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Politics

Self-employed persons to get $9,000 in cash under Supplementary Budget to cope with Covid-19 outbreak

SINGAPORE – Self-employed persons will each receive $9,000 in cash to help tide them over the coronavirus pandemic, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Supplementary Budget speech in Parliament on Thursday (March 26).

Mr Heng said he would set aside $1.2 billion for the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme, which will disburse $1,000 a month for nine months to eligible self-employed persons.

“Over the last few weeks, I received feedback from the labour movement and many self-employed persons calling for stronger support for the self-employed, who have less income security and whose livelihoods may be worse affected during this period of economic uncertainty,” he said.

“This group has been harder to reach, as they work in diverse industries, many occupations, with varying working arrangements. They include taxi and private-hire car drivers, real estate agents, media and art freelancers and sport coaches.”

Mr Heng added that he would also provide sustained support for the self-employed to train and upskill during the downtime amid the Covid-19 economic slowdown.

He will set aside an additional $48 million to extend the Self-Employed Person Training Support Scheme, which was first introduced earlier this month.

Under the initial scheme, Singaporean and permanent resident freelancers receive a training allowance of $7.50 an hour when they undergo eligible courses over the next three months.

Mr Heng said he would raise the hourly allowance to $10 with effect from May 1 and extend the scheme to December this year.

The enhanced allowance is on top of existing training subsidies which cover up to 90 per cent of fees, he said. Trainees will also be able to tap their SkillsFuture credit.

More details on the schemes will be forthcoming from the Ministry of Manpower soon.

“Looking ahead, we will see how we can better support self-employed persons in strengthening their financial security,” said Mr Heng. “We will study this carefully.”

He added that lower-wage workers, including self-employed ones, will have their incomes further augmented under the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme.

During his Budget speech last month, he announced that Singaporeans on Workfare last year would receive a one-off special cash payment amounting to 20 per cent of their payout last year, with a minimum payout of $100.

He will be increasing this payout to $3,000 per recipient.

To qualify for Workfare, Singaporeans must be 35 and older and earn a gross monthly income of not more than $2,300, among other criteria.

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Sports

Coronavirus: First major local competition in Singapore cancelled as Netball Super League is called off

SINGAPORE – The Netball Super League (NSL) has been cancelled in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Netball Singapore (NS) announced on Friday (March 27), making it the first major local competition to be called off.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) had announced on Monday night that all sporting events, regardless of size, must be deferred or cancelled, with the measure taking effect until at least April 30.

In accordance with MOH’s updated guidelines, the NSL was suspended indefinitely. The semi-finals and preliminary final were supposed to take place this weekend while the final was scheduled for next Saturday at Our Tampines Hub.

However, NS has decided to abort the competition completely after two round robin games, with chief executive Cyrus Medora saying: “While the current decision is that all sports stops until April 30, we understand that could very well be extended with the large number of Singapore citizens and long term residents still to return.

“The virus is still out of control in many countries too. In addition, there can be no club training at all until end April.”

The results of the two round robin games, which started on Feb 8 and ended last Sunday, will be the final standing for the clubs for this year’s competition.

As such, Sneakers Stingrays are champions, with Mission Mannas coming in as runners-up and Blaze Dolphins finishing third.

The Singapore Premier League football competition, along with all clubs’ training sessions, was suspended on Tuesday.

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Sports

Singapore Pools shuts live betting locations

Punters will no longer be able to place wagers at Singapore Pools’ live betting venues, after the betting operator introduced measures from yesterday that would help ensure that the health and well-being of staff members and customers are protected from the coronavirus.

It said on Wednesday that it would shut all Livewire venues for live sports betting and off-course betting centres for horse racing indefinitely. This was due to the “Tighter Measures to Minimise Further Spread of Covid-19” advisory that was released by the Ministry of Health (MOH) the day before.

Since last Saturday, Singapore Pools has had social distancing measures in place. It had reduced operating hours, closed off selected centres, regulated access and placed physical separation measures at queues. Since Wednesday, all live lottery draws such as 4D, Toto and Singapore Sweep were held behind closed doors and the live draws at branches were suspended.

The Singapore Turf Club has also closed its Kranji race course to the public as of yesterday, and reduced the frequency of its local race day for April from up to two weekly to once a week.

There will be no screenings of overseas simulcast races, and customers can view the simulcast and local races on StarHub channels 288 and 289. The measures are expected to be in place until April 30.

While punters can no longer attend lottery draws or local races, Singapore Pools account holders can continue to place bets online and via telephone.

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Sports

Coronavirus: Sport Singapore adopts stricter measures at ActiveSG facilities, asks users to be socially responsible

SINGAPORE – Sport Singapore (SportSG) will continue to review its physical distancing procedures, which kicked in at ActiveSG venues on Monday last week. Rules such as lane segregation at tracks and swimming pools were enforced by the national agency to minimise gatherings but led to overcrowding in some lanes.

This week, SportSG announced more physical distancing rules after the Ministry of Health (MOH) imposed stricter new measures.

Organised activities must be kept to a maximum of 10 participants with a one metre spacing between them. The operating capacity of facilities, such as gyms, stadiums, swimming pools and indoor sport halls, is restricted to one person per 16 sq m.

To prevent crowding at gyms, efforts to increase the space between equipment will be taken. Users will also be reminded to wipe equipment after use and maintain physical distancing.

A SportSG spokesman told The Straits Times: “In view of MOH’s advisory on March 24, we have updated our advisory for sport and physical exercise/activity, to provide operational guidance on the tighter physical distancing measures. These measures are to be strictly followed by private operators and national sports associations.

“We appreciate the public feedback and patience as we adjust our measures. We are committed to work together to enable everyone to exercise and stay healthy. We also appeal to all our visitors to practise social responsibility.”

The new preventive steps apply to all ActiveSG stadiums, sports halls, gyms, swimming complexes and studios. These facilities have also implemented a single point of entry where possible to facilitate temperature taking (except stadiums) and recording of visitor details.

Pools remain open as there is currently no evidence suggesting the virus can be spread through water and experts have said that it is generally safe to go swimming.

Infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam noted that the water and chlorine in swimming pools could help to kill the virus.

Dr Leong, who practises at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, also advised against lingering around the pool area.

While the risk of transmission from surfaces is relatively low, professor of medicine at the University of Tennessee’s College of Nursing Roberta Lavin told US Masters Swimming the bigger concern is the people one meets and mixes with at the pool.

When several swimmers go into a lane together, the few moments at the wall in close proximity to one another can be a prime opportunity for viral transmission if one person is carrying the virus.

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World News

Halifax bus service to be ‘significantly impacted’ on Friday due to staffing issues

Bus service in Halifax is expected to be ‘significantly impacted’ on Friday due to staffing issues, Halifax Transit announced late on Thursday.

“Based on current staff availability, Halifax Transit anticipates that conventional bus service will be significantly impacted at the start of service tomorrow, March 27,” a press release reads.

Halifax Transit says travellers should expect route delays or cancellations and they are encouraging riders to make alternate plans if possible.

The staffing shortage comes less than a day after the municipality confirmed that a Halifax Transit employee working in the Burnside Maintenance Department tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a notice sent to Halifax Transit staff from director Dave Reage, the agency learned of the positive case Wednesday. All maintenance staff on the evening shift were sent home, while staff scheduled to work Thursday morning were told not to come in.

Reage told Global News that Halifax Transit has been in contact with Public Health and will take direction on their next steps.

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World News

Kelowna psychologist on the psychological impact of COVID-19 in extended interview

We’re staying inside, staying apart and working from home to try to flatten the curve. It’s all to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

It’s also a crucial time to also care for our mental health, according to Dr. Heather McEachern, a psychologist at the Kelowna Psychologists Group.

“The anxieties we are seeing in our office currently are basically health anxiety that even people that have never experienced before will have by varying degrees and even obsessive-compulsive tendencies,” said Dr. McEachern.

If you are experiencing these feelings or experiencing depression, she says, there are some coping mechanisms you can use.

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World News

Saskatchewan woman, shopping for elders, questions if race played a part in Walmart confrontation

A Saskatchewan woman is questioning whether her race played a part when her shopping carts were flagged by customer service before she could pay for her groceries at a Walmart in Estevan.

“I don’t want to play that race card, but I honestly think that may have had something to do with it,” Ramona Knebush said.

But her shopping trip was cut short Monday.

After filling up two carts with enough produce butter, coffee, sugar, milk and bread for 14 Pheasant Rump households, she was told there was a limit on how much one person could buy.

Knebush asked to speak to the manager, trying to explain who the groceries were for.

She said the manager wouldn’t listen to her. He reiterated that there is a limit on products.

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“This was the first time that this has ever happened to me and there was nothing in my cart that was over quantity or was on the restricted list,” Knebush said.

“He said, ‘I have to worry about my community,’” Knebush said.

Knebush confronted him, swearing and saying she is a part of that community.

The manager kicked her out of the store.

In a statement to Global News, Walmart Canada said, “everyone is welcome at Walmart and we are proud to reflect the diverse communities we serve through our associates.”

“Due to the high demand on products, our Estevan store has instituted product limits in order to allow all customers the opportunity to purchase the supplies they need.”

Walmart said this policy is company-wide during the pandemic. There are signs posted in the stores listing which products are limited.

“We are working hard with our suppliers to get products to our shelves as quickly as possible and we hope to be in a place to start to reduce the number of limits we have in our stores soon,” Walmart said.

“We would encourage everyone to only buy what they need to ensure that everyone can access the essentials.”

Knebush said her items weren’t on Walmart’s restricted list.

Walmart’s Estevan location limits quantities of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, rubbing alcohol and eggs. There is no limit on fresh produce.

After the incident, Knebush said she drove to Walmart in Weyburn, picking up her list of groceries there without a problem.

She said she’s trying to contact Walmart Canada to submit a formal complaint.

Knebush said she wishes the Estevan manager had listened to her explanation and handled the situation better. She also regrets how she reacted.

“I wish that when this was going on with him that I didn’t cuss twice. I’m upset with myself that I let him get me to that point,” Knebush said.

Knebush said she hopes others who are trying to help loved ones during this pandemic don’t experience the same thing she did.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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Politics

Govt to offer relief from legal obligations for cancelled large gatherings due to Covid-19

SINGAPORE – People who may have to forfeit deposits because of cancelled large gatherings amid the coronavirus outbreak are set to receive support and relief from legal obligations.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, in unveiling a $48 billion Supplementary Budget on Thursday (March 26), noted that providing relief from legal obligations that have arisen because of the Covid-19 situation is also an “important and complementary” part of help measures.

“It is no fault of theirs that they cannot perform these obligations. For example, people may have paid deposits for a big gathering that now cannot go ahead. It is not their fault that the gathering cannot go ahead,” he said in Parliament.

“Should the deposits be simply forfeited? That won’t be right.”

Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister, said that the Government is studying the issue, and that Law Minister K. Shanmugam will present a set of measures next week to deal with this matter.

Major events that were called off or postponed in Singapore in recent months due to the coronavirus outbreak include golfing tournament HSBC Women’s World Championship, IT Show 2020, the Income Eco Run, the annual DBS Marina Regatta and concerts such as those by K-pop group GOT7 and Taiwanese singer Jam Hsiao.

More cancellations may be in store amid tightening rules on large gatherings to reduce the risk of the virus spreading in Singapore.

On March 20, the Ministry of Health said that all events and gatherings with 250 or more people in attendance at any one time must be suspended until June 30. Even if the events are smaller, those attending them will have to be placed a safe and sufficient distance apart.

Measures were stepped up on Wednesday when the Government decided to close all entertainment venues such as bars and cinemas from Thursday (March 26) at 11.59pm until April 30. Religious services are also suspended and establishments such as malls, museums and restaurants must reduce crowd density to stay open.

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Sports

Spring Olympics a possibility

ATHENS • International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has said the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Games faced “thousands” of logistical and financial problems, while they could also go ahead before summer next year.

Though most people have assumed the Games will be held around roughly the same July-August timetable as they were planned for this year, he said earlier dates in 2021 were possible.

“The agreement is that we want to organise these Games at the latest in the summer 2021,” he said yesterday following a conference call with 33 international sports federations. “This is not restricted just to the summer months. All the options are on the table including the summer 2021.

“After consulting them, we also have to take into account the sporting calendar around the Olympic and many, many other issues.

“We should come to a solution as soon as possible, but first priority should be to really to take the input of all stakeholders into account.”

Bach, a 66-year-old German lawyer and former Olympic fencing champion, also said that a task force called Here We Go had been set up, with members drawn from the IOC’s coordination commission and the Tokyo 2020 organising committee. One of its many tasks is to work towards determining a new date for next year.

Tuesday’s postponement decision, due to the coronavirus pandemic, was a huge blow to Japan, which has invested upwards of US$12 billion (S$17.4 billion). It has also given the host a massive headache to reorganise logistics, funding and sponsorship.

Bach said he could not guarantee all elements of the Games would remain as initially planned.

For example, he did not know what would happen with the athletes’ village, where apartments were set to be sold after the Games.

“This is one of the many thousands of questions this task force will have to address. We hope and we will do whatever we can so that there is an Olympic village,” he said.

“Our mission is to organise Games and make dreams of athletes come true. We are confident we can put a beautiful jigsaw puzzle together and, in the end, have a wonderful Olympic Games.”

He added that the IOC is due to start talks from today with other global bodies because moving the gigantic Games has a knock-on effect for many other competitions.

Swimming’s 2021 world championships set for July 16-Aug 1 in Fukuoka in southern Japan look likely to be the first casualty, should the Olympics be held in the summer. The 2021 World Athletics Championships – scheduled for Oregon in the United States, from Aug 6 to 15 – are also certain to be postponed after organisers said they would switch it to accommodate the rescheduled Games.

Two major football events due this year had already been moved to next year before the Games’ announcement, with decisions last week to delay the European Championship and South America’s Copa America by a year. The two continental competitions will each now start on June 11 and end on July 11.

Other 2021 events featuring Olympians that will be affected by the Games postponement include the world boxing championships in New Delhi, the EuroHockey championship in the Netherlands in August, and the European basketball championship in September.

Meanwhile, the United States’ Olympic qualifying trials for athletics, swimming and gymnastics have been postponed for this year, officials said on Tuesday.

Sources told Reuters new dates could not be set until the IOC determines the 2021 dates for the rescheduled Games.

Australian athletes who have already qualified will be assured of their spots next year, said the country’s Olympic committee.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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World News

‘Kudos to Legalt’: Côte Saint-Luc mayor relieved with new COVID-19 drive-thru screening clinic

One week after the City of Côte Saint-Luc declared a state of emergency and imposed a ban on religious and mass gatherings in an effort to contain the COVID-19 virus, the province is giving residents and the mayor a dose of relief.

“Kudos to Legault and his team for bringing the testing here,” said Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein. “We want to find out who in our community is positive.”

The Montreal island suburb has been hit hard with recent coronavirus outbreaks at the King David residence and at the Congregation Beth Chabad synagogue. “King David is a very big concern,” said Brownstein referring to the current hospitalization of at least three elderly residents.

Many community members are on edge considering about one-third of the population is over the age of 65. 

One longtime resident who is currently in isolation with her elderly parents was relieved to see the screening clinics being set up on Wednesday morning. “I have no idea how our mayor pulled this off,” said Sandy Dubya. “We all need to thank him for doing everything he can to keep us alive, safe and healthy.”

Dubya claims some residents have failed to follow the government guidelines, by gathering in groups and blames certain organizations for “refusing to exercise good judgement, which has lead us to be in this predicament,” she said. The mayor however insists his constituents are cooperating and have been following orders.

Construction crews spent much of the day building the tents required for the drive-through testing facilities. The mayor was told they should be able to test about 500 patients a day, starting Thursday. “People will stay in their car, they won’t have to get out,” said Brownstein, adding that anyone can use it as long as they have an appointment.

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The City made the following announcement on their Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon:

“On Wednesday, March 25, workers began setting up a drive-through testing facility in Côte Saint-Luc. The facility is NOT YET OPEN. Do NOT visit it today. When it eventually opens, we have been told it will be by appointment only. When the health ministry officially announces it and provides all the details, we will share the info. In the meantime, please do not visit or interfere with the workers setting up.

The social media post generated mixed reactions online. “Bless you for getting this here,” one user wrote. Others felt the installations are too close to home. “This is unsafe for the residents in the area whose homes border the parking lot,” reads one comment. “It’s too close to residents who love around Cavendish Mall,” wrote another user. “Most of the kids play in their backyard.”

The mayor refused to take all the credit for new the screening clinic in his community, insisting the initiative comes from the provincial government. 

“It’s what we wanted,” Brownstein told Global News. “I’m happy the premier and health minister are listening.”

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