarantine, virtually sealing off the province from the rest of the country in an unprecedented effort to contain the virus.
A number of cities far from the epicentre have also imposed tough measures limiting the number of people who can leave their homes.
The government must "increase use of police force and strengthen the visible use of police", to ensure stability during the crisis, Xi said in a February 3 speech published by state media on Saturday.
In another drastic preventive measure, China's central bank said Saturday that used banknotes were being disinfected with ultraviolet light or high temperatures, and stored for up to 14 days before they are put back into circulation.
The scale of the epidemic ballooned this week after authorities in Hubei changed their criteria for counting cases, retroactively adding thousands of new patients to their tally.
Hubei added more than 14,000 cases in a single day this week after officials there started counting people clinically diagnosed through lung imaging, in addition to those with a positive lab test result.
On Saturday, the National Health Commission reported 2,641 new cases of the COVID-19 strain, with the vast majority in Hubei.
The number, however, was almost half those reported the previous day, and World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the body has asked China for details on how diagnoses were being made.
"China has bought the world time. We don't know how much time," he said.
"We ask all governments, companies, and news organisations to work with us to sound the appropriate level of alarm without fanning the flames of hysteria."
He said he was concerned by the continued increase of cases in China as well as "the lack of urgency in funding the response from the international community".
The number of new confirmed cases has been steadily falling outside Hubei.
A top Chinese scientist had predicted that the epidemic could peak by the end of this month after the number of new cases had fallen earlier in the week.
But the WHO has cautioned that it was "way too early" to make any predictions about the disease's trajectory.
An international team of WHO experts will arrive in Beijing this weekend for a joint mission with Chinese counterparts.
Singapore Airlines (SIA) has apologised to one of its first-class passengers who found a screw in his bowl of pumpkin mushroom soup.
A Stomp contributor alerted Stomp to the passenger's review on WeChat of his Singapore Airlines SQ285 Suites experience from Singapore to Auckland on Jan 1.
In the thorough review from the lounge to check-in and onboard the A380 flight, the passenger wrote he was "lucky" enough to feel a sharp object in his mouth while sipping his pumpkin mushroom soup.
"I pulled out a metal screw and all the crew probably wet their pants seeing one when I showed them," he wrote.
"A S$200 voucher was offered immediately as service recovery, but I was no longer having more appetite for the rest of my flight."
The passenger said he later wrote a letter to SIA and shared what was told to him after an investigation had been conducted.
"They found the missing screw which came from one of its kitchen blenders as it was mixed into the soup bowl, passed the metal detector and [was] delivered onto the plane, reheated in a microwave, and served to me."
He added he received no further compensation for the incident.
"Hard to believe a S$200 voucher for a suite class passenger would justify the experience the pax had [gone] through," he wrote.
"What do you think?"
At the end of the article, he said he would have given his journey a five out of five if not for the screw incident.
He said: "In this case, no matter how great your hardware on this A380 was and how wonderful [this] crew were, it's a shame that such an incident happened within SQ's watch and how they dealt with it."
In response to reporters, an SIA spokesman said:
"Singapore Airlines regrets that a customer travelling on flight SQ285 from Singapore to Auckland on Jan 1, 2020 had found a screw in one of the meals that was served on board.
"We sincerely apologise to the customer for this unfortunate incident and the distress it had caused.
"We immediately worked with our catering provider to inspect all kitchen equipment and utensils.
"Staff were also reminded to observe strict food-handling safety procedures.
"In order to prevent any similar re-occurrence, our caterer implemented metal detection for all meals prepared at their facility and they also exploring new kitchen utensils that can reduce this risk.
"We expect all of our meals to meet consistently high safety standards and we are disappointed by this discovery."
From intensive care to recovery: Singaporean woman who wondered if she was dying from COVID-19 pays tribute to her medical team
SINGAPORE: Singapore's 15th confirmed COVID-19 case was discharged from the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) on Sunday (Feb 16).
The patient, who wishes to be only known as Mrs Zhang, is a 47-year-old Singaporean housewife.
Mrs Zhang, her husband and their teenage son were among the 92 Singaporeans who were evacuated from Wuhan on Jan 30 on a Scoot flight, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said.
She was asymptomatic when she boarded the flight. Upon arrival at Changi Airport, she was found to have a fever during medical screening, and was conveyed to NCID, MOH added. Mrs Zhang tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan 31 at about 2pm.
The 47-year-old requested for her experience to be shared through a transcript of her comments before she was discharged from the centre.
The following is the transcript of her comments provided by the MOH.
Could you describe how it was like when you were in Wuhan?
I was very scared and thought, “Will Singapore fetch us home?” I fervently hoped this would happen. Fortunately, my husband is a man who follows the rules, and did right this time. Before we left Singapore, he informed the Singapore embassy. Thank God, he did it. A Ms Zhang from Singapore Embassy contacted my husband, and arranged for us to leave.
My husband received notification that the Government arranged a Scoot flight to send us back. I was so happy then! I was so grateful for the Singapore Government’s arrangement to bring us home.
Can you describe the care you received from the NCID medical staff?
The medical team here is excellent. They treated me like family. I am really grateful to them. They kept encouraging me every day. They encouraged me to take my medicine, and told me not to be afraid. They asked me not to give up hope, and kept on cheering me on. I am immensely grateful to them. They are also very gentle, e.g. when they took the X-ray for me. I am very thankful.
Can you tell me about your son’s condition? I understand that he is receiving treatment at the NCID.
The nurse takes a sample from his nose every day for testing. He has not been given a clean bill, but he (does) not have other symptoms. I am slightly comforted to think that as a mother, I have brought him up to be a sturdy boy, to better fight the virus.
You have shared that you were feeling “normal” at first, but your condition suddenly deteriorated, and you even had to be warded to the ICU. Could you share your experience being sent to the ICU because of low oxygen level? It must have been very frightening.
I was very scared. They stuck the oxygen tube into my nose, and turned up the level so that I could breathe. Initially, it was one-litre/min, later it was changed to two-, four-, and six-litres/min. But because my lungs were not functioning well, it did not work. I remembered vividly the day I had extreme difficulty in breathing, and felt that I was dying. I thought: “Am I dying?”
The nurse helped me to pack my things meticulously, and sent them to ICU. The doctors and nurses at the ICU acted swiftly. At that time, I could not move, but my mind was clear. I heard their conversation clearly. A doctor kept holding my head, and telling me not to worry. She said, “Don’t worry, we will insert a tube to help you in your breathing”. She kept reassuring me. She is indeed a very gentle lady.
What will you like to do after being discharged?
I want to go home and slowly recuperate. I want to resume my daily exercise with my friends. But I don’t think it is possible as it is best people do not gather. I just want to go back to my ordinary life, to go exercising with my friends, then marketing, and have a cup of coffee. Later in the night, prepare dinner for my husband and children. I think that would be good.
Do you have any well wishes for Wuhan, China?
I hope that all will be well for them, for everyone to be safe and in good health, and not to fall ill like I did. When I came out from ICU, my husband told me that he hadn’t been able to sleep for a few nights. I know if I was in his position, I would have collapsed.
Do you have any takeaways from this illness?
I think for our safety as well as others, we should take some precautionary measures and not see them as troublesome.
Could you offer some words of encouragement to other patients who are still undergoing treatment?
I think we must pull through. We have family and friends. This disease does not mean inevitable death. I have confidence in our medical team and their skills. I believe they will be able to save us.
SAO PAULO - Scientists in Antarctica have recorded a new record temperature of 20.75 deg C, breaking the barrier of 20 degrees for the first time on the continent, a researcher said Thursday (Feb 13).
"We'd never seen a temperature this high in Antarctica," Brazilian scientist Carlos Schaefer told AFP.
He cautioned that the reading, taken at a monitoring station on an island off the continent's northern tip on Feb 9, "has no meaning in terms of a climate-change trend," because it is a one-off temperature and not part of a long-term data set.
But news that the icy continent is now recording temperatures in the relatively balmy 20s is likely to further fuel fears about the warming of the planet.
The reading was taken at Seymour Island, part of a chain off the peninsula that curves out from the northern tip of Antarctica.
The island is home to Argentina's Marambio research base.
Dr Schaefer, a soil scientist, said the reading was taken as part of a 20-year-old research project on the impact of climate change on the region's permafrost.
The previous high was in the 19s, he said.
"We can't use this to anticipate climatic changes in the future. It's a data point," he said. "It's simply a signal that something different is happening in that area."
Still, he added, a temperature that high had never been registered in Antarctica.
Accelerating melt-off from glaciers and especially ice sheets in Antarctica is helping drive sea level rises, threatening coastal megacities and small island nations.
The news came a week after Argentina's National Meteorological Service recorded the hottest day on record for Argentine Antarctica: 18.3 deg C at midday at the Esperanza base, located near the tip of the Antarctic peninsula.
The previous record stood at 17.5 degrees on March 24, 2015, it said. It has been recording Antarctic temperatures since 1961.
The past decade has been the hottest on record, the United Nations said last month, with 2019 the second-hottest year ever, after 2016.
And 2020 looks set to continue the trend: last month was the hottest January on record.
The police got them.
Two 17-year-old students were identified as the youths behind a prank at an NTUC FairPrice supermarket, the police said.
In the clip that made its rounds on social media last week, a youth is seen taking sips of drinks from the chilled drinks section, putting the caps back on, and placing the bottles back on the shelves.
The teens purchased the drinks after filming the video.
The clip was posted on one of the youth's private Instagram account with the caption "how to spread Wuhan", referring to the coronavirus outbreak which originated in Wuhan, China.
It was meant to be an inside joke among their friends but it soon got out of hand when an acquaintance recorded a copy and circulated it online.
Although the youths have since made a public apology, it did not appease angry members of the public, who slammed them for their insensible act and called for severe punishment.
Some netizens also expressed worries that the video would lead others to mimic the irresponsible stunt.
On Monday (Feb 10), FairPrice said it was working with the authorities on the actions needed for the case, and asked the public not to circulate the video.
Investigations are ongoing, the police said, adding they will not tolerate actions that stoke undue public alarm, especially during this period of heightened sensitivity.
Travelling at speeds of up to 144kmh, he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into another lorry.
When he awoke, Andy Cheong Chin Chye, 30, found his friend of 15 years, Mr Tee Teck Eng, 29, dangling out the front windscreen.
Cheong's elder brother, who was driving in a car behind him, stopped and tried to help, calling the police.
But Cheong stole his brother's car and fled the scene.
Yesterday, he was jailed for 11 months and six weeks after pleading guilty to one count of causing death by dangerous driving, and two counts of failing to stop in the case of an accident.
Another charge of taking his brother's car without consent was taken into consideration.
Cheong will also be disqualified from driving for nine years upon his release.
At about 8pm on Dec 14, 2018, Cheong and Mr Tee had dinner and drinks at a coffee shop near Pioneer Road North.
Cheong had two cups of beer.
His elder brother also went to the coffee shop to pick someone up, and they all left together at about 10.50pm.
Mr Tee took a ride from Cheong, who offered to drive him home in his lorry.
At about 11.35pm, at a slight bend on the Ayer Rajah Expressway, Cheong's lorry swerved from lane 1 to lane 2, colliding with another lorry.
Both vehicles skidded left into guard railings and a traffic sign.
Mr Tee was thrown forward, crashing through the windscreen where he was left dangling when the vehicles stopped.
After seeing the state of his friend, Cheong took his brother's car and drove home, and returned to the scene only at about 3.30am the next day after numerous calls and much persuasion from family members.
He failed the breathalyser test there and was arrested.
But when he was taken back to the police station, he was unable to blow into the breathalyser for reasons not revealed in court, and they took his blood which turned up negative for alcohol.
Mr Tee was taken to hospital, but died from a head injury at about 5.30am.
Yesterday, Cheong admitted he felt sleepy prior to the accident and did not have proper rest, having started work at 9am and ended at 8pm that night.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Kevin Ho told the court that Cheong was previously convicted of similar charges in 2013, and should have known better than to leave the scene again.
District Judge Toh Han Li handed Cheong the sentence after considering all factors of the case, including his past conviction.
He also allowed a deferment of the sentence on the condition of increased bail.
For causing his friend's death by dangerous driving, Cheong, who is out on $15,000 bail, could have been jailed for up to five years.
He is expected to surrender himself on March 5 to begin serving his sentence.
MOSCOW - A former top official in the Russian prison service shot and killed himself in a Moscow court on Wednesday (Feb 12) shortly after being jailed for extortion, a court spokeswoman said.
Viktor Sviridov, who previously headed the prison service's transport department, "committed suicide in the courtroom by shooting himself in the chest", a spokeswoman for Moscow City Court told AFP.
She did not provide further details.
The pistol Sviridov used was given to him as an award, his lawyer Alexander Kotelnitsky told Rossiya 24 television.
Sviridov had pleaded guilty to extorting 10 million rubles (S$220,000) from a former deputy director of the prison service. The Chertanovo district court sentenced him to three years in a penal colony.
His sentence was less than the maximum possible term of 15 years because he had been diagnosed with advanced cancer, Russian media reported.
It was unclear how the former official, who had been living at home while subject to a travel ban, managed to bring a gun into a court with metal detectors at the entrance.
The Moscow City Court spokesman said investigators were "looking into the circumstances".
Investigations into corruption in the prison service have uncovered rampant violations involving officials and several have killed themselves.
A former head of the prison service, Alexander Reimer, was sentenced to eight years in 2017 for embezzling millions of dollars of state funding allocated to buy electronic bracelets.