CPF increase for older workers deferred to 2022

The planned increase in Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates for senior workers will be deferred by one year to Jan 1, 2022.

This is to help employers manage costs amid the Covid-19 pandemic, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

The increase, initially to take place on Jan 1 next year, will see employers and workers contribute either 0.5 percentage point or 1 percentage point more for workers aged 55 to 70, based on the worker’s age.

CPF contribution rates of those aged 55 to 70 will be gradually raised during this decade until those aged 60 and younger enjoy the full CPF rates. Currently, the rates begin to taper down from 37 per cent after workers turn 55.

The CPF Transition Offset scheme, announced in this year’s first Budget speech in February, will similarly be deferred until the higher contribution rates take effect, Mr Heng told the House. The offset scheme covers half of the increase in employer CPF contribution rates for one year.

Yesterday, Mr Heng thanked the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation for supporting the one-year deferment.

NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How said in a Facebook post after the announcement that the move will help save jobs for more older workers.

“The clear timeline also makes clear to older workers that their longer term interests remain the joint commitment of the tripartite partners,” he said.

Pointing to how the Ministry of Trade and Industry had downgraded Singapore’s 2020 growth forecast to minus 7 to minus 4 per cent yesterday morning, Mr Heng Chee How said many will find it very difficult to keep their livelihoods in the months ahead.

Workers will also find it harder to maintain their take-home pay because of the poor business environment, he added.

“In this situation, we must strenuously avoid adding cost from a particular segment of workers who are already vulnerable to businesses as it would only increase their risk of retrenchment.

“We must also avoid reducing their take-home pay in this hard time through the increase in employee contribution rates.

“Saving jobs for older workers is the imperative,” he said.

Read the latest on the Covid-19 situation in Singapore and beyond on our dedicated site here.

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In morgues and shipping containers, Ecuadorians search for lost dead

GUAYAQUIL/QUITO, Ecuador (Reuters) – Dolores Centeno has scoured the morgues and cemeteries of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, for two months searching for her father’s body.

Now, in a desperate last attempt to find him, she hopes to catch a glimpse of a scar on his chest that would set him apart from the dozens of other decomposing corpses in a newly-filled shipping container.

Like other families looking for their loved ones in the coastal city ravaged by the coronavirus, Centeno is praying the body of her 63-year-old father is among the more than 130 bodies that authorities say they are holding in such containers, awaiting identification.

Guayaquil in March and April faced a brutal outbreak of the virus that left bodies piling up in overwhelmed hospitals and corpses sitting for days in houses before authorities came to retrieve them, as morgues overflowed.

The government established a task force to collect cadavers and deployed the containers to store the mounting bodies.

But the chaos gave way to disorganization. Bodies were lost or misidentified, resulting in families looking for loved ones in morgues, hospitals and now, shipping containers, across the city.

Experts have so far identified 64 corpses through fingerprint recognition. They are also relying on family identification and more time-intensive genetic testing, according to Mario Corrales, the head of Ecuador’s Forensic Sciences Criminalistics Laboratory.

Centeno’s father passed away in late March, hours after being admitted to one of the city’s public hospitals with respiratory problems. There was no paper trail to identify what happened to him after he was admitted, said Centeno.

Forensic experts asked Centeno if her father had any identifying scars, Centeno said. “He had two, the largest from an open heart operation and the other from hernia surgery.”

Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo told reporters on Monday that the government was working with a team of forensic doctors and scientists to identify the bodies “and to be able to give an answer to every last family that went through this unfortunate situation.”

“Every day progress is made on this issue, little by little,” she said.

Ecuador has officially reported over 37,000 coronavirus cases and more than 3,000 deaths, but authorities acknowledge both figures are likely significant underestimates due to a lack of testing.

Jorge Wated, the head of the task force responsible for collecting the deceased, said on Twitter on May 2 there were over 8,200 more deaths than would normally be projected in the province of Guayas, where Guayaquil is located, during April alone.

Wated did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno dissolved the task force in early May as the death toll stabilized.


The country’s attorney general has since launched an investigation into three public hospitals in Guayaquil over allegations that they did not follow protocol for identifying bodies, while the government has set up a website where people can search for deceased family members.

If a patient was registered by authorities, the location of their remains is recorded on the site. But many Ecuadorians still have no answers.

“I looked for her in a container and I did not find her; I looked for her in the cemetery, I did not find her there either, she is not on any list,” said Victor Hugo Orellana, who is looking for the body of his 72-year-old mother, whose body he said he released to the government in March to be buried.

Her remains have since gone missing. 

The Health Ministry and hospitals under investigation did not respond to request for comment.

The Ombudsman’s Office asked a local judge to award reparations to the families of the deceased and to speed up the identification process. Those already identified will be transferred to city cemeteries for burial.

“If they told me that they already found him and cremated him, how am I going to know that it is really him?” said Luis Alvarado, who has been searching for his younger brother’s body since late March.

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WHO says the Americas are new epicenter of coronavirus pandemic

BRASILIA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) considers the Americas the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, and now is not the time for countries to ease restrictions, officials said in a Tuesday briefing.

Carissa Etienne, WHO director for the Americas and head of the Pan American Health Organization, said via videoconference that outbreaks were accelerating in countries such as Brazil, where the number of deaths reported in the last week was the highest in the world for a 7-day period since the coronavirus pandemic began.

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NYSE to reopen trading floor closed by coronavirus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The New York Stock Exchange will partially reopen the trading floors at its iconic 11 Wall Street building on Tuesday for the first time since March 20 when the bourse was forced to go all-electronic due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Intercontinental Exchange Inc’s (ICE.N) NYSE floor will be different, with protective masks, strict social distancing requirements, and just around a quarter of the people, NYSE Chief Commercial Officer John Tuttle said in an interview. Still, he says the reopening is meaningful.

“The floor represents so much more than the several tens-of-thousands of square feet it occupies,” he said. “It’s a symbol of America, and it’s a symbol of capital markets; it’s a symbol of the economy and after two months of the country and essentially the world being offline, we want to lead from the front.”

The NYSE said most of its designated market makers, who oversee trading in the exchange’s 2,200 listed companies, will continue to work from home, as will most exchange employees.

The 100 or so traders, regulatory, and operational staff heading into the building, in a still-largely deserted lower Manhattan, have been asked to avoid public transportation, and everyone entering will be screened for signs of the virus.

The NYSE floor is the last physical U.S. stock trading venue, as a slew of all-electronic competitors have emerged and eaten away at the Big Board’s once dominant market share.

Since the move to electronic-only trading, there have been no major disruptions, even with record volumes and volatility, prompting rivals to say the floor, where stocks have changed hands since 1792, has no real utility.

The NYSE says recent data show there was less volatility and tighter bid-ask spreads for NYSE-listed stocks when floor brokers were present, translating into millions of dollars a day in savings for investors.

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Second withdrawal of $31 billion from Singapore's reserves to cushion coronavirus impact

SINGAPORE – Singapore will draw another $31 billion from its reserves in an extraordinary move to fund a fourth package of measures to cushion the people and the economy from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is the second draw on the reserves announced in a span of two months, reflecting the profound impact the virus has had on Singapore’s open economy as businesses and industrial activities grind to a halt all over the world.

It brings to $52 billion the amount of past savings tapped this financial year.

Explaining the decision to dip into the savings again, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament on Tuesday (May 26) that it is “necessitated by the very exceptional nature of the Covid-19 crisis.”

To fund the three Budgets already announced this year, the Government had used up almost all of its accumulated surpluses from its current term, he said.

“But what we need to deal effectively with Covid-19 has grown so much that we have no choice but to draw on our past reserves,” he added.

The Government’s current five-year term will end by April 14 next year.

Mr Heng said he had thought long and hard about the move and had gone through rounds and rounds of deliberations and discussions with both the Finance Ministry’s staff and and his Cabinet colleagues before seeking President Halimah Yacob’s approval.

President Halimah, in consultation with the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA), has given her in-principle approval.

Already, an unprecedented move was made earlier this year to dip into the past accumulated savings to the tune of $21 billion.

The amount far exceeds the $4.9 billion drawn in 2009 for the global financial crisis, although the final sum used was $4 billion.

Mr Heng said the $21 billion has gone towards saving jobs, keeping the economy going and giving direct aid to Singaporeans during this period.

Since then, the impact of the pandemic has deepened, with the number of coronavirus cases worldwide exceeding five million, and the death toll rising more than 340,000.

The number of cases in Singapore has crossed 30,000, with 23 dead, as the country prepares to lift restrictions on movements and business activities after a circuit breaker period that kicked in 50 days ago.

“Lives and livelihoods are at stake, and we are moving to secure our future,” said Mr Heng.

“After a challenging circuit breaker period, we are now preparing to reopen our economy. To do so in a safe and calibrated manner, and to continue to support our people, we are proposing a further draw on our past reserves.”

He added that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had met President Halimah to share the Government’s considerations.

Mr Heng, along with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, National Development Lawrence Wong, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah, who are all part of the multi-ministry task force set up to tackle the virus, had also briefed the CPA.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Madam Halimah had said: “Having deliberated and considered the recommendation of the CPA, I am satisfied that the fourth support package is necessary.”

Over the years, the Government’s strict adherence to the policy of not touching the past reserves has come under some criticism by those who feel more of it should be used to fund current needs.

Reiterating once again the importance of this policy, Mr Heng said the strategic asset, built up through the prudence and hard work of generations of Singaporeans, has been critical in allowing the country to respond comprehensively and robustly in the fight against Covid-19.

He pledged to deploy the money “in a deliberate manner, and at decisive moments”.

“I am grateful that we have the fiscal resources to mount this response, and the unity, resilience and solidarity of our people to battle this together. We have a responsibility to make the best use of these resources, to keep our people safe, to save jobs and transform businesses, and to emerge stronger,” he said.

“Every dollar that we have saved has been saved by careful counting over the years. In spending this national savings now, we must make every dollar spent count.”

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Lufthansa says Germany approves stabilization package

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Germany’s new Economic Stabilization Fund (WSF) has approved a 9 billion euro ($9.80 billion) stabilization package for Lufthansa (LHAG.DE), Germany’s flagship carrier said on Monday.

“The Executive Board also supports the package”, Lufthansa said, adding that the bailout still need consent from shareholders as well as the European Commission.

The bailout comprises an equity injection by the government, which will take a 20% stake by buying new shares at the nominal value of 2.56 euros apiece or for a total of about 300 million euros. The WSF plans to sell its shareholding by end-2023.

Separately, the WSF will make a capital contribution of 5.7 billion euros in the form of a so-called silent stake, which is unlimited in duration and can be terminated by company on a quarterly basis in whole or in part.

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A part of that silent stake can be swapped into an additional 5% equity stake if Lufthansa does not pay the coupon or Germany moves to protect Lufthansa against a takeover.

The coupon on the silent participation starts with 4% and rises to 9.5% by 2027.

The stabilization measures are supplemented by a syndicated credit facility of up to 3 billion euros with the participation of German state bank KfW and private banks with a term of three years.

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Exclusive: Ukraine's anti-graft bureau probes state tender for medical suits

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian anti-corruption officials are investigating a tender for 71,000 hospital protective suits during the coronavirus pandemic after the government for the first time bypassed its own procurement rules in the health sector.

Ukraine, long dogged by rampant corruption, has won rare praise from international donors for its efforts to overhaul procurement processes and tackle graft in its health system. The donors’ aid, which hinges on Kiev’s success in tackling graft, is sorely needed as a deep recession looms.

Asked about the tender, Ukraine’s anti-corruption bureau (NABU) told Reuters it was working on a pretrial investigation into possible abuse of office after an unnamed lawmaker raised concerns on the issue. NABU gave no further details, saying that divulging information could harm its investigation.

The head of Medical Procurement of Ukraine (MPU), a state body set up in 2018 to combat corruption in the awarding of health sector contracts, accused the government of violating its own rules by overruling his agency’s choice for the tender and awarding the contract to a company that delivered the suits very late and at an inflated price.

“This practice is counterproductive and illegal,” Arsen Zhumadilov told Reuters in an interview.

The MPU handles procurement of medicines and medical equipment on behalf of the health ministry.

The health ministry denies any wrongdoing in the medical suits case and said it was forced to act due to Zhumadilov’s own mismanagement of the situation.


The row comes at a testing time for Ukraine, which has so far reported 21,245 cases of COVID-19, the lung disease caused by the new coronavirus, with 623 deaths. Medics accounted for about a fifth of Ukraine’s cases, highlighting the urgent need for more protective suits.

Last month MPU conducted a tender and awarded the contract to Textil-Kontakt, which had already supplied suits to hospitals. But the government voided the deal, saying Textil’s gear offered no better protection than a painter’s overalls and lacked the proper certification.

“(Doctors) need personal protective equipment. If, instead of a biological protection suit, a house painter’s overall is bought … well, I’m sorry,” Health Minister Maksym Stepanov told Reuters.

Textil and Zhumadilov said Textil’s suits fulfilled health ministry criteria. It had already made around 23,500 suits when the contract was cancelled, said Textil founder Oleksandr Sokolovsky.

The government then awarded the contract to a firm called Meddiv, which charged 489 hryvnias ($18) per suit, compared to Textil’s 245 hryvnias.

Meddiv did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Meddiv imported the suits from China, causing weeks of delay, and as of May 19 only around 29,000 had arrived in Ukraine, according to customs documents published by an opposition lawmaker.

Meddiv’s lack of experience in handling larger contracts or overseas shipments should have excluded it from the bidding process, Zhumadilov said.

“Our anti-corruption officer said that according to our procedures this company could not have qualified for our tender,” he added.

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Coronavirus: Blow for Brazil’s Bolsonaro as US imposes new travel ban

The US is restricting travel from Brazil after the South American nation became the country with the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world.

The restrictions are a blow to Brazil’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, who like Donald Trump has promoted unproven medicines and resisted calls for greater social distancing measures.

The US Embassy in Brasilia said the new restrictions will come into force on 28 May.

Under the restrictions, most non-American citizens will be prohibited from travelling to the US if they have been in Brazil in the last two weeks.

Those holding green cards, those who are close relatives of US citizens and flight crew members are among a select few who would be exempt.

The embassy said: “The US maintains a strong partnership with Brazil and we work closely to mitigate the socioeconomic and health impacts of COVID-19 in Brazil.”

Brazil’s foreign ministry said the decision should be seen in the context of “important bilateral collaboration” to fight the coronavirus outbreak, and highlighted the fact that the US had donated $6.5m and promised 1,000 respirators.

Mr Trump hasn’t commented personally, but members of his administration have played down the move.

Kayleigh McEnany, the White House’s press secretary, said the new restrictions would help ensure foreign nationals do not bring additional infections to the US, but would not impact the flow of commerce between the two countries.

National security adviser Robert O’Brien told CBS’ Face the Nation: “We hope that’ll be temporary, but because of the situation in Brazil, we’re going to take every step necessary to protect the American people.”

It comes as the row over Mr Trump’s support for an anti-malarial drug with unproven ability to treat COVID-19 continues.

An adviser to Brazil’s president, Filipe Martins, wrote that Mr Trump had “opened a direct line for the exchange of information about the protocol for using hydroxychloroquine and other treatments for the virus”.

The US Food and Drug Administration warned last month about using the drug to treat coronavirus, citing “reports of serious heart rhythm problems” in patients who use the medicine.

Mr Bolsonaro has been insisting the drug has potential and defying of state isolation orders.

It has led to two health ministers quitting in a month, both of whom were trained doctors.

The acting head of the health ministry, an army general, issued advice this week that use of hydroxychloroquine in coronavirus cases should be expanded.

The official tally of confirmed cases in Brazil on Sunday rose by 15,813 to 363,211. The US is still the country with the most at 1.6 million.

More than 22,000 people have officially died in Brazil so far, and Sky News reported last month about hundreds of people being buried in graves outside the city of Manaus.

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B.C. respiratory therapy students graduate early to help fight coronavirus

When Justine Shaw signed up for Thompson Rivers University’s respiratory therapy program, she had no idea just how hands-on of an education she’d get.

Shaw is one of 65 students who were on track to finish the program this year who had their graduations fast-tracked as COVID-19 arrived in the province.

Respiratory therapists are specially trained to operate ventilator machines, the artificial systems that can keep life-saving oxygen flowing to the lungs of patients suffering severe respiratory illnesses.

With officials uncertain just how badly the coronavirus would hit B.C. hospitals, the decision was made to graduate students from TRU’s program — the only one of its kind in the province — several weeks early.

“At first I was a little bit nervous just because there were so many unknowns with COVID-19, with the disease itself, with how it was going to progress, and how we were going to tackle it in hospital, especially with my education cut short,” Shaw told Global News.

“But it ended up being fine and I was glad to be able to get out and help where needed.”

“It was mixed feelings, when you are graduating students early,” said Lemphers.

But with images flooding back to Canada of health-care systems in crisis in China and Italy, he said the program had to make a decision.

“We were watching health-care systems become overwhelmed and the drastic shortage of health-care workers, so we made the decision in consultation with our dean to graduate these students early.”

The students who were graduated early already have years of instruction under their belt, and have all been paired with an experienced respiratory therapist to ensure they’re getting proper guidance on the job, he said.

So far, he says he’s been extremely proud of their performance.

Lemphers said TRU has also begun offering upskilling and retraining programs for respiratory therapists who have not been practicing in the clinical environment for some time, and want to get back on the job to help as the pandemic continues.

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COMMENTARY: How conference planners are trying to keep online events meaningful

Working from home, in the midst of a pandemic, I’m not leaving the house often these days.

Yet for someone with nowhere to go, my social calendar is surprisingly full. From virtual family meets, virtual fitness classes, virtual DJ nights to virtual Sunday service too, there is a lot going on in my living room. My inbox is also full of invitations to a plethora of digital events over the summer, as life under lockdown lingers.

Countless events and festivals have been cancelled through the summer — with many now moving to virtual platforms. Some organizers are experimenting with virtual events for the first time and the learning curve will be steep.

While there are certain aspects of in-person experiences that can’t be replicated in the digital space, virtual events also provide unique opportunities that can prove beneficial for businesses over the long haul. From breaking down geographical barriers and venue capacity limitations to creating connections that could translate into more meaningful in-person meetings down the road, there are definitely upsides to be found.

But as we move to more virtual events, such as concerts, religious services and panels discussions, it’s important that we make accessibility a priority. The digital divide is real and those without internet access or updated software will be shut out of these growing digital communities. We mustn’t allow the elderly, people in low-income communities, particularly students, to be left behind as we forge forward with new ways to support one another virtually.

What makes for a meaningful virtual event, one that you’ll want to invest your time and hard-earned dollars into?

“Choosing an experienced and engaging host is critical to the success of any event — but particularly a virtual one,” says Priya Chopra, president and founder of 1Milk2Sugars Communications.

“Not only are hosts contending with — let’s face it, finicky — technologies, they’re often fielding live questions from the audience while MCing in real-time. It’s a lot to juggle.”   

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When it comes to a virtual event, the host not only has to be comfortable in front of an audience, speaking clearly and dynamically on the fly, but also know the subject matter and understand the technology or platform they’re using, Chopra says.

“In the end, it all comes down to energy,” Chopra adds. “If you and your team are excited about the event, believe in what you’re doing and put maximum effort into pulling it off, that energy and excitement will transcend through the screen.”

Chopra agrees and hopes we will see a much-needed shift as we delve deeper in the digital space. “The whole idea of panel discussions is to represent more than one point of view. Women of colour can offer such valuable perspective on the perseverance and ingenuity it takes to succeed in a society that still underestimates us.”

Angela Osborne and Taryn Herritt, co-founders of The Atelier, which organizes business conferences, say they initially resisted the pivot to virtual events. But once they shifted their mind-sets and re-imagining what a digital event could look like, they pulled out all the stops to ensure that their event would be an unparalleled experience and would provide actionable inspiration and empowerment for their community to rebuild with resilience for the second half of 2020.

Focus and clarity are also key, for both organizers and attendees.

They say the goal and intention behind their upcoming event, The Atelier: Digital 2020, is for the audience to leave with an understanding of how consumer behaviour has changed, how to adjust business strategies, and how to adopt a refreshed mindset to tackle a hopefully soon, post-COVID-19 world.

Osborne and Herritt say it was absolutely essential for them to find a way to incorporate the memorable moments and interactive elements of their signature live event into this online conference.

“We still wanted to somehow activate the five senses, so for us one of the first decisions we made in planning The Atelier: Digital 2020 was incorporating a curated box to accompany our custom, virtual event venue,” they told me in an email.

“The Atelier Experience box truly enhances the virtual experience, as we’ve included gourmet snacks, a bottle of wine, coveted beauty products and a suite of wellness items, including some really special products from female-run small businesses.”

The idea resonated extremely well with their audience, and when tickets launched last week, the VIP ticket (which includes the Experience Box) sold out in two minutes.

I think much of it comes down to how we, as participants, use this technology too. Research shows that passively scrolling through posts and viral videos generates different mental effects than actively interacting online, like messaging and commenting on posts and chatting in virtual sessions.

Just like in person, interacting with people you care about can be beneficial, while simply watching others from the sidelines may make you feel worse.

We are finding creative new ways to move our real-world support systems, social gatherings and higher learning online.

Ironically, while the internet had once forced many people apart, this virus is forcing us to now use it to come together.

Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.

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