Covid-19 Aid: Aviation sector, which is critical to economic recovery, to get $750 million aid package

SINGAPORE – Singapore will retain a minimum level of air connectivity even as airlines continue to ground flights amid the Covid-19 pandemic so that Singaporeans can return home and supply lines for essential goods stay open.

It is also critical to keep the aviation sector going so that the economy can pick up again when the time comes, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament on Thursday (March 26), as he unveiled a $750 million aid packge for the industry.

He said: “Our aviation sector has significant linkages to the rest of our economy. If it collapses in a crisis, it will be very hard for the aviation industries to rebuild after the crisis is over, and the recovery of the rest of the economy will be impeded.

“We must therefore ensure that this temporary shock to our air hub does not become a permanent one.”

The aviation and tourism sectors have been the most badly hit by the outbreak.

As part of the Supplementary Budget, firms in the aviation sector will be able to tap an enhanced wage subsidy programme that will see the Government co-fund up to 75 per cent of wages for local workers. The support for the aviation sector will cost the Government more than $400 million.

In addition, the sector will get a $350 million enhanced aviation support package – more than three times the $112 million package announced earlier – to help them get over the “single biggest shock” the global aviation sector has ever experienced, Mr Heng said.

As part of the support extended, firms will get a total of 75 per cent wage offset for the first $4,600 of monthly wages, for their employees.

The $350 million aviation support package will fund measures to reduce costs for airlines, ground handlers and cargo agents so that they can continue to operate.

Airlines will get substantial cost savings on various fronts.

From April to end-October, they will get a 10 per cent landing charge rebate for all scheduled passenger flights landing in Singapore and 50 per cent rebate on rental paid for airlines’ lounges and offices within Changi Airport’s terminal buildings.

They will also get 100 per cent rebate on parking charges at Changi Airport from August to October – an extension of the rebate announced in the previous Stabilisation and Support Package.

Ground handlers will get rebates on rental paid for their lounges and offices within Changi Airport’s terminal buildings. Meanwhile, the cargo sector will get additional rebates on landing charges and rent, on top of what was previously announced.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) will also allow Singapore carriers and the airport operator to partially or fully defer payment of certain fees to CAAS between April this year and March next year. The value of the deferred fees is about $140 million.

More details will be provided to companies by Changi Airport Group and the CAAS.

Mr Heng noted that the profound impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the economy will be felt for years to come.

“State support for the private sector where there are critical national interests at stake is not unprecedented,” he added, citing previous examples in Europe and United Kingdom.

“We will support our aviation sector to ride out the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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Coronavirus: N.L. recalls legislature for ‘urgent’ protections for employees, tenants

Newfoundland and Labrador’s legislature is being recalled as the province looks to implement a series of legislative protections for residents during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The legislation is being introduced in the province’s House of Assembly on Thursday and will include a series of amendments that will complement other initiatives to “support residents, families and businesses,” according to a release from the province.

“This an extraordinary time in our province and around the world,” said Premier Dwight Ball in the press release.

“It has never been more important to work together as legislators to advance legislation that supports the social and economic well-being of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”

Only 10 of the province’s 40 members of the House of Assembly — just enough for quorum — will sit to pass the legislation on Thursday.

“It has never been more important for all of us to work together. Even as legislatures to advance significant legislation, said Ball during an update Thursday afternoon.

“Collaboration is at the forefront, politics is set aside.”

Chief among the amendments is protection for employees against losing their jobs if they must take time off as a result of COVID-19.

That includes circumstances in which the employee:

  • has returned from travel and must self-isolate
  • is under medical investigation or treatment for COVID-19
  • is in isolation or quarantine
  • is acting under direction from public health officials
  • is directed by their employer to not work due to COVID-19
  • needs to provide care to a person as a result of COVID-19, such as a school or daycare closure,
  • is affected by travel restrictions and cannot reasonably be expected to travel back to the province

The amendment also makes it clear that the employee will not be required to provide a medical note if they take leave.

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Another amendment states that tenants cannot be evicted if they have lost income resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic and are unable to pay rent.

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Coronavirus: Additional ‘triage’ measures coming to St. Thomas Elgin ER

St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital (STEGH) is in the process of setting up temporary tented areas outside their emergency department in the ongoing battle against the novel coronavirus.

The tents are being installed to provide additional space in which to implement safety precautions, before patients enter the hospital.

“This is really a strategy that we’ve implemented to pre-triage patients before we can determine which is the most suitable area of the emergency department for them to get a further triage assessment and then treated accordingly,” said Craig Watkin, director of Emergency Services and Medicine St. Thomas.

“It’s essentially about patients and staff safety.”

STEGH is stressing that the tents being set up are not assessment centres — they are an additional level of safety to protect patients and staff in the emergency department.

“This is absolutely not an assessment centre. We felt that really this is something additional that we needed to do with regards to just making sure that we have our safety measures in check and that we can do these assessments for people that are attending the emergency department,” said Watkin.

Watkin told Global News what steps are being taken inside the tents before patients are being allowed to go into the building to be further assessed by medical professionals.

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“We will be having nurses in the pre-triage tent at the front, and they will be basically going over some screening questions around COVID-19 and respiratory concerns.”

“We will also have nurses do a quick assessment in regards to pulse and oxygen levels in the blood which is a very simple test. From those questions and the additional pulse and pulse oximetry, they determine which is the most appropriate area for the patient to go for their further assessment,” Watkin added.

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Singapore Airlines expected to receive support from Temasek Holdings amid Covid-19 outbreak

SINGAPORE – Singapore Airlines (SIA) is considering corporate action supported by Temasek Holdings, amid the current coronavirus outbreak, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Thursday (March 26).

“I welcome Temasek’s decision to lend support to SIA. SIA is an outstanding airline and strategic asset for Singapore,” Mr Heng told Parliament on Thursday when he unveiled the Resilience Budget to provide a second round of measures to help firms and individuals affected by Covid-19.

“Through the government support for the aviation sector, and if necessary more direct support measures, we will make sure that SIA is able to come through this in good shape,” he said.

Mr Heng added: “The SIA group sits at the heart of our aviation system and anchors our position as an air hub. In 2019, SIA accounted for over half of passenger traffic and cargo tonnage in Singapore.

“As the main hub carrier, SIA links us to the rest of the world. Many foreign airlines choose to come to Changi because they can tap on SIA’s connectivity to the rest of the region.”

He said: “A diminished SIA will undermine our air hub’s ability to recover from the crisis. Air travel will eventually resume when Covid-19 comes under control. Until then, SIA will need liquidity to tide over this outbreak.”

In this regard, SIA will benefit from the enhanced Jobs Support Scheme and the enhanced Aviation Support Package which will help reduce its operating expenditure, he said.

The airline has announced that it will slash 96 per cent of its capacity as countries, including Singapore, tighten their borders.

Analysts have suggested that SIA could receive support in the form of a working capital loan or subsidies.

SIA called for a rare trading halt pending an announcement on Thursday morning, days after it said it would ground almost its entire fleet and seek more financing as it grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

The airline did not provide details to the stock exchange on the topic of the planned announcement.

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Nova Scotia can now conduct 400 COVID-19 tests in one day: Strang

Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer says they have doubled their COVID-19 testing capacity, while also increasing 811 staffing levels.

Speaking at a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Robert Strang said the capacity to conduct COVID-19 tests has increased from 200 to 400 COVID-19 tests in one day.

“As a result of that, we’re now able to begin testing of all the close contacts that public health is identifying,” said Strang,

“Any close contact of a case, we’re not just putting them in isolation and seeing if they get sick, we’re testing them right away.”

Strang added they will be going back and testing close contacts all the way back to the province’s very first case.

Premier Stephen McNeil says in addition to the increase in testing capacity, 53 nurse and tele-health associates have been added to handle the volume of calls coming into 811. Another 40 are being trained.

“We are also doubling our phone bank,” said McNeil. “We had 79 lines when we started, and in the next 48 hours we’ll have 138 lines.”

“We are doing this to better support the people who are worried about their health,” he added.

10 new cases, bringing total to 51

The province announced Tuesday afternoon that there are 10 new cases of coronavirus in Nova Scotia, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 51.

Strang said all the cases are travel-related or connected to earlier reported cases, and that none are the result of community spread.

The 51 individuals range in age from under ten to mid-70, and cases have been identified in all parts of the province.

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Stopping the spread of coronavirus: What countries are doing to force people to stay home

SINGAPORE – Countries around the world are beefing up measures to confine people to their homes in a desparate bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus which causes the Covid-19 that has sicked more than 380,000 people in 196 countries and territories.

Here is a look at some of these restrictions:

ITALY (As of March 24 at 9am: 63,927 cases – 7,432 recovered, 6,077 deaths)

Italy has been under a nationwide lockdown, which includes travel restrictions and a ban on public gatherings, since March 10.

Tightening the measures further, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on March 21 ordered all non-essential businesses and industries to close until April 3. Residents are also barred from moving across municipalities other than for “non-deferrable and proven business or health reasons or other urgent matters”.

The Lombardy region in northern Italy, the epicentre of the country’s outbreak, has been under a lockdown since March 8. Under new rules announced late on March 21, sport and physical activity outside, even individually, is banned.

More than 8,200 people in Italy were charged on March 18 for not complying with the lockdown rules, The Local reported. Anyone caught on the streets without a valid reason, such as grocery shopping or going to work, risks a €206 (S$323) fine.

SPAIN (As of March 24 at 9am: 35,136 cases – 3,355 recovered, 2,311 deaths)

The European country of some 46 million people has been in lockdown since March 14. People are only allowed to leave their homes for essential work, food shopping, medical reasons or to walk the dog.

Members of the public who disobey confinement rules could faces fines starting at €100 for minor infractions or up to a year in prison should they “resist or seriously disobey the authorities or officers when they are carrying out their functions”, The Local reported.

FRANCE (As of March 24 at 9am: 19,856 cases – 2,200 recovered, 860 deaths)

France is under a 15-day nationwide lockdown that started on March 17. Public gatherings are banned. Most shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities are shut to discourage people from venturing out of their homes.

On the first day of the lockdown, French police handed fines to 4,095 people who breached the order to stay home, France 24 reported. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told TF1 channel on March 18 the fine was initially €35 but is now €135, and could go up to €375 to dissuade people from going out.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said from March 24, the public will only be able to exercise alone or with their children once a day, for no more than an hour, and within a kilometre of their home.

GERMANY (As of March 24 at 9am: 29,056 cases – 453 recovered, 123 deaths)

Stopping short of declaring a lockdown, Germany urges its population to stay indoors and limit contact with other people as much as possible. It has banned gatherings of more than two people, and closed schools, non-essential shops, bars and restaurants.

Despite these measures, people are still socialising outside, calling such gatherings “corona parties”.

There are no sweeping, Germany-wide guidelines on fines, leaving it up to the individual states to decide for themselves, Spiegel reported. In the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, people who unnecessarily leave their homes can face fines of up to €25,000.

Police in Bavaria, Germany’s largest state by area, reported only isolated instances of violations on March 21, such as five youths celebrating a birthday party at a construction site and a group of three people drinking around a bonfire, Deutsche Welle reported. Violators were given warnings in each case.

UNITED KINGDOM (As of March 24 at 9am: 6,650 cases – 135 recovered, 335 deaths)


A pedestrian with a face mask walks along a quiet Westminster Bridge in central London in the morning of March 24, 2020 after Britain order a lockdown. PHOTO: AFP

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on March 23 that he would place Britain under virtual lockdown with immediate effect, closing all non-essential shops, banning meetings of more than two people and requiring people to stay in their homes, except for trips for food or medicine.

Police will be able to fine people £30 (S$51) if they ignore the rules and these on-the-spot fines will be “ramped up” if there is widespread flouting, the MailOnline reported.

Mr Johnson has made substantial moves in the past week, closing schools as well as pubs, restaurants, gyms, and theatres.

UNITED STATES (As of March 24 at 9am: 43,734 cases – 295 recovered, 553 deaths)

Parts of the United States, such as Washington, San Francisco, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, West Virginia and Wisconsin, have issued “stay at home” orders, which means residents should avoid going outside except for essential services – going to buy food or medicine – and if they work in critical sectors, the Business Insider reported. Some local authorities have also imposed curfew, cut down public transportation or closed roads.

On March 16, the White House announced voluntary guidelines – which include avoiding gathering in groups larger than 10, schooling children at home and not eating out – to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus over the next 15 days.

AUSTRALIA (As of March 24 at 9am: 1,887 cases – 118 recovered, 7 deaths)

Australia began living under strict new restrictions on March 23. The new measures designed to minimise the spread of the virus mean many non-essential services, including pubs, clubs, cinemas, gyms and houses of worship, are closed. These measures are expected to be in place for at least six months.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned that if Australians fail to adhere to the rules, more draconian measures will be introduced.

MALAYSIA (As of March 24 at 9am: 1,518 cases – 159 recovered, 14 deaths)

Malaysians are living under a 14-day partial lockdown which spans from March 18 to 31. All forms of public gatherings for social, religious, sporting or cultural purposes are banned.

Those who do not abide by the directives under the Restriction of Movement Order (RMO) can be fined not more than RM1,000 or jailed for not more than six months or both, says a Federal Government Gazette.

A mechanic on March 23 became the first person to be charged in Malaysia in connection with the RMO for obstructing a public servant from discharging his duty in enforcing the order. He was fined RM5,000 (S$1,640), in default of 10 months’ jail, for the offence.

THE PHILIPPINES (As of March 24 at 9am: 462 cases – 18 recovered, 33 deaths)

Luzon island, which makes up a third of the Philippines and is home to half the country’s population of over 100 million, is in lockdown from March 16 to April 13.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra warned that violators who “seriously” resist or disobey enforcers will face charges and arrest. Resistance and disobedience to a person in authority are punishable by a fine not exceeding 100,000 peso (S$2,846) and imprisonment of up to six months.

In Paranaque City, officials punish curfew violators by making them sit under the scorching sun, even though the city’s curfew ordinance states that law enforcers should make sure violators are “directed to return to their respective residences, dwelling, or usual place of resting”, the Rappler news site reported. Officials in Sta Cruz, Laguna, reportedly cage alleged curfew violators.

INDIA (As of March 24 at 9am: 499 cases – 34 recovered, 10 deaths)

Thirty-two states/union territories in India – nearly the entire country – have imposed complete lockdown, covering 560 districts, according to the Press Information Bureau.

People venturing out without good reason could be arrested, fined up to 1,000 rupee (S$19.03) and jailed for as many as six months, according to The Economic Times.

INDONESIA (As of March 24 at 9am: 579 cases – 30 recovered, 49 deaths)

A two-week state of emergency in Jakarta, which cuts operating hours for transport services such as commuter trains and buses to curb movement, kicks in on March 23. Entertainment centres, including bars, massage parlours, spa centres, cinemas and billiard saloons, are shut.

President Joko Widodo has so far adopted social distancing measures, but has not declared a lockdown of the city whose population of about 10 million increases by several million people during work hours, with many commuting to the capital from satellite towns such as Bogor, Tangerang and Bekasi.

Mr Widodo has instead appealed to firms to allow workers to work from home. There is no penalty for non-compliance.

With input from NYTIMES, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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Central banks at full throttle buying bonds to control markets

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) – Central banks have started the new week right where they left off Friday (March 20) – in the thick of the action pledging to boost liquidity in bond markets as risks to the global financial system loom larger.

The Reserve Bank of Australia and the Bank of Japan offered to buy the equivalent of almost US$10 billion (S$14.5 billion) in debt on Monday, while New Zealand embraced quantitative easing.

At 2.5 trillion yen (S$33.1 billion), unscheduled bond purchases by the BOJ this month are already the highest since it introduced the yield-curve control in 2016.

Markets are in tumult, with 10 year United States Treasury yields swinging in a range of more than 50 basis points in each of the past three weeks, something that hasn’t been seen in decades, and Australia seeing a flash crash in its debt market.

Investors are dumping the safest of assets in favor of cash, which has forced the Federal Reserve and many of its peers into coordinated action to bolster dollar swap lines.

“Central banks just have to keep providing liquidity since nobody knows the extent of dollar funding shortage,” said Mr Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist at Mizuho Securities Co. in Tokyo.

“So far, their efforts haven’t calmed market sentiment but they should eventually.”

Australia’s central bank said Monday it would spend as much as A$4 billion ($3.4 billion) on government debt, sending 10-year yields down as much as 25 basis points.

The RBA and BOJ also continue to pour in funds through repurchase operations.

The RBA pumped in more than A$40 billion so far this month through repurchase agreements, pushing liquidity in the system to records. As a result, the spread between repo rates and overnight index swaps has compressed to the tightest levels of the year.

The Bank of Thailand said Sunday it is stepping in to arrest slumps in fixed-income mutual funds and corporate bonds.

‘MORE EFFECTIVE’

The yield on New Zealand’s 10-year bonds plunged as much as 54 basis points.

The Reserve Bank said it would purchase up to NZ$30 billion ($24.7 billion) of sovereign bonds over the next 12 months. The program will begin this week with NZ$500 million of purchases.

Japan’s benchmark 10-year yield was down 2.5 basis points at 0.05 per cent after the BOJ offered to take in 800 billion yen of three-to-10 year securities in an unscheduled operation on Monday. That was in addition to scheduled buying worth about 150 billion yen in longer maturities.

“Central banks around the world see the provision of funds as more effective right now than cutting rates,” said Mr Shuichi Ohsaki, chief rates strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Tokyo.

“The BOJ on its part is conducting funding operations to ensure yields will not rise.”

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COVID-19 cases in Alberta now at 226; 16 suspected to be community transmission

On Saturday, health officials announced that the number of COVID-19 cases in Alberta has risen by 31 since the day before, bringing the total to 226.

“We suspect that up to 16 of these cases may be due to community transmission,” said deputy chief medical officer of health Dr. Marcia Johnson at a news conference.

She added that 11 people are now hospitalized from the virus, with six of them in the ICU. One additional person has required ICU admission since Friday.

There have been no additional deaths in Alberta. Johnson said that Friday there were three people who had recovered, and the province did not have updated numbers on whether there were more recoveries.

She added that one of the cases announced on Saturday was in a seniors home but it would not be disclosed for privacy reasons.

Aggregate data, showing cases by age range and zone as well as by local geographical areas, is available online at alberta.ca/covid19statistics.

As of March 21, the province has administered 23,513 tests to Albertans.

There was less of an increase on Saturday in the province compared to Friday, when there was a rise of 49. However, Johnson said there wasn’t enough data to draw a conclusion that the lower number of new cases was a direct result of social distancing.

“It is too soon to make that conclusion on one day’s information,” she said.

“The whole aim of all the social distancing restrictions that we’ve put in is to decrease the number of people getting ill and to decrease the speed at which they’re getting ill.”

Johnson said that the province is stressing that people continue taking necessary steps to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“I know these steps may be particularly difficult on the weekend, when many of us would normally be out and about with our family and friends,” she said.

“For many Albertans, weekends mean fellowship in their chosen faith community as well.”

She added that worship can continue, as long buildings house under 50 people and proper handwashing and distancing takes place.

The province is also warning of an increase in scam calls as worries for the virus rise, especially with the elderly.

“No one from Alberta Health or Alberta Health Services will be calling and asking for social insurance numbers, credit card numbers or banking information,” Johnson said.

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

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

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. And if you get sick, stay at home.

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


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Another confirmed case of COVID-19 in London Middlesex, total rises to 12

The Ontario Ministry of Health announced 59 new cases of the new coronavirus in the province Saturday morning, with one of the cases being in the Middlesex-London region.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) confirmed the local case.

The patient is “a gentleman in his 50s with a recent travel to the U.K.,” said Dr. Alex Summers, associate medical officer of health.

“His symptoms developed on-arrival to Canada… and he’s currently isolated.”

Summers says the health unit continues its investigation into the case.

On Friday, the MLHU confirmed six local cases.

Summers adds its impossible to predict what the future holds for London and area, in terms of how many more cases of COVID-19 will be confirmed.

Provincially, the COVID-19 count sits at 377 as of Saturday morning.

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Saskatchewan rolls out financial support plan amid COVID-19 pandemic

As the number of presumptive and confirmed COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan reached 26,  Premier Scott Moe announced a new financial support plan to help employers and employees in the province impacted by COVID-19.

The plan includes a self-isolation support program that will provide residents, who are not covered by recently announced federally employment insurance programs,  with $450 a week for a maximum of two weeks.

The program is expected to cost $10 million. Here are the criteria for eligibility:

  • They have contracted COVID-19 or are showing symptoms;
  • They have been in contact with an individual infected with COVID-19;
  • They have recently returned from international travel and have been required to self-isolate;
  • They are not eligible for compensation including sick leave, vacation leave from their employer
  • They do not have private insurance covering such disruptions
  • They are not covered by other programs such as federal employment insurance that has been updated.

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