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How Singapore Got Back Its Manufacturing Factories

Jon Emont wrote . . . . . . . . .

The factory floor at GlobalFoundries Inc.’s Fab 7 beeps, whooshes and whirs—the sounds of robotic arms and other machines making chips for smartphones and cars. It is among the semiconductor maker’s most advanced facilities, and few of its 350-odd manufacturing steps require humans.

In courting factories like this, Singapore has become a rare wealthy country to reverse its manufacturing downturn. The city-state had faced industrial decline, with World Bank figures showing manufacturing falling to 18% of gross domestic product in 2013, from 27% in 2005.

Then manufacturing made a comeback in Singapore, rising to 21% of GDP in 2020, according to the World Bank’s latest figures. Singapore government data shows manufacturing made up 22% of its GDP in 2021.

General Electric Co. this year began using 3-D printing machines in Singapore to repair jet-engine blades. German semiconductor-wafer maker Siltronic AG and Taiwan’s United Microelectronics Corp. are building major new facilities here. Norway-based solar-panel maker REC Group uses advanced lasers in its Singapore facilities to split photovoltaic cells. Multinational companies are producing laboratory tools for DNA testing here.

Singapore has aggressively wooed highly automated factories with tax breaks, research partnerships, subsidized worker training and grants to local manufacturers to upgrade operations to better support multinational companies, among other enticements.

There’s a caveat: Singapore’s success has come by automating away many jobs. It has more factory robots per employee than any country other than South Korea, according to the International Federation of Robotics.

The manufacturing sector’s share of Singapore’s employment declined to 12.3% last year from 15.5% in 2013. The number of manufacturing workers has shrunk for eight years straight.

The country of 5.5 million people has long relied on migrant labor to bolster its worker ranks, so unlinking factories from jobs offers an economic benefit without hurting local employment rates. Singapore’s unemployment has remained steady over the last decade at around 2%, with a higher share of workers employed in the services industry.

For populous countries such as the U.S., which want the manufacturing industry to create jobs as well as products, this highly automated model could prove unpopular. But Singapore’s economy and labor market are well suited to this approach.

“Singapore is capital-intensive, it’s skills-intensive, it’s not labor-intensive,” said Bicky Bhangu, President, Rolls-Royce Southeast Asia, Pacific and Korea. The U.K. aerospace company’s Singapore factory produces 4,800 titanium wide-chord fan blades a year with a staff of around 200 workers.

BioNTech SE, the German vaccine maker, announced in May 2021 that it would build a new plant in Singapore to produce several hundred million Covid-19 vaccine doses a year. It plans a workforce of up to 80, including the corporate office. It cited Singapore’s talent base and good business climate as reasons for setting up.

Vacuum cleaner maker Dyson Ltd. has developed automated manufacturing processes here, with more than 300 robots assembling millions of vacuum motors, overseen by a small number of operators and engineers. “It is the availability of engineering and scientific skillsets as well as quality of manufactured product that determines where we site Dyson’s operations,” said Michelle Shi, its chief supply-chain officer.

At life-sciences firm 10X Genomics Inc.’s Singapore unit, liquid-dispensing robots pipette tiny quantities of chemical reagents into tubes, handing them off to robotic arms that plug on caps and box the tubes for shipment. The U.S. company said it set up in Singapore because of the country’s talent pool and manufacturing expertise.

Factory flight

Since Singapore became independent in 1965, the tropical-island country with few natural resources has sought industries in which it can be globally competitive. It found success making items ranging from matches and fish hooks to Ford automobiles. But production moved on as wages rose.

A Jardine Cycle & Carriage factory producing Mercedes-Benz cars ceased operations in the late 1970s and became a residential-property development. In 1980, Ford stopped production at its Singapore factory, now a World War II museum. By the late 2000s Singapore was best known as a financial hub as it saw a decline in manufacturing that rich nations have been experiencing for decades.

Now, Singapore is set to make cars again. Hyundai Motor Group says the manufacturing system it is building here for electric cars will use human power “only where necessary.” It says it chose Singapore because the country has a superb talent pool, top research institutes and a supportive government.

“Modern factories require much less land and labor,” said deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at an industry event last year. “This has made manufacturing activities previously unthinkable in Singapore possible again.”

In the U.S., manufacturing has settled at around 11% of the economy, 1 percentage point down from a decade ago and 4 percentage points lower than in 2000. Western countries including the U.K., France, Germany and Spain have faced declines.

The loss has been less pronounced in Asia’s developed countries, although South Korea and Japan have experienced gradual declines or stagnation, World Bank data shows.

The pandemic made automation a greater priority for businesses world-wide, which learned that fewer floor workers made it easier to maintain production during lockdowns. After restrictions ended, manufacturers have embraced automation to compensate for labor shortages.

Singapore received $8.5 billion in fixed-asset investment commitments in 2021 and around $12.5 billion the year before. Its policy makers say they aren’t competing to bring back low-cost manufacturing, focusing instead on products such as chips and aircraft avionics requiring advanced machinery and highly educated technicians. It is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of high-tech goods, according to the World Bank. The top three are China, Germany and South Korea. The U.S. is fifth.

Business executives say Singapore has succeeded because it has a welcoming, low-tax government and a strong base of English-speaking science, engineering and mathematics graduates and manufacturing managers. Relatively loose immigration laws make it easy to hire foreign engineers. The government gives grants to improve operations at local companies that work with multinational corporations, and it forms partnerships with the multinationals on labor-saving technology.

The density of tech talent means ideas and production methods spread throughout the city—biotech companies eager to improve manufacturing productivity sometimes poach chip-factory employees. The government has set up agencies to improve manufacturing efficiency and integrate new production methods like 3-D printing.

Singapore’s central location in Asia makes it easy to import raw materials and other goods from the region. Because Singapore has a wide web of free-trade agreements, companies can easily export anything they build in Singapore.

Government scientists helped Rolls-Royce introduce chemical-spraying robots into a Singapore factory that makes airplane-engine fan blades. A local supplier helped Rolls-Royce create a stable of new foundry robots in 2018 that maneuver fan blades into hot furnaces to shape their internal geometry, replacing human teams in full-body protection suits who did this work previously in Singapore.

Executives also say they trust intellectual-property protection laws in Singapore, unlike in places like China where they sometimes worry their partners will copy their products.

At GlobalFoundries’ factory—it makes chips for high-resolution touch screens and smartphones, and sensors and safety features for cars—hundreds of automated vehicles move pizza-sized containers of silicon wafers along a roughly seven-mile stretch of tracks on the ceiling. Upon reaching their programmed destination, they hoist the wafer pods down to processing machines.

Other wafer-toting robots operate on the ground, lifting and depositing their cargo before docking at charging stations. “They are more reliable than people,” said Jimmy Lo, deputy director of fab operations. GlobalFoundries is embarking on a $4 billion expansion of its Singapore operations.

White-collar work

Manufacturing is becoming a white-collar profession in Singapore. The country’s manufacturing labor force has declined by almost 18% between 2014 and 2021. But the share of manufacturing jobs held by resident workers classified as high-skill—professionals, managers, executives, and technicians—has risen by 8 percentage points to 74% last year, said Damian Chan, executive vice president of the government’s Economic Development Board. He said the manufacturing value added for each worker—a measure of productivity—doubled between 2014 and 2021, to around $230,000, thanks in part to automation.

“Higher productivity is actually the main way we see that we can sustainably increase wages in Singapore,” he said. “Even a slightly declining manufacturing manpower in Singapore is not a bad thing,” Mr. Chan added. “Because of automation then there is less foreign workers.”

As of December, it had 207,000 foreign manufacturing workers, down from around 281,000 in 2013. Foreigners were 46% of Singapore’s manufacturing employment last year, down from 52% in 2013.

Many foreigners head back to their countries after their jobs disappear, as the right to live in Singapore is tied to job status for many nonresidents. So they don’t show up in the country’s unemployment rate.

Even paper bags for takeout orders—which many rich countries typically import—are local. At an automated bag factory that a local company, Print Lab Pte., began operating in Singapore last month, cartons of paper go into a school-bus-sized machine that cuts, folds, and handles it, producing completed bags.

A push for high-tech production helped persuade Silicon Valley-based HP Inc. to open a new manufacturing facility in 2017 in Singapore for print heads, which dispense ink from cartridges to paper. Four years earlier, it had relocated the labor-intensive process of manufacturing lower-complexity print heads from Singapore to cheaper Malaysia. But it stuck with Singapore to make industrial print heads used in commercial printers for products such as books and posters. At the facility’s grand opening, robots poured guests glasses of wine.

Technological advances mean robotic arms that once could move in only one or two directions can now make nearly the same rotations as the human hand, equipping them for a much wider range of tasks. That dexterity is on display on HP’s production lines: A robot arm clutches a tab of adhesive liner and another peels from it, placing the sticky side on a cartridge to prevent ink from leaking.

“Imagine doing that job eight hours a day,” said Steve Connor, HP’s global head of inkjet supply operations. HP said the two robotic manufacturing lines in Singapore decreased manufacturing costs by 20%, compared with previous production methods.

The robots work 24 hours a day and are precise, leading to higher yield and fewer errors, said Mr. Connor. Small automated vehicles bearing trays collect batches of completed cartridges and deposit them while blaring Star Wars theme music, to make sure humans don’t trip over them—not that the music seems necessary. “I walk in here and go ‘Where are all the people?’ ” said Mr. Connor.

The company has retrained staff to work with the machines, tapping into government grants that subsidize training by lecturers from the city’s technical-training institutes. Operators who once loaded materials are taught to troubleshoot and fix basic mechanical problems. Some staff that once used microscopes to inspect cartridges for defects now train robots to do that. The humans verify that cartridges rejected by the robots actually have problems, helping to hone robotic judgment.

At another Singapore factory, 3-D printers print out some of their own parts, said Ng Tian Chong, HP’s managing director for greater Asia: “Our 3-D printer actually gives birth to itself.”


Source : The Wall Street Journal

Lee Hsien Loong on What Singapore Can and Can’t Teach China – Interview with Caixin in 2014

Hu Shuli and Zhang Hong wrote . . . . . . . . .

As one of the Four Asian Tigers, Singapore is known for its strong economy and orderly society. The city-state, with its population of 5.3 million people, is listed by the World Bank as No. 4 in the world in terms of per capita income. As a regional business hub, it is lauded for its sound business reputation and the transparency of its government.

Singapore has also been something of an example for China over the past three decades. A visit by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 provided inspiration for China’s reform and opening up.

Meanwhile, many Chinese officials have studied Singapore’s style of governance. Over the past 30 some years, more than 10,000 Chinese officials have visited Singapore for governance training. What they witnessed is a democracy combined with one-party rule and elitism. They have also seen an open economy that is accompanied by strong state-controlled investment vehicles.

Since 2013, China’s new leadership has pursued various reform measures that, some argue, reflect the Singapore style. On one hand, the market’s role has been further highlighted in resource allocation, and on the other, efforts to fight corruption have intensified.

But the debate over whether the experiences of Singapore can be copied in China has been fierce. After all, the two differ in population size and political systems, and the city-state lacks the regional disparities of China.

Nevertheless, the transformation of Singapore in recent decades can offer valuable lessons to China as it reforms. In an exclusive interview with Caixin in early February, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong discussed his expectations for Singapore’s future and challenges confronting the country.

Lee is Singapore’s third PM and the eldest son of Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew. Before taking office in 2004, he served as the minister of trade and industry, finance minister and deputy prime minister.

Lee shared his views on Singapore’s efforts to balance policy, political institutions and corruption-fighting efforts. He also discussed its role in Asia-Pacific and the prospects for regional cooperation. Excerpts of the interview follow.


Caixin: I’ve frequently visited this country over the years and I’m so impressed with the prosperity and economic growth. Would you share your vision for Singapore’s economic growth?

Lee Hsien Loong: In terms of income levels, we are at about developed country levels, in fact higher than some developed countries. I think in terms of the depth of our capabilities, in terms of technology, in terms of the strength of our enterprises, we don’t have so many multinational corporations, we are not so strong in research, development, entrepreneurship. We want to keep on growing, we want to keep on improving the lives of our people materially, which means our GDP has to go up. But also in the more intangible aspects of life – quality of life, the environment we live in, the tone of the society, the way we treat one another. And that is continually a work in progress.

Caixin: So when it comes to Singapore’s’ sustainable development, is there a road map in your mind?

Lee Hsien Loong: I think that we have to develop connected to the rest of the world, and particularly connected to our region in Southeast Asia and Asia, a region which is prospering, a region which offers us many opportunities. I think our people are hard-working, they are reasonably talented. Given the right education they can do well. But I think the best way to make use of their talents and their abilities is not just to confine it within Singapore, but to connect to what’s happening around us. So if a company sets up an operation in Singapore, it’s not just for a market but for the region. If it sets up a headquarters in Singapore, it’s the headquarters for the whole of Asia or the whole of ASEAN. And if our people have ability as managers and leaders, they can be managers and leaders not just in Singapore but they can go out.

There are many operations, many companies all over the region which will find a good Asian executive a very considerable asset. So Singaporeans can be in Singapore, can be around us in the region, and we can have a diaspora, a network and a home.

Caixin: On the subject of domestic economic policy, how do you balance competition between small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and state champions?

Lee Hsien Loong: We don’t have state champions very much. We have some companies which are owned directly or indirectly by the government through Temasek and a few other vehicles. But to a very large extent, we require them to operate commercially. They do not get special privileges from the government. Neither do they carry duties imposed on them by their government. So they operate commercially, they have their own boards, which make decisions for them. They are often listed on the stock market, so they are publicly listed. And their shareholders hold the boards responsible for the performance of their companies. So I would not say it’s a division between state enterprises and SMEs. I think in this environment with an economy which is changing quite rapidly, it is especially challenging for SMEs to keep up with the pace of change because costs go up and business conditions change. The way they used to do business before, tomorrow that niche may disappear and they have to find a new niche.

A big company, you’ve got some balance, some stability and you can move one step forward at a time; with a small company, you only have one small footprint and it’s not so easy to jump. So we are making an extra effort to help SMEs adapt in this environment, and some of them are doing well.

Caixin: Maintaining competitiveness and care for the needy is always hard to balance. How do you view this challenge?

Lee Hsien Loong: We have to keep a balance because in every society there is that yin and yang. The yang which is the competitive element which drives society forward, and the yin, the softer, maybe you can say the feminine element which expresses our care and concern for one another and the way we help one another go through life and form a society together. So we have to have the right balance.

If you go too much toward competitiveness, you lose that cohesion and sense of being Singaporeans together. If we go all the way the other way and say, well, we don’t compete and everybody will be first in class, I think nobody will be first in class and we will all be losers! China has shifted from a very “da guo fan” iron rice bowl system to one which is very competitive. We have operated a competitive system which has targeted significant social safeguards on public housing, in health care, in education, and in this phase with the competitive environment for Singapore getting fiercer.

With conditions getting more challenging for the middle- and the lower-income people in many societies, I think we need to do somewhat more to tilt the balance toward the yin side. That means to give greater help to the low-income groups, so they can increase their earnings and their assets to keep our society more open, so people who have talent can move up and will not be daunted by the gaps in the incomes between the rich and poor. That is what we have been doing.

Caixin: Singapore owes its success to the great design of its political institutions. The world is changing, so can the current political structure always maintain its relevance?

Lee Hsien Loong: I think political structures have to gradually evolve with time. We have developed the scheme we now have over the years. We started off with the British Westminster model and then we’ve adapted it, changed it over the years to get quite a unique model which we have in Singapore. It is still based on a parliamentary system but with certain safeguards and enhancements. For example, the president is independently elected.

Also, we have special arrangements which ensure minority communities will always be represented in parliament, but in a competitive sort of way. I think as we go forward we will have to make further adjustments, surely, because our society will change. How it will develop I think it’s hard to say.

I believe that there will be a greater degree of competition. There will be a greater desire of Singaporeans to participate in the political process, and we ought to accommodate that because it’s good that Singaporeans care about the affairs of the country and which way Singapore is going. But whatever we change we still want a system where you encourage good people to come forward, you encourage voters to elect people who will represent their interests well, and you encourage the government to act in a way which will take the long-term interests of the country at heart. And that’s not easy to do.

Caixin: What do you think of the competition between Singapore and Hong Kong? It seems that Singapore is in a leading position now.

Lee Hsien Loong: I don’t worry too much about competition with Hong Kong because I think we are in different positions. Hong Kong is very successful economically, on the doorstep of China, servicing the Chinese market and taking full advantage of that. Singapore is in a different position in Southeast Asia. The Chinese market is important to us, but at the same time we also focus on Southeast Asia, on South Asia, India, and on the rest of the world. So there’s some rivalry. We watch them, they watch us to some extent, but I don’t worry about that.

As a financial center I think we are in different positions. Big Chinese companies, many are listed in Hong Kong. Smaller companies, some of them are in Singapore, but I think that’s just a small proportion of all the business there is in China. I think the world is big enough for both of us.

Caixin: What’s your view on China’s economic and financial outlook? What do you think about the role of the yuan?

Lee Hsien Loong: I think the Chinese government is gradually liberalizing restrictions on the yuan and they would like it to play a greater role in international finance, so there are swap arrangements for the yuan and several Asian countries. There are offshore settlements banks for the yuan, including one in Singapore, and settlement centers. They’ve got it in Singapore, they’ve got it in Hong Kong, I think they’ve got it in Britain. So I think this is a prudent way to approach it, gradually to liberalize. But to open up completely the way the U.S. dollar or the yen or the euro are completely open on a capital account, I think there’s a very major distance to go and I think it will probably take quite some time yet.

Caixin: Singapore is good at fighting corruption, and has clean and efficient civil servants. China is in the process now of an anti-graft campaign. What should be the next step and are there any lessons China can learn from Singapore?

Lee Hsien Loong: I think China’s circumstances are very different from ours. Your scale is much different from ours. I mean, we are the equivalent of one small city. Even Shanghai has 20 million people, four five times the size of Singapore. So what we do in Singapore is not so easy to do all over China. I once had a discussion with a vice mayor in Shanghai, and he said to me, “You pay your ministers well, and your civil servants well, properly. And if we were Shanghai, all by ourselves, we could do that also. But if I did that, people to the west of me would have a view, people to the north of me would have a view, the people to the south of me would have a view, the people in the center would have a view. So it is not so easy for me to move, and it’s a real problem, it’s a different situation.”

But in Singapore, what we have tried to do is have strict rules, to have transparent systems, so if there is an exercise of discretion, it cannot be completed without checks and balances. But there will have to be some accounting: How was this discretion exercised? Why was it exercised this way? If anybody is discovered to be corrupt or suspected to be corrupt, we will investigate it and we will bring him to justice, however high up or sensitive the post he may hold is.

At the same time, we make sure we pay our civil servants properly, a wage commensurate with the quality of the officer and commensurate with the responsibilities which they hold so that there is minimum temptation for them to do something on the side in order to take care of the family. But it has to go together. You pay people properly, but at the same time you must hold people to high standards, and bring them to account and justice if anybody does anything wrong. And in the last couple of years we’ve had a couple of cases which were quite prominent. Some have to do with sex, some to do with money. Quite senior officers. It embarrassed us, but it cannot be helped. We have to follow through. You cannot be limp-wristed.

Caixin: A clean government is a dream of China’s. You mentioned accountability and high pay. You said both are important together, but which one is more important?

Lee Hsien Loong: I think you need both and I think both are very difficult to do because to pay people well you have to be able to justify and defend it, and there’s always a public sense that in the public sector you ought to make a sacrifice. To some extent that is true, but if the sacrifice is too great, it’s not realistic and the system will not work. Expecting high standards is also not easy because people have careers and livelihoods. It’s never a light decision to decide that somebody is not up to the mark, and you have to move him out or maybe remove him from the service altogether.

You have to start somewhere. You could start with one place, you could start with one service. In some countries, they have tried to do it starting with the finance ministry, with customs, with immigration people, where you’ve got more opportunities to be tempted. There is no easy solution, but I see that China is taking it very seriously, and catching tigers as well as flies.

Caixin: In your opinion, what are the most formidable challenges China faces domestically and internationally?

Lee Hsien Loong: Domestically, to continue to restructure your economy so that you will not build up social tensions and you can continue to fulfill your full potential. Because of your full potential, I think you can grow 7 to 8 percent for another 15 to 20 years quite easily. The energy is there, the determination is there, the people are talented and they are hungry. But to be able to get the systems working, the reforms through vested interests overcome, the administration to be efficient, transparent and honest, and the social stresses to be relieved so that people don’t see “fu er dai” and “guan er dai” (the children of the wealthy or officials) and all these other problems which are unavoidable in a rapidly changing society. I think that is something that will keep your leaders very busy for a long time.

Internationally, I think China is becoming much stronger. I think it is becoming much more active in engaging its partners, in pursuing its interests, and defending its interests. And one of the major challenges for China is how to do this in a way where you are defending your interests but at the same time you can integrate smoothly and peacefully into an international order, because China will not be the most powerful country in the world. You will probably be the biggest economy in the world within a decade or two, depending on how you measure.

But there are other very major and powerful advanced economies, and China has to work with them and there has to be give and take on both sides. Even with small countries, there has to be give and take, a sense that in international relations the principles of co-existence are used, “pingdeng huhui,” or equal and mutual benefit. So that is a very difficult balance to strike because you will have a natural sense of pride. You have “fuxing zhilu” (the road to restoration), the idea that after 168 years China is on the verge of arriving and wants to take its place in the sun. But at the same time you want to fit in peacefully and be looked at by other countries with admiration and respect and not just with other people saying: “Oh he’s powerful, I have to pay attention to him.” That’s a very difficult challenge to balance.

Caixin: What do you think about the rebalancing policy of the United States? Is it a show of strength? Or is it an adjustment the United States has had to make because of its relative decline of power in this region?

Lee Hsien Loong: I’m not sure why you would say relative decline.

Caixin: Relative decline, it’s weaker.

Lee Hsien Loong: America has been in Asia since the Second World War. Even before that they were in the Philippines because it was a colonial master. And their presence has been welcomed by countries around the region all these decades, and I think that the Americans understand they have an important status in the region, they have friends, they have interests. They have security interests, and it is important for them to be present in this region and to exert their benign constructive influence.

At the same time, it has to develop a stable relationship with China which is based on more trust and more mutual cooperation. So I would look at it like that. If it’s a relative decline, well, it used to be that every aircraft carrier in the region was American, now not quite so. But I think the Americans are formidable not just because of their military forces or security presence, but also because of their economic ties, also because of their soft power, because people enjoy watching Hollywood movies, enjoy listening to American pop stars. Even in China, so many of your top people, whether it’s in business or government, send their children to study in U.S. universities.

Caixin: What is Singapore’s understanding and expectations for the ‘new type’ relationships between major countries?

Lee Hsien Loong: I don’t know. That’s a term the Chinese leadership have come up with, and they’ve talked about it with Mr. Obama in Sunnyvale in California. I think from our point of view what we hope it will mean is that the two countries will have a constructive relationship.

There will be competition. There will be issues which will arise from time to time. It cannot be that one side just gives way to the other, and therefore we are friends. There has to be a balance and a give and take, and a mutual understanding of where vital interests are. And then the ability to work together to deal with issues around the world which concern us all, whether it’s global warming, whether it’s nuclear proliferation, whether it’s security in the Middle East, Iran. China has a stake in all these issues.

Caixin: How does Singapore position itself in the regional and international geopolitical landscape?

Lee Hsien Loong: We try to be friends with everybody. We stand up for Singapore. We are not a Chinese society. We want to be friends with China, but we also want to be friends with Japan, we also want to be friends with the U.S. We’ve not done badly in that respect because over the last few decades our relations among these countries have been stable and I hope it stays like that.

Caixin: ASEAN will have to achieve economic integration by 2015. Is this still feasible?

Lee Hsien Loong: We will have a scheme. We will probably meet 85 percent of what we have set out to do. It will not be the same as European economic integration, but it will be a significant step forward for us.

Caixin: What will be the implications for the region?

Lee Hsien Loong: I think there should be more growth, there should be freer flow of capital, there will be freer flow of professionals and talent. There should be better transportation links for connectivity. So air links, more flights, more opportunities for business to get together and to prosper together. And we hope, therefore, more opportunities to manage frictions when they arise.

Caixin: So you think you will achieve it on time?

Lee Hsien Loong: I think we will achieve most of what we set out to do, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more we should aim for beyond 2015.

Caixin: What’s your vision on restructuring the financial order in this region?

Lee Hsien Loong: I think that depends on the IMF and World Bank, as well as regional institutions, and we are building them up gradually.

As a founding member of the TPP, Singapore has been a champion of free trade. To what extent do you think the TPP will change the trade and economic landscape of the Asia-Pacific region?

I think it’s a very significant step forward. The APEC countries, altogether there are 21. Ideally all of them would come together and have free trade amongst them. But the 21 countries are very diverse and there are also political complications. I think it would be very hard to have an FTA which includes all 21 countries, so the TPP is a significant step toward such an ideal of an APEC free-trade region. It brings in countries on both sides of the Pacific. There is America, Chile, Peru. On this side there is Japan, there’s Singapore, Vietnam, Australia. So you’ve got people on the east and west coasts of the Pacific. You’ve got developed countries, you’ve got developing countries. And you’ve got a significant proportion of the economies in Asia-Pacific. So I think it’s a very major step forward. And I hope it will not be the last step.

Caixin: The U.S. government is working on TPA – trade-promotion authority – which would mean Congress has to vote yes or no on a trade deal the president submits. What relationship with does it have with the TPP?

Lee Hsien Loong: We hope they get the trade promotion authority because with a trade promotion authority the process of ratifying the TPP will be more straightforward. Without the TPA, when the TPP goes to Congress the congressmen can vote item by item, saying “I think this, I don’t like this, I think this, I don’t like this.” It’s not possible. We have negotiated a package. You have to approve either all or nothing. Otherwise you take what you like and I don’t get what I need. So they have to get the TPA. Otherwise, I think it’s big trouble.

Caixin: China has expressed interest in joining the TPP, but also stated it won’t be in the first group of signatories. What are the stakes?

Lee Hsien Loong: Well it depends how ready you are to move. When you entered the WTO your Premier Zhu Rongji made a very deliberate decision that he wanted to do this as a way to push the opening up and the competitiveness of the Chinese economies and the SOEs. So he committed, he negotiated, and China made their openings as promised, and I think as a result you’re more competitive and stronger today.

I think you should look at the TPP with a similar perspective, from an economic point of view, that if you can join the TPP and commit to that, it could mean major adjustments for some of your companies or industries, but it should mean overall benefit for your economy.

Of course there is also a political angle and a strategic angle, that you are joining a TPP, in which Japan is also a partner, America is also a partner, Singapore, Vietnam, several Latin American countries are also partners. So trade is never purely trade. Trade is also an expression of who are your friends, who are your allies. Who do you intend to work with over the long term. And I hope China sees these as friends it wants to work together with over the long term, although with Japan I think it will take a long time.

Caixin: There are overlapping trade agreements. The TPP and RECP, and ASEAN has three. For example, Singapore is in several different trade pacts. So how are these coordinated?

Lee Hsien Loong: I think it is very hard to coordinate. They overlap. You hope that together, collectively, they are a plus. But honestly speaking, it is a burden on businessmen to know all these rules and to comply with all the very different requirements severally, and to decide under which scheme they will find the most advantageous terms. But we just have to live with this, and hope that over time we will be able to have a more open environment.


Source : Bamboo Innovator

Opinion: How Singapore Could Outperform Shanghai, Hong Kong to Become Asia’s Financial Center

Vincent Chan wrote . . . . . . . . .

Since World War II, few have doubted the standing of London and New York because the worldwide monetary and enterprise facilities of Europe and America. But arguments abound over which metropolis guidelines in Asia.

Japan and South Korea are among the many largest economies in Asia. Tokyo and Seoul, their capitals, are two of a very powerful cities on the continent. However, as English is just not standard in both, they’ve by no means been the primary alternative for multinational corporations’ Asian headquarters. This means the 2 cities have solely ever served as regional monetary facilities in their very own economies.

English is extensively spoken in Sydney. But Australia is simply too far-off from different Asian economies, and its personal economic system is just not notably giant, so Sydney can’t be seen as a very powerful monetary and enterprise middle within the Asian time zone both.

With the rise of China’s economic system, the cities most certainly to turn out to be the Asian monetary middle to rival New York and London are Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore. Among them, Shanghai has apparent benefits. It’s a very powerful industrial and industrial metropolis on the Chinese mainland, with a substantial a part of its greater than 20 million inhabitants talking English. The complete market cap of corporations listed in Shanghai was $7.9 trillion on the finish of February, which is larger than Hong Kong’s $5.2 trillion and Singapore’s practically $700 billion. However, the largest weak point Shanghai faces is the Chinese authorities’s capital controls and the influence of the restricted internationalization of the yuan.

Hong Kong’s best benefit is its standing within the “One Country, Two Systems” coverage. It has a judicial and industrial system in keeping with worldwide requirements. Moreover, the Hong Kong greenback is pegged to the U.S. greenback. The metropolis may piggyback on the mainland. It has attracted many corporations from abroad and the mainland to arrange branches and go public there. As a consequence, over the previous two to three many years, Singapore has solely surpassed Shanghai and Hong Kong in sure areas, resembling overseas change buying and selling.

However, since 2019, elements that profit Singapore’s improvement have been rising.

Since 2019, the China-U.S. relationship has deteriorated quickly. It has not improved considerably regardless of the top of the Trump administration. In the brief time period, Hong Kong might profit from sure mainland enterprises delisting from the U.S. and returning to Hong Kong amid the escalating China-U.S. monetary struggle. But geopolitical tensions between the 2 nations have prevented American traders from shopping for some Hong Kong-listed Chinese shares. And then there are voices that query the extent of social stability in Hong Kong. Deteriorating China-U.S. relationship is undoubtedly dangerous for each Hong Kong and Shanghai of their quest to turn out to be Asia’s worldwide monetary and industrial middle.

In addition to these direct results, deteriorating China-U.S. relations have additionally accelerated transfers within the world industrial chain. As manufacturing prices in China rose, some multinational corporations transferred a part of manufacturing to Southeast Asia. And there’re additionally uncertainties concerning China’s export tariffs and whether or not China will nonetheless give you the option to import probably the most superior manufacturing know-how from Europe and the U.S. Therefore, it’s foreseeable that many multinational corporations will speed up shifting new capability from China to different nations, particularly in Southeast Asia. As the monetary and industrial improvement of no different cities in Southeast Asia compares with Singapore, the island state would be the most important beneficiary of accelerated improvement within the area.

Singapore has additionally benefited from its profitable response to Covid-19. Judging from the world’s epidemic prevention and management expertise prior to now greater than two years, no nation or area can assure its manufacturing chains won’t be affected by the pandemic. The Chinese mainland ensured secure manufacturing by way of a lot of the pandemic, however with the outbreak of the extremely contagious omicron variant, secure manufacturing has turn out to be a difficulty. Also, most overseas corporations don’t need to combine manufacturing in a single nation, so they could shift their industrial chains out of China.

Singapore’s epidemic controls have acquired many constructive feedback globally. In mid-2021, it determined to coexist with the Covid-19 virus and has since progressively lowered social distancing and journey controls. That’s very totally different from the tight epidemic management measures or citywide lockdowns adopted in Hong Kong and Shanghai in early 2022.

Though Singapore has adopted a method of coexistence with the virus, well being care assets stay plentiful. Fewer than 500 folks in Singapore have died of omicron in 2022, roughly the identical variety of influenza deaths. By comparability, greater than 9,000 folks died of Covid-19 in Hong Kong. In Shanghai, although the proportion of the inhabitants contaminated is way decrease than in Singapore, financial exercise within the metropolis has been largely suspended since mid-March due to strict lockdowns, leading to heavy financial losses. It is predicted that Shanghai’s and Hong Kong’s responses to Covid-19 might push giant multinational corporations’ regional hubs out of China, although the businesses should still retain operations which can be carefully associated to the mainland in Shanghai or Hong Kong.

As a consequence, it’s tough for Shanghai and Hong Kong to keep their standing as worldwide monetary and enterprise facilities given strict quarantine and lockdown measures. Singapore, thus, has a comparative benefit. In the longer term, the event of Singapore deserves everybody’s consideration.


Source : Up Job News


Read also at Yahoo!

Singapore won’t displace Hong Kong as a financial centre . . . . .

Chart: Singapore’s Residential Market Is Slowing

Source : Bloomberg

Chart: Singapore the Latest Victim of Global Energy Crisis

Power price jumped to the highest on record in the last few days

Source : Bloomberg

In Low Key Move, Singapore’s Central Bank Adds 26 Tonnes to Its Gold Reserves

Ronan Manly wrote . . . . . . . . .

It has just come to light that Singapore’s central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), added 26.35 tonnes of gold to its official monetary gold reserves over a 2 month period between May and June this year, in the process boosting its strategic gold holdings by 20% to a claimed 153.76 tonnes.

This addition to the monetary gold holdings of the Monetary Authority of Singapore was first pointed out by the World Gold Council’s Krishan Gopaul in a 25 November tweet, following an update to Singapore’s gold holdings appearing in the IMF’s International Financial Statistics (IFS) database, a source which World Gold Council uses to keep track of central bank and sovereign gold holdings.

May and June: 26.35 tonnes added

While it’s unclear why changes to Singapore’s monetary gold holdings from May and June only made it on to the IFS database in recent days, looking more closely, the Monetary Authority of Singapore did ‘reflect’ the May and June gold purchases at the end of July and August, respectively, via updates to the MAS’ monthly “International Reserves and Foreign Currency Liquidity” report, but did not announce or mention the additions specifically.

Before looking at how this substantial gold purchase by Singapore went unnoticed, here are the raw numbers from the MAS site itself. Up until the end of April 2021, Singapore’s central bank (MAS) had been reporting total gold holdings of 4,096,439 fine troy ounces, or 127.42 tonnes, a figure which had not changed since at least 2002 (which is as far back as World Gold Council records go).

During May 2021, MAS reports that it added 527,201 ozs (16.4 tonnes) of gold, taking it’s gold holdings as of end of May to 4,623,640 ozs (143.81 tonnes).

During June 2021, MAS reports that it added a further 319,801 ozs (9.95 tonnes) of gold, which increased MAS’ gold holdings as of end of June to 4,943,441 ozs (153.76 tonnes).

This means that over the two months May and June 2021 inclusive, MAS purchased 847,002 fine troy ounces of gold (26.35 tonnes), and in doing so increased it’s gold holdings by 20.67%, and at the same time rising from 30th to 28th place in the world gold holding rankings.

Quietly and Discreetly

Each month, the World Gold Council (WGC) updates it’s World Official Gold Holdings spreadsheet (xls) in which it ranks sovereign gold holders largest to smallest based on how many tonnes of monetary gold each country holds. Looking at the latest version of this report (November), it lists Singapore in 30th position with 127.4 tonnes ‘as of August 2021’, and this spreadsheet has not yet been updated (at time of writing) to reflect the 26 tonnes of gold purchased by Singapore in May and June.

The WGC ranking methodology states that: “This table was updated in November 2021 and reports data available at that time. Data are taken from the International Monetary Fund’s International Financial Statistics (IFS), November 2021 edition, and other sources where applicable. IFS data are two months in arrears, so holdings are as of September 2021 for most countries, August 2021 or earlier for late reporters”.

IMF IFS data will only get updated if and when an individual country informs the IMF of a change to that country’s gold holdings. It appears then that the World Gold Council’s data for Singapore’s gold holdings is based exclusively on the IMF IFS data, and that this IFS data has for some reason only in recent days been updated to reflect Singapore’s gold purchases, which means that for some reason Singapore has only very recently informed the IMF of it’s May-June gold buying.

For verification, I ran a data query in the IMF IFS database for search criteria Singapore, for each month of 2021, with the data indicator of “International Reserves and Liquidity, Reserves, Official Reserve Assets, Gold (Including Gold Deposits and, If Appropriate, Gold Swapped), Volume in Millions of Fine Troy Ounces, Fine Troy Ounces”.

From the IFS data, you can see that Singapore’s (MAS) gold holdings remained unchanged at 4.1 million ozs until the end of April 2021, then increased to 4.62 mn ozs at the end of May, and then increased again to 4.94 mn ozs at the end of June, after which MAS gold reserves remained unchanged.

MAS Monthly International Reserves report

However, knowing now that MAS purchased gold during May and June, I went back and checked on the actual MAS monthly ‘International Reserves and Foreign Currency Liquidity’ reports on the MA website.

The report which was published on 30 June 2021, shows the Singaporean central bank reporting a total of 4,096,439 fine troy ounces (or 127.42 tonnes).

The same report for May 2021 then shows that the volume of gold held by MAS at the end of May was 4,623,640 fine troy ounces, which was 16.4 tonnes more than at the end of April.

The report for June 2021 shows that as of end of June MAS held 4,943,441 fine troy ounces of gold, a 9.95 tonne increase over May, and a combined May-June increase of 26.35 tonnes.

Just for completeness, the report for July 2021 shows that gold holdings then remained constant at 4,943,441 ozs, i.e. there were no further gold purchases beyond June.

Despite the two-month lag in reporting, these reports show that the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) did report increases in gold holdings on 30 July and again on 31 August, but for whatever reason, no one noticed, or else those who noticed it did not publicise it. There is a slight chance that MAS has recently altered it’s “International Reserves” reports since May to retrospectively show these gold purchases, but it would seem quite absurd to do so, even in the secretive world of central bank gold reporting.

Besides, an Internet Archive of the preliminary MAS “International Reserves” report for end of August (published end of September) shows that even then (at the end of September) MAS was, on it’s website, reporting it’s latest gold holdings of 4,943,441 ozs.

The Secretive World of Central Bank Gold

So overall, it seems to be a case of no one noticing the updated gold holdings data in the MAS monthly “International Reserves” reports since the end of July, and at the same time, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) not highlighting it’s gold purchases to either the gold market or the financial press, i.e. there was no press release, no other form of announcement, nor even any comment on either the MAS website or from central bank officials. In contrast, central banks, such as Poland, have made many public statements about their gold buying, and .

For a central bank which actively publishes reams of publications and reports on all sorts of topics related to Singapore’s financial sector and markets and it’s international financial position, this omission about Singapore’s sizeable gold purchases could be considered quite strange, but then again, given that we are dealing with the secretive world of gold and central banks, maybe it’s not so strange.

In addition, MAS is famous for it’s obsession with (versus a basket of currencies), so perhaps MAS prefers not to draw attention to the amount of gold in it’s international reserves as this might encourage FX markets to view the gold purchase as a move that strengthens Singapore’s reserve position and hence could put upward pressure on it’s exchange rate.

From Washington to Switzerland

In 1968, Singapore’s finance minister Dr Goh Keng Swee and senior adviser Ngiam Tong Dow were responsible for securing Singapore’s first gold reserves when they negotiated with South Africa’s finance minister Nicolaas Diederichts to purchase 100 tonnes of gold from the South Africans at $40 per ounce while attending a World Bank meeting in Washington D.C.

Realising that the Bretton Woods system would soon collapse, and on advice from Ngiam Tong Dow, Dr Goh decided “In that case, we had better go and buy gold from the South Africans.”

Given that there was an embargo on South Africa, intriguing the gold deal was conducted in Dr Goh’s hotel room in Washington D.C. and they turned up the TV to full volume to counter possible listening devices. According to Ngiam Tong Dow, when Diederichts agreed, he said “OK, you send your man to Switzerland, we’ll deliver the gold to you in Switzerland, and you pay us in Switzerland.” Diederichts then took out a $1 bill, ripped in in two halves, kept one half, and gave the other half to Ngiam Tong Dow saying ‘You keep this. I will keep the other half, and my man will meet you in Switzerland.” And just like that, 100 tonnes of gold changed hands. It may sound like a James Bond storyline, but this story is actually factual.

A few months later the deal was finalised when Ngiam Tong Dow and Singaporean banker Wee Cho Yaw flew into Switzerland and went to the offices of the Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC) where they met the Swiss banker representing the South Africans. Upon handing him the one half of the dollar bill, and seeing that the serial numbers matched, the Swiss banker said “OK, your identity has been established”. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Sometime subsequent to 1968 (but before 2002) Singapore added to its gold reserves to bring them up to the 127.4 tonnes level, and now yet again, Singapore has added another 26.35 tonnes during May and June 2021.

While the negotiation of this latest gold purchase may not have been as intriguing and James Bond-esque as Singapore’s 1968 gold purchase, in the world of central bank gold markets anything is possible, and we could well imagine MAS officials in exotic Swiss locations or Washington DC hotels.

But like their 1968 compatriots who were quiet and discreet in their negotiations, so yet again Singapore’s central bankers have added a sizeable tonnage to Singapore’s monetary gold reserves, so discreetly, that no one, until now, even noticed. And that’s the way the secretive central bankers like it.

Yet with this gold purchase, Singapore’s central bankers are now signaling that after years on the sidelines, they feel compelled at this time to come back to the gold market as buyers. While yet not covered by mainstream financial media, this is a major move by one of the world’s most savvy and discreet central banks.


Source : Bullion Star

Singapore Is Seeing Daily Record COVID Cases. Here’s Why It May Not be a Bad Thing

Abigail Ng wrote . . . . . . . . .

Authorities in Singapore have tightened Covid measures as infections in the country rise to fresh record highs — but two health experts told CNBC they are not terribly concerned.

The country’s health-care system and workers have been strained by the increase in cases, and there is a need to slow down transmission to avoid seeing more infections in vulnerable groups such as the elderly, the health ministry said Friday when stricter measures were announced again.

For the next four weeks, group sizes for social gatherings will be reduced to two people from five people, and working from home will be the default.

Still, medical experts told CNBC that the latest virus wave may not be a bad thing since Singapore’s population is highly-vaccinated.

Many of the patients with Covid-19 have avoided severe illness and will gain further protection against future infection as antibodies fight the virus, according to Teo Yik-Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore.

Around 82% of Singapore’s population has received two doses of a Covid vaccine. Health authorities on Sunday said 98% of infected individuals had no or mild symptoms over the last 28 days.

Case numbers may remain high for a few months, but the “vast majority” will be well protected by the vaccines and won’t fall seriously ill, Teo said.

“For these people, infection will not have any short-term or long-term consequence to their health, but may additionally trigger a natural immune response which reduces the chance of subsequent infection,” he said in an email.

Potential benefits of natural infection

Letting the virus transmit slowly through the population is “not necessarily a bad thing,” said Ooi Eng Eong, a professor in Duke-NUS Medical School’s emerging infectious diseases program.

The two main vaccines used in Singapore are developed by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, and both use the messenger RNA technology.

mRNA vaccines instruct the body to produce a so-called spike protein which is found on the surface of the virus that causes Covid-19. It is harmless, but triggers the immune system to develop antibodies so that the body will be able to fight off infection better if exposed to the real virus.

“If we get a natural infection, our immune system will be able to recognize a larger part of the virus” as opposed to just the spike protein, Ooi said, adding that it could make a person more resilient against future variants.

He said Singapore could reap the benefits of natural infection that some parts of Europe and North America are experiencing, but in the reverse order.

“Instead of infection followed by vaccination, we’re going to go vaccination followed by infection, which I think is even better because [infections] will mostly be mild,” he said.

“Those [countries] that had high rates of disease last year paid the price” of higher death rates, he told CNBC.

More new variants?

When asked if widespread transmission of Covid could lead to new variants emerging, Ooi acknowledged that it’s difficult to predict what will happen.

However, he pointed out that future variants will have to compete with the “very transmissible” delta variant, the dominant strain worldwide.

“It’s very hard to beat delta,” he said.

There were also concerns about mu, a new variant of interest, but it couldn’t take off because delta was too strong, he said.

“Having said that, I think the wise thing to do is still to be prepared that something fitter than delta could eventually emerge, or that the new variant could escape the immunity produced by vaccination,” Ooi said.

Local Covid situation

The number of severe Covid cases remains within expectations, according to Singapore’s health ministry.

There were 172 cases that required oxygen supplementation, and 30 in the intensive care unit (ICU) as of Sunday. ICU capacity can be ramped up to 1,600 beds if needed, the government said.

The two professors who spoke to CNBC were split on the whether there’s a need for new restrictions.

Ooi said the current virus wave is “well within the limits” of Singapore’s capacity. The new restrictions are “unnecessary” and will slow down efforts to live with the disease, he added.

While Teo agreed that the situation wasn’t worsening, he said tightening measures are needed to provide “breathing space” for Singapore to make adjustments to operational and hospitalization protocols.

Hospital beds are filling up because of the country’s “very cautious” approach, and not because that many people need acute medical care, Teo said.

The long-term plan against Covid is a combination of vaccination and natural infection to provide protection while not overwhelming hospitals, he said, adding that he does not anticipate an increase in the death rate, but the absolute numbers can be expected to rise.

As of Sunday, Singapore reported 87,892 Covid cases and 78 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.


Source : CNBC

Singapore Is Seeing Daily Record COVID Cases. Here’s Why It May Not be a Bad Thing

Abigail Ng wrote . . . . . . . . .

Authorities in Singapore have tightened Covid measures as infections in the country rise to fresh record highs — but two health experts told CNBC they are not terribly concerned.

The country’s health-care system and workers have been strained by the increase in cases, and there is a need to slow down transmission to avoid seeing more infections in vulnerable groups such as the elderly, the health ministry said Friday when stricter measures were announced again.

For the next four weeks, group sizes for social gatherings will be reduced to two people from five people, and working from home will be the default.

Still, medical experts told CNBC that the latest virus wave may not be a bad thing since Singapore’s population is highly-vaccinated.

Many of the patients with Covid-19 have avoided severe illness and will gain further protection against future infection as antibodies fight the virus, according to Teo Yik-Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore.

Around 82% of Singapore’s population has received two doses of a Covid vaccine. Health authorities on Sunday said 98% of infected individuals had no or mild symptoms over the last 28 days.

Case numbers may remain high for a few months, but the “vast majority” will be well protected by the vaccines and won’t fall seriously ill, Teo said.

“For these people, infection will not have any short-term or long-term consequence to their health, but may additionally trigger a natural immune response which reduces the chance of subsequent infection,” he said in an email.

Potential benefits of natural infection
Letting the virus transmit slowly through the population is “not necessarily a bad thing,” said Ooi Eng Eong, a professor in Duke-NUS Medical School’s emerging infectious diseases program.

The two main vaccines used in Singapore are developed by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, and both use the messenger RNA technology.

mRNA vaccines instruct the body to produce a so-called spike protein which is found on the surface of the virus that causes Covid-19. It is harmless, but triggers the immune system to develop antibodies so that the body will be able to fight off infection better if exposed to the real virus.

“If we get a natural infection, our immune system will be able to recognize a larger part of the virus” as opposed to just the spike protein, Ooi said, adding that it could make a person more resilient against future variants.

Instead of infection followed by vaccination, we’re going to go vaccination followed by infection, which I think is even better because infection will mostly be mild.

He said Singapore could reap the benefits of natural infection that some parts of Europe and North America are experiencing, but in the reverse order.

“Instead of infection followed by vaccination, we’re going to go vaccination followed by infection, which I think is even better because [infections] will mostly be mild,” he said.

“Those [countries] that had high rates of disease last year paid the price” of higher death rates, he told CNBC.

More new variants?

When asked if widespread transmission of Covid could lead to new variants emerging, Ooi acknowledged that it’s difficult to predict what will happen.

However, he pointed out that future variants will have to compete with the “very transmissible” delta variant, the dominant strain worldwide.

“It’s very hard to beat delta,” he said.

There were also concerns about mu, a new variant of interest, but it couldn’t take off because delta was too strong, he said.

“Having said that, I think the wise thing to do is still to be prepared that something fitter than delta could eventually emerge, or that the new variant could escape the immunity produced by vaccination,” Ooi said.

Local Covid situation

The number of severe Covid cases remains within expectations, according to Singapore’s health ministry.

There were 172 cases that required oxygen supplementation, and 30 in the intensive care unit (ICU) as of Sunday. ICU capacity can be ramped up to 1,600 beds if needed, the government said.

The two professors who spoke to CNBC were split on the whether there’s a need for new restrictions.

Ooi said the current virus wave is “well within the limits” of Singapore’s capacity. The new restrictions are “unnecessary” and will slow down efforts to live with the disease, he added.

While Teo agreed that the situation wasn’t worsening, he said tightening measures are needed to provide “breathing space” for Singapore to make adjustments to operational and hospitalization protocols.

Hospital beds are filling up because of the country’s “very cautious” approach, and not because that many people need acute medical care, Teo said.

The long-term plan against Covid is a combination of vaccination and natural infection to provide protection while not overwhelming hospitals, he said, adding that he does not anticipate an increase in the death rate, but the absolute numbers can be expected to rise.

As of Sunday, Singapore reported 87,892 Covid cases and 78 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.


Source : CNBC


Read more at Reuters

Vaccinated people make up 75% of recent COVID-19 cases in Singapore, but few fall ill . . . . .

Vaccinated People Make Up 75% of Recent COVID-19 Cases in Singapore

Aradhana Aravindan and Chen Lin wrote . . . . . . . . .

Vaccinated individuals accounted for three-quarters of Singapore’s COVID-19 infections in the last four weeks, but they were not falling seriously ill, government data showed, as a rapid ramp-up in inoculations leaves fewer people unvaccinated.

While the data shows that vaccines are highly effective in preventing severe cases, it also underscores the risk that even those inoculated could be contagious, so that inoculation alone may not suffice to halt transmission.

Of Singapore’s 1,096 locally transmitted infections in the last 28 days, 484, or about 44%, were in fully vaccinated people, while 30% were partially vaccinated and just over 25% were unvaccinated, Thursday’s data showed.

While seven cases of serious illness required oxygen, and another was in critical condition in intensive care, none of the eight had been fully vaccinated, the health ministry said.

“There is continuing evidence that vaccination helps to prevent serious disease when one gets infected,” the ministry said, adding that all the fully vaccinated and infected people had shown no symptoms, or only mild ones.

Infections in vaccinated people do not mean vaccines are ineffective, experts said.

“As more and more people are vaccinated in Singapore, we will see more infections happening among vaccinated people,” Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

“It is important to always compare it against the proportion of people who remain unvaccinated…Suppose Singapore achieves a rate of 100% fully vaccinated…then all infections will stem from the vaccinated people and none from the unvaccinated.”

Singapore has already inoculated nearly 75% of its 5.7 million people, the world’s second highest after the United Arab Emirates, a Reuters tracker shows, and half its population is fully vaccinated.

As countries with advanced vaccination campaigns prepare to live with COVID-19 as an endemic disease, their focus is turning to preventing death and serious diseases through vaccination.

But they are grappling with how to differentiate public health policies, such as mask wearing, between the vaccinated and those who are not.

Both Singapore and Israel, for example, reinstated some curbs recently to battle a surge in infections driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, while England lifted almost all restrictions this week, despite high caseloads.

“We’ve got to accept that all of us will have to have some restrictions, vaccinated or not vaccinated,” said Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases physician and microbiologist at Canberra Hospital in the Australian capital.

“It’s just the restrictions are likely to be higher for those unvaccinated than vaccinated people, but that may still mean they have mask mandates indoors, for instance.”

The Singapore data also showed that infections in the last 14 days among vaccinated people older than 61 stood at about 88%, higher than the figure of just over 70% for the younger group.

Linfa Wang, a professor at Duke-NUS Medical School, said elderly people had been shown to have weaker immune responses upon vaccination.

In Israel, which also has a high vaccination rate, about half of the 46 patients hospitalised in severe condition by early July had been vaccinated, and the majority were from risk groups, authorities said.

It was not immediately clear if the Singapore data reflected reduced protection offered by vaccines against the Delta variant, the most common form in the wealthy city state in recent months.

Two doses of vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca are nearly as effective against Delt

a as against the previously dominant Alpha variant, according to a study published this week.

Singapore uses the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in its national vaccination programme.

Friday’s 130 new locally-transmitted infections were off this week’s 11-month high. The recent rise in cases prompted authorities to tighten curbs on social gatherings in the push to boost vaccinations, particularly among the elderly.


Source : Euro News

Living Normally, with Covid-19: Task Force Ministers on How S’pore Is Drawing Road Map for New Normal

Gan Kim Yong, Lawrence Wong and Ong Ye Kung wrote . . . . . . . . .

We are continuing with our efforts to control the worrisome Delta variant of Covid-19. Given its high transmissibility, it will be hard to bring infections down to zero. Instead, we are adopting an aggressive ring-fencing strategy – casting a wide net to isolate contacts of infected persons, and testing tens of thousands every day. The aim is to minimise the risk of large clusters forming.

But it has been 18 months since the pandemic started, and our people are battle-weary. All are asking: When and how will the pandemic end?

Endemic Covid-19

The bad news is that Covid-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live normally with it in our midst. This means Covid-19 will very likely become endemic. But what does that mean?

It means that the virus will continue to mutate, and thereby survive in our community. One example of such an endemic disease is influenza. Every year, many people catch the flu. The overwhelming majority recover without needing to be hospitalised, and with little or no medication. But a minority, especially the elderly and those with co-morbidities, can get very ill, and some succumb.

In a large country, the number hospitalised from influenza can be huge. For example, in the United States, hundreds of thousands are hospitalised every year because of the flu, and tens of thousands die.

But because the chances of falling very ill from influenza are so low, people live with it. They carry on with their daily activities even during the flu season, taking simple precautions or getting an annual flu jab.

We can work towards a similar outcome for Covid-19. We can’t eradicate it, but we can turn the pandemic into something much less threatening, like influenza, hand, foot and mouth disease, or chickenpox, and get on with our lives.

Doing so will be our priority in the coming months. We already have a broad plan.

Vaccination is key

First, vaccination. During his broadcast on May 31, the Prime Minister said we aimed to have two-thirds of our population take at least their first dose by early July. We are on track to achieve that target. Our next milestone will be to have at least two-thirds of our population fully vaccinated with two doses around National Day, supply permitting.

We are working to bring forward the delivery of vaccines and to speed up the process.

The evidence is clear: Vaccines are highly effective in reducing the risk of infection as well as transmission. Even if you are infected, vaccines will help prevent severe Covid-19 symptoms.

Israel’s experience shows that the infection rate among vaccinated persons is 30 times less than that of the unvaccinated. The hospitalisation rate for the vaccinated is also lower – by 10 times.

In Singapore, of the 120 plus fully vaccinated individuals who were nevertheless infected with Covid-19, including some aged above 65 – and were not resident at hospitals or nursing homes – all had either no or mild symptoms. In contrast, about 8 per cent of the unvaccinated developed serious symptoms.

To sustain a high level of protection, and to defend against new mutant strains resistant to current vaccines, booster shots may be needed in the future. We may have to sustain a comprehensive, multi-year vaccination programme.

Early evidence suggests that with vaccination, we can tame Covid-19. Again, the experience of Israel – which has vaccinated 60 per cent of its population, the highest vaccination rate in the world currently – is pertinent.

Across all age groups, the hospitalisation rate due to Covid-19 in Israel among those fully vaccinated is 0.3 per 100,000 persons daily, and the mortality rate is 0.1 per 100,000 persons.

In comparison, in 2018/19, the hospitalisation and mortality rates for influenza in the US were 0.4 and 0.03 per 100,000 persons daily, respectively. In a severe flu season, like in 2017/18, the rates were 0.67 and 0.05, respectively.

Essentially with a high rate of vaccination, Israel has brought the clinical outcomes of Covid-19 close to that of seasonal influenza in the US. These are very promising outcomes.

Testing will be easier

Second, testing and surveillance will still be needed, but the focus will be different. We would still need rigorous testing at our borders to identify any person carrying the virus, especially variants of concern.

Domestically, testing will be less of a tool for ring-fencing and quarantining people exposed to infected persons. Instead, it would be to ensure that events, social activities and overseas trips can take place safely; as well as to reduce transmission risks, especially to those who are vulnerable to infections.

We cannot rely only on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which can be uncomfortable and takes many hours to produce results. We need to make Covid-19 testing fast and easy. We have rolled out antigen rapid tests, including self-tests, to polyclinics, private clinics, employers, premises owners and pharmacies.

There are even faster test kits in the pipeline, such as breathalysers, that take about one to two minutes to produce the results and do not involve swabbing. In time, the airport, seaport, office buildings, malls, hospitals and educational institutions can use these kits to screen staff and visitors.

There is also wastewater testing, which is useful to find out if there are hidden infections in dormitories, hostels or housing estates.

Treatments will improve

Third, scientists around the world are working on treatments for Covid-19. Today, we already have a range of effective treatments, which is one reason why Singapore’s Covid-19 mortality rate is among the lowest in the world.

Eighteen months after the pandemic started, we now have many therapeutic agents that are effective in treating the critically ill, quickening recovery, and reducing disease progression, severity and mortality. The Ministry of Health tracks these developments closely, ensuring that we have adequate supplies of these drugs. Our medical researchers actively participate in the development of new treatments.

Social responsibility remains critical

Finally, whether we can live with Covid-19 depends also on Singaporeans’ acceptance that Covid-19 will be endemic and our collective behaviour.

If all of us practise good personal hygiene, we are less likely to be infected. If all of us are considerate to one another, staying away from crowds when we feel unwell, we will reduce transmission. If all of us shoulder the burden together – workers keeping their colleagues safe by staying at home when ill, and employers not faulting them – our society will be so much safer.

Towards a new normal

With vaccination, testing, treatment and social responsibility, it may mean that in the near future, when someone gets Covid-19, our response can be very different from now.

The new norm can perhaps look like this:

First, an infected person can recover at home, because with vaccination the symptoms will be mostly mild. With others around the infected person also vaccinated, the risk of transmission will be low. We will worry less about the healthcare system being overwhelmed.

Second, there may not be a need to conduct massive contact tracing and quarantining of people each time we discover an infection. People can get themselves tested regularly using a variety of fast and easy tests. If positive, they can confirm with a PCR test and then isolate themselves.

Third, instead of monitoring Covid-19 infection numbers every day, we will focus on the outcomes: how many fall very sick, how many in the intensive care unit, how many need to be intubated for oxygen, and so on. This is like how we now monitor influenza.

Fourth, we can progressively ease our safe management rules and resume large gatherings as well at major events, like the National Day Parade or New Year Countdown. Businesses will have certainty that their operations will not be disrupted.

Fifth, we will be able to travel again, at least to countries that have also controlled the virus and turned it into an endemic norm. We will recognise each other’s vaccination certificates. Travellers, especially those vaccinated, can get themselves tested before departure and be exempted from quarantine with a negative test upon arrival.

We are drawing up a road map to transit to this new normal, in tandem with the achievement of our vaccination milestones, though we know the battle against Covid-19 will continue to be fraught with uncertainty.

In the meantime, we still need to take the necessary precautions and safeguards, to keep infections and hospitalisations at bay.

History has shown that every pandemic will run its course. We must harness all our energy, resources and creativity to transit as quickly as we can to the desired end-state. Science and human ingenuity will eventually prevail over Covid-19. Cohesion and social consciousness will get us there faster. We must all do our part.


Source : The Strait Times


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