Thick haze covers Singapore as neighbors continue to burn forests
UNTV News • September 18, 2019 • 715
Haze continued to blanket Singapore for a fifth consecutive day on Wednesday (September 18) as forest fires continued to rage in neighboring countries.
Every dry season, smoke from fires to clear land for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations in Indonesia clouds the skies over much of the region, raising concerns about public health and worrying tourist operators and airlines.
The 24-hour Pollution Standards Index, which Singapore’s National Environment Agency uses as a benchmark, was in a range of 111-126 in the afternoon, while PM2.5 ranged 83-115. A reading above PSI 100 is considered unhealthy. The World Health Organization sets a daily mean air quality guideline of 25 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter of air.
Singapore’s air quality deteriorated to “unhealthy” levels on Saturday (September 14) for the first time in three years. (REUTERS)
(Production: Travis Teo, Nur-Azna Sanusi, Yiming Woo, Pedja Stanisic, Afiq Satikin, Arshad Muhammad Satikin, Joseph Campbell)
Singapore scientists testing a COVID-19 vaccine from U.S. firm Arcturus Therapeutics plan to start human trials in August after promising initial responses in mice.
The vaccine being evaluated by Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School works on the relatively-untested Messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which instructs human cells to make specific coronavirus proteins that produce an immune response.
“The most optimistic case is that it’s about this time next year, that we will have a vaccine,” Ooi Eng Eong, deputy director of the school’s emerging infectious diseases programme, told Reuters on Tuesday (June 16).
The mRNA approach has not yet been approved for any medicine so its backers, which also include U.S. biotech firm Moderna, are treading uncharted territory.
More than 100 vaccines are being developed globally, including several already in human trials, to try and control a disease that has infected more than 8 million people and killed over 430,000 worldwide.
Ooi is also working on a monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 with Singapore-based biotechnology firm Tychan, and will begin safety trials on healthy people this week, before testing on COVID-19 patients in the coming months. Ooi said potential deployment of the treatment could be faster than the vaccine, without giving an exact timeline.
Antibodies are generated in the body to fight off infection. Monoclonal antibodies mimic natural antibodies and can be isolated and manufactured in large quantities to treat diseases.
Tiny city-state Singapore has one of the highest infection tallies in Asia, with more than 40,000 cases, largely due to mass outbreaks in dormitories for its migrant workers. (Reuters)
As Sharif Uddin begins to dream about leaving the cramped Singapore dormitory where he has spent weeks under coronavirus quarantine, fears about his future are creeping in.
The 42-year-old Bangladeshi construction site supervisor is one of the thousands of low-income migrant workers trapped in packed bunk rooms that have been ravaged by the coronavirus, accounting for more than 90% of Singapore’s 38,000 infections.
As Singapore began easing its lockdown measures this month, migrants like Uddin started to think about returning to the outside world, bringing to the surface worries about jobs and debts as Singapore braces for its deepest-ever recession.
“The fear of losing jobs is worrying everyone at the moment,” said Uddin, who sends the bulk of his wages to his family in Bangladesh, like many of the South Asians working in manual jobs in Singapore.
For most migrant workers, at least part of their salaries is used to pay off the steep fees of the agent who helped procure the job.
Reuters has interviewed over a dozen migrant workers in Singapore in recent weeks. While many said they were still being paid, they were unsure if they will retain their jobs when the quarantine is lifted.
The Singapore government has given companies tax breaks to try and ensure migrants get paid while under quarantine and introduced measures to help laid off workers find new positions without having to first travel back to their home country, a core complaint of many labourers.
Lawrence Wong, the co-head of Singapore’s virus task force, told Reuters that the government had taken steps to help alleviate the concerns of workers around job security, but added that layoffs were possible given the grim economic outlook.
“There may be some contractors who might decide – well despite all the government measures, with the new arrangements, the new additional requirements in construction, it is very difficult and I might not want to continue in this industry – and then indeed they might release some of their workers,” said Wong, who is also the minister for national development.
He added that some workers may remain quarantined in their dormitories until August, or possibly beyond, as the government completes mass testing.
The pandemic has drawn attention to the stark inequalities in the modern city-state where more than 300,000 labourers from Bangladesh, India and China often live in rooms for 12 to 20 men, working jobs that pay as little as S$20 ($14.30) a day.
That is higher than they would make at home. But the median salary for Singaporeans in 2019 was S$4,563 per month, according to the manpower ministry.
The bigger worry for many migrants like Uddin is the debts they have racked up securing jobs in Singapore.
Migrants will usually be charged S$7,000-10,000 in fees by a recruitment agent in their home country, equivalent to more than a year of their basic salary, according to rights groups. If they lose their job, this debt could haunt their families for years.
“An indebted worker is a more compliant worker and that is what the employers like. That is one reason too that employers prefer to have new workers, than to retain old workers,” said Deborah Fordyce, president of Singapore NGO Transient Workers Count Too.
Wong, the minister, said the government will continue to work to improve migrants’ lives in Singapore, but tackling issues like fees is difficult because many agents operate in the workers’ home countries outside the city-state’s jurisdiction.
Singapore’s government has pledged to improve living conditions for migrant workers in the short-term and build new, higher-spec dormitories over the coming years. (Reuters)
(Production: Pedja Stanisic, Joseph Campbell, Edgar Su, Travis Teo)
With temperatures checked, masks fitted, and hand sanitizer at the ready, many Singapore children returned to school on Tuesday (June 2) after a novel coronavirus lockdown of nearly two months.
Mask-wearing students at Yio Chu Kang Secondary School had their body temperatures taken before entering the school and during class.
According to school staff, recess will be staggered and children will have to sit apart at the canteen to maintain social distancing.
While kindergarten, primary school, and high school students are returning to the classroom, most university students will continue with online courses, local media reported.
With one of the highest coronavirus tallies in Asia, Singapore has said it will ease restrictions gradually, with the registry of marriages and some businesses, including pet salons, also reopening on Tuesday.
Singapore has recorded more than 35,000 coronavirus cases and 24 deaths. Most cases have been among migrant workers living in dormitories. (Reuters)
UNTV is a major TV broadcast network with 24-hour programming. An Ultra High Frequency station with strong brand content that appeal to everyone, UNTV is one of the most trusted and successful Philippine networks that guarantees wholesome and quality viewing experience.