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Politics

Coronavirus: Singapore will have to tighten travel restrictions further temporarily, but can't completely shut itself from the world, says PM Lee

SINGAPORE – The Covid-19 outbreak will continue for some time – a year, and maybe longer – said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his second national address on the situation on Thursday (March 12).

But if Singaporeans keep up their guard and take practical precautions to protect themselves and their families, the country will be able to keep its economy going and people will be able to carry on with their daily lives, he said in a video address telecast over his social media platforms.

PM Lee also emphasised that the disease outbreak response level will not be stepped up to red, the highest level. It is currently at orange.

“We are not locking down our city like the Chinese, South Koreans or Italians have done. What we are doing now is to plan ahead for some of these more stringent measures, try them out, and prepare Singaporeans for when we actually need to implement them,” he said.

In his statement on the current situation – which he delivered in English, Chinese and Malay – PM Lee laid out the medical, economic and psychological impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

On the medical front, he noted that new cases continue to be seen in Singapore. Most have either travelled overseas or can be traced to imported cases. “Each time we have been able to isolate them, do contact tracing, and quarantine the close contacts. So our numbers have not blown up. But neither have we been able to eradicate the virus, despite our best efforts.”

At the same time, new cases are emerging all over the world – in Europe, America and the Middle East – and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the situation a pandemic.

This means that many countries will see full blown outbreaks, with sustained community transmission, PM Lee said, adding that the WHO has attributed the virus’ rapid spread to “alarming levels of inaction” by many countries.

And although Singapore has all along taken the outbreak with the “utmost seriousness”, it expects more imported cases.

“We will have to tighten up further temporarily, though we cannot completely shut ourselves off from the world,” he said.

First, there are baseline things that all Singaporeans must now do. These include practising good personal hygiene, adopting new social norms and discouraging large gatherings, and generally, maintaining some physical distance from one another.

He noted that two of Singapore’s large clusters happened in church groups, and that several Singaporeans who attended a big international religious gathering in Kuala Lumpur recently have caught the virus.

“The issue is of course not religion itself, but that the virus can spread quickly to many people in crowded settings, like religious gatherings and services,” he said, adding: “I hope Singaporeans understand that during this period we may need to shorten religious services, or reduce our attendance at such gatherings. Please work with your religious leaders to make these practical adjustments.”

Second, Singapore must plan for a possible spike in Covid-19 cases.

With very large numbers, Singapore will not be able to hospitalise and isolate every case as it currently does. And 80 per cent of patients experience only mild symptoms, PM Lee said.

“So with larger numbers, the sensible thing will be to hospitalise only the more serious cases, and encourage those with mild symptoms to see their family GP and rest at home – isolate themselves. This way, we focus resources on the seriously ill, speed up our response time, and hopefully, minimise the number of fatalities.”

In the meantime, Singapore is freeing up intensive care unit and hospital beds and facilities, to create additional capacity to meet any surge. “But rest assured, any Singaporean who needs urgent medical care, whether for Covid-19 or other illnesses, will be taken care of.”

If there is a spike in cases, Singapore will also implement temporary additional social distancing measures, such as suspending school, staggering work hours, or compulsory telecommuting, he said.

On the economic front, the Government is working on a second package of measures to help companies with their costs and cash-flow, to keep them afloat through the storm.

“We will help our workers keep their jobs, and retrain during their downtime, so that when things return to normal, our workers will be the first out of the gate, and immediately productive. And we will give those who are retrenched and unemployed, as well as their families, an extra helping hand to see through this difficult period.”

The psychological aspect of this fight is also critical, PM Lee said.

Frontline staff – including healthcare workers, immigration officers, civil servants, public transport workers, taxi drivers, and cleaning staff – are working extremely hard to keep Singapore going.

“Singaporeans are cheering them on,” he said, adding that the Government, for its part, has been open and transparent with its plans.

“When we made direct appeals to Singaporeans, for example, only wear face masks when unwell; or not to worry about our supermarkets running out of food or household items, people accepted our reassurances, and behaviour changed. I am grateful that most Singaporeans are responding calmly and responsibly. Thank you for your trust and support.”

He noted that Singapore’s response has received international accolades, and underlying this is its people’s social and psychological resilience.

“What makes Singapore different from other countries is that we have confidence in each other, we feel that we are all in this together, and we do not leave anyone behind. This is SG United, we are SG United.”

He added: “In such a crisis, everyone has a part to play. I hope you will work with me and colleagues to keep our families safe, keep Singapore secure, and move forward together.”

In his first national address, delivered on Feb 8, PM Lee had said that the outbreak was a test of Singapore’s social cohesion and psychological resilience.

He also said the country may have to reconsider its strategy if the virus became widespread, as it would be futile to trace every contact and hospitals could be overwhelmed if every suspect case was hospitalised and isolated.

He also encouraged Singaporeans to stay united and resolute, taking sensible precautions, helping one another, staying calm, and carrying on with their lives.

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World News

Merkel's party postpones congress to choose new leader due to coronavirus

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have postponed a conference scheduled for April 25 in Berlin to choose a new party leader due to the coronavirus and said it would reschedule as soon as the epidemic allowed.

The delay scuppers any hope of a quick resolution to the power struggle within the party after leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said last month she was giving up after an outcry over a regional branch of the CDU voting with the far-right.

“The health of the people in our country is the top priority for us,” said Kramp-Karrenbauer in a statement.

“Against the background of current forecasts of the spreading of COVID-19, the CDU congress planned for April 25 cannot take place,” she added.

Germany has recorded 1,567 cases of the coronavirus, according to the Robert Koch Institute, and four people have died. The government has recommended that events with more than 1,000 participants are canceled.

Public health efforts are now focused on slowing its spread to minimize the peak burden on the healthcare system. Social affairs minister Franziska Giffey said the elderly and their families should refrain from hugging or taking public transport.

Three main contenders for the CDU leadership are in the running, including Friedrich Merz, a former arch rival of Merkel who is promising a change in direction and Armin Laschet, premier of Germany’s biggest state, widely seen as a continuity candidate.

Foreign policy expert Norbert Roettgen is seen by most commentators as having only an outside chance.

The new leader of the CDU is in a strong position to run as chancellor in the next election, due by Oct. 2021, but that also has to be agreed with Bavarian conservatives.

Merkel, in charge of Europe’s biggest economy for nearly 15 years, has said she will not seek re-election.

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World News

China senior medical adviser: coronavirus pandemic 'over by June' if countries act

BEIJING (Reuters) – The global coronavirus pandemic could be over by June if countries mobilize to fight it, a senior Chinese medical adviser said on Thursday, as China declared the peak had passed there and new cases in Hubei fell to single digits for the first time.

Around two-thirds of global cases of the coronavirus have been recorded in China’s central Hubei province, where the virus first emerged in December. But in recent weeks the vast majority of new cases have been outside China.

Chinese authorities credit strict measures they have taken, including placing Hubei under near total lockdown, with preventing big outbreaks in other cities, and say other countries should learn from their efforts.

“Broadly speaking, the peak of the epidemic has passed for China,” said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission. “The increase of new cases is falling.”

Zhong Nanshan, the Chinese government’s senior medical adviser, said at a news conference on Thursday that as long as countries take the outbreak seriously and are prepared to take firm measures, it could be over worldwide in a matter of months.

“My advice is calling for all countries to follow WHO instructions and intervene on a national scale,” he said. “If all countries could get mobilized, it could be over by June.”

Zhong, an 83-year-old epidemiologist renowned for helping combat the SARS outbreak in 2003, said viruses in the same family typically become less active in warm months, which could help slow the spread.

“My estimate of June is based on scenarios that all countries take positive measures. But if some countries do not treat the infectiousness and harmfulness seriously, and intervene strongly, it would last longer.”

BUSINESSES REOPEN

With the marked slowdown of the spread of the virus in China, more businesses have reopened, with authorities cautiously easing strict containment measures.

Hubei province announced on Thursday a further loosening of travel restrictions and will also allow some industries to resume production in two of its cities and two counties.

Hubei’s economy, driven by manufacturing and trade, including a sizable auto sector in the provincial capital Wuhan, had been virtually shuttered since Jan. 23.

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While the virus is spreading quickly globally, its progress in China has slowed markedly in the past seven days. In all, 15 new cases were recorded in mainland China on Wednesday, down from 24 the day before. Seven of the new cases were outside Hubei, including six imported from abroad.

While only 85 of the cases in China have come from abroad, the rising number of such incidences has prompted authorities to shift their focus on containing the risk of imported cases.

The total number of cases recorded in mainland China was 80,793. As of Tuesday, 62,793 people had recovered and been discharged from hospital, or nearly 80% of the infections.

In Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, 34,094 patients had been discharged from hospitals, but over half of them were still under observation at so-called “recovery stops” – quarantine venues repurposed from hotels and student dormitories.

Hubei’s health authority said the post-discharge quarantine was a precautionary measure, after a few discharged patients tested positive again.

As of the end of Wednesday, the death toll in mainland China had reached 3,169, up by 11 from the previous day. Hubei accounted for 10 of the new deaths, including seven in Wuhan.

‘ENORMOUS STRAIN’

China is focusing on restarting factories and businesses hit by the containment policies. Factory activity plunged to its worst level on record in February, and while more businesses have reopened in recent weeks as containment measures have been eased, analysts do not expect activity to return to normal until April.

Airlines have been hit particularly hard. China’s airlines reported total losses of 20.96 billion yuan ($3 billion) in February. The total number of airline passengers fell 84.5% year-on-year last month, China’s aviation regulator said.

Local governments must do their utmost to ensure people return to work as soon as possible, the official China Daily said in an editorial.

Many businesses are still facing labor shortages and supply-chain disruptions, it said.

“The epidemic control measures have put an enormous strain on China’s enterprises, especially the small and medium-sized ones in the service sector,” it said. “Any further delay in their return to normal operations will entail widespread bankruptcies and job losses, which will threaten social stability.”

The Hubei government on Wednesday said Wuhan would allow some key industries to resume work.

On Thursday, it said containment measures would be relaxed in two other cities in the province – Qianjian and Shishou – and in the counties of Gongan and Zhuxi.

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Business

Deliveroo launches no-contact drop-off service to protect staff from coronavirus

Takeaway provider Deliveroo is to launch a new 'no contact' drop-off service for customers to help manage the spread of coronavirus.

The company said the initiative has been put in place in light of the killer bug, to help safeguard members, riders and restaurants.

It said that as well as providing restaurants with additional packaging and stickers to seal off their delivery bags, it is also launching a no-contact drop-off service that will mean customers can request for the food to be left on their doorstep – removing the need for any contact.

Last week, ministers spoke out on how supermarkets would have to manage food deliveries for customers who had been told to self-quarantine.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the Government was working closely with retailers to ensure that people who self-isolate at home can get essential supplies.

It came as supermarkets revealed they were facing seven-day delays on online orders, while Tesco and Waitrose introduced limits on online orders to stop shoppers stockpiling.

Experts have warned that up to one in five people could be off work at the peak of a crisis, which could involve huge numbers of deliveries.


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But one supermarket group told the BBC that they did not believe there would be enough capacity.

"We can't switch a whole load of new vans on overnight," a source said.

The Health Secretary raised the idea of supermarkets ferrying supplies to those who were isolated as he appeared on the BBC's Question Time last week.

"Crucially we are working with the supermarkets to make sure that if people are self-isolating then they will be able to get the food and supplies that the people need," he said.

The British Retail Consortium has said that its members are happy to leave essential deliveries on the doorstep for people who self-isolate.

However, staff at one grocer have said they could consider legal action if their health is placed at risk.

Tesco delivery drivers have advised each other to take their employer to court if they have to deliver food to people who "they are aware of being in self-isolation" at home due to the coronavirus.

In a forum for Tesco employees, the drivers questioned whether or not it was a fair request to be asked to take food shopping into the homes of those who may have Covid 19.

One driver said there had been a letter distributed around various stores that stated drivers would still have to deliver to customers who had been told to self-isolate.

In response, another employee urged them to take the company to court as they claimed it was a breach of its duty of care.

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Business

Major travel insurer cancels all cover due to ongoing coronavirus outbreak

Insurer LV has stopped selling travel insurance with immediate effect as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Customers with insurance already in place will continue to be covered, however the provider has put a stop to new policies until further notice.

It comes after several travel insurers warned they could have to update – and limit – their policies to help cope with the ongoing crisis – which has led to hundreds of flight cancellations worldwide.

On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump announced all travel between the United States and Europe – excluding the UK and Ireland – will be suspended for 30 days starting on Friday due to the fast-spreading virus.

An LV spokesperson said: "In light of the significant impact that coronavirus is having globally, LV has taken the difficult decision to pause the sale of travel insurance to new customers.

"In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen the number of policies sold double. Whilst LV is a major motor and home insurer, we are a small travel insurance provider and it's important for the long-term benefit of all our customers that our exposure to this market remains at a sustainable level for the overall business.

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"We considered a number of different options, such as excluding cover or significantly increasing prices for new customers but we strongly believe this temporary measure of pausing the sale of new policies and focusing on our existing customers is the right decision.

"There is no change for existing customers who already have a policy with us. They can contact us in the normal way if they need to make a claim, and we are also still offering renewals to our existing customers so they can continue to be insured with us. 

"LV remains committed to the travel insurance market and this is only a temporary move given the exceptional circumstances we find ourselves in. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and review the decision on an ongoing basis."

Meanwhile, Aviva is no longer offering 'travel disruption' cover or airspace closure cover to new customers.


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This means passengers will not be able to purchase cover that protects them in the event of a sudden flight cancellation.

The AA is no longer quoting for single-trip policies covering Italy, France or Spain.

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said: "It's very alarming that LV have withdrawn the sale of travel insurance and that other providers have also started restricting the policies they offer customers.

"Anyone planning a holiday should get insurance as soon as they book. If you haven’t already booked insurance and are travelling soon we urge you to get cover immediately from a reputable insurer.

"The government, insurers and the travel industry must immediately tackle the huge challenge provided by coronavirus, as the industry depends on people having the confidence that they can travel with the knowledge that they will be covered."

We've got a full guide on your coronavirus travel and refund rights, here .

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World News

China coronavirus adviser expects global pandemic to be over by June

BEIJING (Reuters) – The global coronavirus pandemic is likely to be over by June, Zhong Nanshan, the Chinese government’s senior medical adviser, said on Thursday.

A lot of imported cases into China are asymptomatic patients and the re-infection rates among recovered patients is low, Zhong, an 83-year-old epidemiologist renowned for helping combat the SARS outbreak in 2003, told a news conference.

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Categories
Economy

Greek jobless rate rises to 16.8% in fourth quarter

ATHENS, March 12 (Reuters) – Greece’s jobless rate rose to 16.8% percent in last year’s final quarter from 16.4% in the third quarter, data by the country’s statistics service ELSTAT showed on Thursday.

About 72.1% percent of Greece’s 786,400 jobless are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for at least 12 months, the figures showed.

Greece’s highest unemployment rate was recorded in the first quarter of 2014, when joblessness hit 27.8%.

The data showed that women and young people in the 15-19 age group were most affected among the unemployed. The jobless rate for women was 20.5% versus 13.8% for men in the fourth quarter, while for people aged 15-19 it stood at 42.5%.

Athens has already published monthly unemployment figures through December, which differ from quarterly data because they are based on different samples and are seasonally adjusted. Quarterly figures are not seasonally adjusted.

December unemployment fell to 16.3%, the lowest since March 2011. Greece’s economy performed worse than expected in the last quarter of 2019, contracting compared to the previous three-month period as its annual expansion rate slowed. (Reporting by George Georgiopoulos)

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Categories
Business

Global stocks plunge into bear market as Trump stuns with Europe travel ban

LONDON (Reuters) – Global stocks plunged into a bear market and oil slumped on Thursday after U.S. President Donald Trump banned travel from Europe to stem the coronavirus, threatening more disruption to the world economy.

With the pandemic wreaking havoc on the daily life of millions, investors were also disappointed by the lack of broad measures in Trump’s plan to fight the pathogen, prompting traders to bet on further aggressive easing by the Federal Reserve.

“He (Trump) did not announce any new concrete measures such as a large-scale payroll tax cut to buffer the economy against the impending coronavirus slowdown,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.

“That has probably disappointed markets more than anything.”

European shares plummeted to their lowest in almost four years, with the benchmark STOXX 600 index falling 4.9% in early deals. Travel and leisure stocks shed 8.6%, hitting their lowest in more than 6 years. .SXTP

The falls pushed the MSCI All-Country World Index, which tracks stocks across 49 countries, into bear market territory, down 20% from its 52-week peak.

The index was down nearly 2% on the day.

Investors also rushed to safe-haven assets from bonds to gold to the yen and the Swiss franc.

U.S. S&P 500 futures ESc1 plummeted as much as 4.9% in Asia and last traded down 4.07 , a day after the S&P 500 .SPX lost 4.89%, leaving the index on the brink of entering bear market territory, defined as a 20% fall from a recent top.

Those fears left a trail of red across many markets.

Japan’s Nikkei .N225 crumbled 4.4% to a trough last seen almost three years ago while MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS fell 4.7%.

Australian shares plunged 7.4% to the lowest level in more than three years while Seoul’s Kospi .KS11 fell 4.8% to 4-1/2-year lows with massive selling prompting a brief trade halt. Thai shares .SETI sank 8.8% to 8-year lows.

Trump announced on Wednesday the United States will suspend all travel from Europe, except from Britain, to the United States for 30 days starting on Friday. However, Trump said trade will not be affected by the restrictions.

He also announced some other steps, including instructing the Treasury Department to defer tax payments for entities hit by the virus.

“The travel ban from Europe has definitely taken everyone by surprise,” said Khoon Goh, head of Asia Research at ANZ in Singapore.

“Already we know the economic impact is significant, and with this additional measure on top it’s just going to multiply the impact across businesses. This is something that markets had not factored in … it’s a huge near-term economic cost.”

In the money market, traders further raised expectations of another U.S. rate cut, even after the Fed’s emergency cut last week.

Fed fund rate futures <0#FF:> are now pricing in a large possibility of a 1.0 percentage point cut, rather than 0.75, at a policy review on March 17-18.

PANDEMIC

The World Health Organization (WHO) described the outbreak as a pandemic for the first time on Wednesday.

The highly infectious disease that shut down most of China for much of February is spreading rapidly in Europe and increasingly in the United States, disrupting many corners of life from education to sports, entertainment and dining.

Investors worry how much of an effect policies can have in turning around the global economy given the restrictions on daily life, travel and business.

A case in point was Britain, where the FTSE stock index .FTSE hit near four-year lows on Wednesday as investors doubted whether the $39 billion spending plan and the Bank of England’s 0.5 percentage point rate cut announced on Wednesday would be enough to counter the shock from the outbreak.

The index fell even further on Thursday, down 6.25%.

The British pound last stood at $1.2792 GBP=D4, down 0.16% on the day.

Safe-haven assets were back in favor.

Gold XAU= edged up half a percent to $1,641.71 per ounce but still stood well below Monday’s high above $1,700.

The 10-year U.S. Treasuries yield fell to 0.7442% US10YT=RR, though it is still above a record low of 0.318% touched on Monday.

The two-year yield US2YT=RR fell to 0.4314%, but stood well above Monday’s low of 0.251%.

In commodities, oil prices were hit by an intensifying price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, on top of fears of a sharp slowdown in the global economy.

The United Arab Emirates followed Saudi Arabia in promising to raise oil output to a record high in April.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 shed 4.94% to $31.35 per barrel.

Copper, seen as a gauge of global economic health because of its wide industrial use, fell to over three-year lows.[MET/L]

In the currency market, the dollar slid against the safe-haven yen and the Swiss franc.

The U.S. currency fell 0.8% to 103.63 yen and lost 0.14% to 0.9366 franc CHF=.

The euro traded at $1.1265 EUR=, down 0.04% ahead of the European Central Bank’s policy meeting later in the day.

The ECB is all but certain to unveil new stimulus measures, including new, ultra-cheap loans for banks to pass onto small and medium-sized firms.

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World News

Defence in Kalen Schlatter trial to call man they say could be alternate suspect

TORONTO – Defence lawyers for a Toronto man accused of strangling a young woman are expected to call as a witness today a man they suggest could be an alternate suspect.

Lawyers representing Kalen Schlatter have raised questions during trial about another man seen in the area the night Tess Richey went missing.

Schlatter has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Richey, whose body was found in a stairwell in Toronto’s gay village days after she went missing in November 2017.

He testified earlier this week that he ran into Richey and her friend after they all left the same club, and that Richey made the first move on him after her friend left.

Schlatter, 23, told the court he and Richey made out in a stairwell, but she declined to have sex and they parted a bit later.

Court has seen security video that shows the pair walking together down a driveway shortly after 4 a.m. on Nov. 25, 2017, and Schlatter emerging alone roughly 45 minutes later.

Defence lawyers have repeatedly pointed to a man in a light pink baseball cap who was also captured on surveillance video in the area that night.

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Categories
Business

Your rights to time off work if your child’s school is closed due to coronavirus

The Government has listed a step-by-step plan to help manage the spread of coronavirus as it continues to sweep through parts of the UK.

Almost 500 people now have the virus – with several schools closed and workers being told to 'self isolate' if they show any symptoms.

But what are your rights to time off if your child's school, homework club or nursery is closed due to the illness?

Parents or those responsible for young children quite rightly have more rights at work than others – something that's especially important if something suddenly goes wrong with childcare due to an emergency.

The good news is that you are allowed time off in such instances and your employer can't technically refuse you.

"In an emergency, you are entitled to take time off to make sure your child is looked after. This is known as dependant leave," said Tracey Moss, employment expert at Citizens Advice.

"Your employer can’t refuse you dependent leave if you have no other choice, and you can’t be disciplined or sacked for taking the time off."

It's important to note that while your employer has to authorise your absence – it will, in most cases be unpaid.

"If your employer won’t give you time off, or has disciplined you for having to look after your child, contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help."

If you're unwell with flu-like symptoms that could be linked to coronavirus, these are your sick pay rights.

    Time off to care for a child – explained


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    All employees have the right to time off during working hours to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies.

    There is no legal right to be paid; however some employers may offer a contractual right to pay under the terms and conditions of employment, Acas explains.

    In most cases a day or two will be sufficient to deal with the immediate crisis, but it will depend on the individual circumstance – many employers will choose to pay you for up to two days. Time off beyond this may result in unpaid leave.

    A dependant is defined as a spouse, partner, child, parent, or someone who depends on an employee for care, an elderly neighbour for example.

    The employee must tell the employer as soon as possible the reason for the absence and how long they expect to be absent.

    It's important to note:

    • Time off for dependants is unpaid unless an employer is willing to give paid time off under the terms and conditions of employment.

    • The right is to a reasonable amount of time off – normally a day or two but this will depend on individual circumstances.

    • The right to time off is to deal with emergencies involving a dependant.

    • A dependant is someone who depends on an employee for care.

    The right to time off covers:

    • A breakdown in childcare

    • To put longer term care in place for children or elderly relatives

    • To care for a dependant who has fallen ill or taken into hospital

    • To arrange or attend a funeral

    If a day or two is not quite enough, you can request more time off in advance – in what's known as unpaid parental leave.

    Each employee is entitled to up to 18 weeks’ leave for each child and adopted child, up to their 5th birthday – or 18th if the child has a disability.

    The limit on how much parental leave each parent can take a year is four weeks.

    You must take parental leave as whole weeks rather than odd days, unless your employer agrees otherwise or your child is disabled.

    Eligible employees can request this type of leave to:

    • Spend more time with their children/look after them

    • Look at new schools

    • Settle children into new childcare arrangements

    • Spend more time with family, such as visiting grandparents

    During this period, all of your employment rights will remain protected – such as annual leave entitlement and your right to return to work.

    To qualify, you must:

    • Have worked in the organisation for more than a year

    • Have "parental responsibility" for the child, as defined under the Children Act 1989

    • Be named on the child's birth certificate or have obtained formal legal parental responsibilities.

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