Singapore Breaking News
SINGAPORE - Learner drivers will be able to opt for an electric vehicle (EV) at ComfortDelGro Driving Centre from next month.
The centre is adding five Hyundai Kona Electric (Standard Range) to its training vehicle fleet on June 1 and plans to grow this to 100 units by 2030. This means more than half of its learner fleet will be EVs by then.
ComfortDelGro said it chose the Hyundai Kona Electric for its small turning radius, which is suitable for the centre's driving circuit.
To charge these EVs, ComfortDelGro Driving Centre has installed five alternate current (AC) charging stations on its premises. Each EV takes about six hours to be fully charged.
The EVs will also be available to corporate learners for defensive and familiarisation driving courses and to learners who book slots through the company's MyCDC app.
ComfortDelGro said learners undergoing EV training for their Class 3A licence can expect slight differences relating to the sensitivity of the accelerator, engine sound, engine brake, and turning radius.
On top of the battery-powered Hyundais, ComfortDelGro Driving Centre will be adding two electric Alrendo TS Bravo motorcycles by year end. These will be for Class 2A licence holders who wish to attend refresher courses.
In addition to electrifying its training fleet, ComfortDelGro is reducing its carbon footprint by tapping solar power. It has installed 290 solar panels on the rooftop of its driving centre, which will result in a 30 per cent reduction of its electricity bills.
ComfortDelGro Driving Centre chief executive Vincent Tan said: "With greater awareness in the field of sustainability, it is timely that we start rolling out EVs so that learners become more familiar with such vehicles. If demand for EV training picks up, we expect to add on even more of such vehicles."
He added that the company is considering making electric motorcycles available to those who sign up for its defensive riding courses as well.
SINGAPORE - Farmers' markets, bistros and farm-to-table restaurants are among some offerings that visitors to Gillman Barracks can expect in future after plans to rejuvenate the area into a lifestyle enclave are completed.
The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) on Tuesday (May 24) announced plans to introduce more food and beverage and lifestyle concepts - such as unique dining experiences and workshops - to the former military barracks-turned-arts enclave.
SLA will also upgrade the area's infrastructure, including adding covered walkways and building a new playground for families with children.
This is the latest attempt to inject vibrancy into the arts cluster off Alexandra Road, which had seen various art galleries pull out in previous years due to low footfall and poor sales.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said Gillman Barracks' rejuvenation, which will be carried out across two phases from February this year to early next year, is part of SLA's efforts to unlock greater value from state properties.
"By creating more exciting and varied lifestyle, arts and creative spaces, the rejuvenation effort will add to the vibrancy of the precinct for all to enjoy," he said.
Built in 1936, the barracks sits on a 6.6ha site - about the size of 12 football fields - next to a park connector network along the Alexandra Garden Trail which links Hort Park, Labrador Park and the Southern Ridges.
The arts cluster opened in 2012, and the SLA took over management of the area from JTC Corp in March 2020.
On Tuesday, the SLA launched five tenders for F&B and lifestyle uses. These contracts will have a longer upfront tenure of five years, renewable for a second term of between two and three years.
Four of the blocks - 5A, 8 and 10 Lock Road, and 45 Malan Road - are currently occupied by Creamier Handcrafted Ice Cream and Coffee, Masons, Handlebar and Hopscotch respectively. The fifth block at 9A Lock Road used to house Timbre @ Gillman and is currently vacant.
Gillman Barracks currently has 18 tenants - 10 commercial arts galleries, one non-profit institution, one art institution and six F&B establishments.
SLA said the tenders will be evaluated by price and quality, with a higher weightage of 60 per cent placed on the quality component.
"The quality component includes the concept, creativity, and novelty of the business proposals, and how they can contribute to the rejuvenation and vibrancy of the precinct, including round-the-clock engagements that can attract communities from all walks of life," the authority said.
It will also consider whether proposals incorporate green initiatives into business operations, as part of SLA's push to make Gillman Barracks an eco-friendly precinct.
Some examples are energy-efficient lighting and ventilation, water-efficient fittings in washrooms, and the use of sustainable supplies such as biodegradable packaging. Environmentally friendly operations and curated sustainability programmes are also encouraged, SLA added.
Tenders for the five blocks will be open for eight weeks from Tuesday on SLA's State Property Online Information portal. The lease for current tenants will expire early next year.
Two of the remaining F&B tenants - Naked Finn and BurgerLabo - were given direct tenancy, meaning they do not have to re-tender for their spaces.
The F&B and lifestyle plans aim to bring more footfall to the 10 local and international art galleries at Gillman Barracks.
National Arts Council director of sector development for visual arts Tay Tong said the lifestyle offerings would complement the art galleries.
Gillman Barracks will also undergo infrastructure upgrading. Covered linkways will be added along some walking paths to connect some of the 17 blocks. Wayfindings and pit stops for cyclists will also be installed.
The upgrading works, which began this February and cost about $2 million, are targeted to be completed early next year.
SLA chief executive Colin Low said: "Families, cyclists, hikers, arts enthusiasts, nature lovers, as well as the working community and residents in Alexandra and Telok Blangah, and future residents at the newly announced Greater Southern Waterfront, can look forward to experience varied offerings throughout the day. There will be something for everyone."
SINGAPORE - A National Library Board (NLB) deputy director who leaked information on the resumption of activities in phase two of Singapore's reopening in June 2020 has been jailed for four weeks.
Chua Wee Lin, 52, appeared before a district court on Tuesday (May 24) and pleaded guilty to one charge of communicating information to people whom he was not authorised to share it with under the Official Secrets Act (OSA).
As the deputy director of the property and facilities management department of the NLB, Chua had access to the information.
He leaked it to a WhatsApp group with 18 other members on June 11, 2020, before the Government released the information to the public.
The police said in a statement last May that the classified information was then disseminated by members of the WhatsApp group, resulting in the details being widely circulated before they were meant to be released.
Six others who wrongfully received and communicated the information will be issued stern warnings, the police added.
Under the OSA, it is an offence for a person to use his position in Government to communicate privileged information to another person. It is also against the law for someone to receive such information.
An NLB spokesman told reporters last May that Chua had been suspended immediately from his duties following his arrest on June 13, 2020.
"As a precautionary measure, we have been regularly highlighting the importance of information security to our staff and reminding them of the code of conduct required," she added.
Those convicted of communicating unauthorised information can be jailed for up to two years and fined up to $2,000.
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SINGAPORE - Malaysian low-cost carrier Firefly will resume flights between Singapore and Malaysia from Seletar Airport from June 13, after two years of pandemic-induced suspension.
"Singapore, We're back!" it said on its website on Monday (May 23). A one-way ticket between Singapore and Subang near Kuala Lumpur starts from RM119 (S$37), Firefly said.
It will operate two flights out of Seletar Airport to Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport every day, down from six a day in 2019. Each flight on its ATR72-500 aircraft will be able to carry 72 passengers.
"With the opening of Malaysia's border... Firefly sees this as a perfect time to rinstate and play the role of connecting the communities within Singapore and Malaysia," Firefly's chief executive Philip See said in a statement.
Changi Airport Group's air hub development managing director, Mr Lim Ching Kiat, said Seletar passenger terminal, an $80 million facility opened in 2019, is ready to support Firefly's operations.
The airport has not served passengers since the pandemic struck two years ago. "We have seen strong travel demand between both countries since travel restrictions eased. We look forward to welcoming and serving passengers at the airport," Mr Lim said.
Whether the route will take off is a massive unknown. Even before the pandemic, Firefly had said it was struggling to fill seats. The Singapore-Subang route, in particular, was one of the least popular, with typically only 40 per cent occupied.
Its origin airport in Seletar, decided upon after talks with Changi, was a huge disadvantage, thought by many to still be a military airport.
Its operations had also been suspended for nearly five months in 2019 over a bilateral air disagreement between Singapore and Malaysia, causing it to lose customers.
Malaysia's civil aviation authority had objected to Singapore's plans to introduce Instrument Landing System procedures at Seletar, which guide pilots' landing from a ground-based station, on the grounds that it will affect the nearby town of Pasir Gudang.
Singapore has since agreed to use a Global Positioning System-based instrument approach instead, using signals from a satellite to guide landing.
The return of the low-cost arm of Malaysia Aviation Group comes amid many other regional budget carriers, such as Scoot and Jetstar, gradually increasing the number of intra-regional flights in a bid to recapture market share in the once over-saturated market.
With borders in South-east Asia virtually all opened from April, passenger traffic in South-east Asian hubs like Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, Changi Airport and Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport are all fast regaining traffic.
In May, the number of flights and seats airlines planned to operate at multiple airports reached 40 per cent to 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
SINGAPORE - Hundreds of people turned up at the funeral service for the man and his daughter who lost their lives in the Bedok North fire on May 13.
Mr Shen Zhi An, the funeral director of 66 Casket Services, told The Straits Times that the funeral took place on Sunday (May 22) in Pahang, Malaysia, with family members taking turns to pay their respects from about 3pm in the afternoon.
Malaysian Tan Soon Keong, 34, and his three-year-old daughter Hui En were tenants of Aileen Chan, 56, who also died in the fire that engulfed the three-room flat she owned in Block 409 Bedok North Avenue 2.
At about 10am on Monday (May 23), Tan and his daughter were cremated.
Tan's 34-year-old wife, who survived the fire, remains in hospital.
Giving an update on her condition on Sunday, Mr Tan Kiat How, Minister of State for National Development and an MP for East Coast GRC where the affected block is situated, said that Mrs Tan remains in intensive care.
He said: "We have got in touch with her immediate family members and are providing them with accommodation and (helping them) to link up with the necessary agencies to support them in this period."
On Monday, Mr Shen said that he was saddened by the passing of the man and his daughter.
He said: "It's a pity. The family wanted a simple ceremony. For the little girl, someone left a bouquet of flowers with a little bunny. I feel sorry for the family's loss."
According to reporters, Tan, his wife and and their toddler daughter had returned to his hometown of Temerloh, Malaysia to celebrate Mother's Day with his parents on May 8.
In a Facebook post on May 17, Facebook user Tracy Wong had tagged Tan, whom she referred to as her uncle, lamenting his passing.
She said: "In the past, every month when you returned, you would always treat us (our family) to a big feast.
Adding that it was always a very happy occasion whenever the family reunited, even if it was only for two or three days, Ms Wong said that it had been two years since she last saw her uncle due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
She added: "When you returned for two days in May to celebrate Mother's Day with us, seeing the children play, we were so happy.
"We never expected that this fire would take you and your daughter away and that we will never have the chance to hear the sound of your laughter again.
"We will always miss you. I hope you have a good journey."
SINGAPORE - Singapore has set its sights on becoming a regional centre for clinical trials as these will give Singaporeans early access to new treatments and drugs.
In view of World Clinical Trials Day last Friday, The Straits Times looks at three different trials and explores how the nature of clinical trials has changed over the years.
World Clinical Trials Day was started to recognise the work done by Scottish doctor James Lind on May 20, 1747, when he started what is often considered the first randomised clinical trial aboard a ship.
How clinical trials have changed over the years
Clinical trials, which are the bedrock of modern medicine, have changed significantly over the years.
"Trials need not involve drug interventions. For example, trials can involve the follow-up of groups of individuals with specific characteristics to better understand the factors which contribute to development of disease," Dr Sue-Anne Toh, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore, told ST in an exclusive interview.
"From there, we can potentially learn about how we can enhance interventions, whether they be medications or specific lifestyle changes, to alter the course of progression to disease or complications," said Dr Toh, who is also leading some clinical trials on diabetes at the National University Hospital.
Such observational trials likely involve healthy participants too, and are not limited to people with or at risk of disease.
With technology, the manner in which trials can be conducted has also evolved, and they no longer necessarily involve a face-to-face meeting. Instead, they can be conducted via virtual platforms, polls and structured questionnaires, and can be a mix of all these different modes, Dr Toh added.
Finally, a globally connected world has also facilitated multi-centred trials, where participant profiles can come from different geographical locations.
Diabetes: Study on progression of disease in Asian population
Dr Toh and her team conducted one of the world's largest comprehensive scientific studies on the progression to diabetes in Asian populations. The three-year study ended at the start of this year.
Type 2 diabetes is an increasing epidemic in the region, and it is projected that its prevalence in Singapore's population will double from 7.3 per cent in 1990 to 15 per cent in 2050. The total economic cost of the disease alone is expected to increase by 2.4 fold.
In the West, where there is a higher prevalence of obesity, there is a stronger correlation between weight loss and a reduced risk of developing diabetes. However, this is not necessarily true in the Asian context, Dr Toh said.
"We may be very lean and even underweight and, yet, have diabetes. And there may be certain aspects of biology that are very different in us compared with Caucasians and telling these thin people to lose weight is not helpful. In fact, can be very demoralising," she said.
"But with this study, we'll have our own local data that is relevant to the Asia-Pacific region, which will help contribute to our understanding of what other factors - be they biological, environmental or lifestyle - also contribute to the progression of diabetes in our population."
The study involved 1,679 Singaporeans with pre-diabetes or normal blood glucose levels.
It was found that having an impaired ability to secrete insulin was a landmark feature of those with pre-diabetes.
"We know that type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot respond well to the actions of insulin (insulin resistance) and the pancreas cannot make enough insulin to keep glucose levels within normal range. However, the exact contribution of each defect and the timing at which it occurs in the progression of diabetes is incompletely understood, especially in Asians," Dr Toh said.
"Our study has shown that in the Singapore population, those with pre-diabetes have mild insulin resistance but a disproportionately greater inability to produce enough insulin. Our findings provide important insights into the main factors that drive the development of abnormal glucose levels in Asians."
"This suggests that interventions which focus on not overworking the pancreas could be particularly effective in lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes in Asians," Dr Toh added.
A study participant, who wanted to be known only as Ms Tang, was glad that she volunteered. It was through this study that Ms Tang, a manager in her 30s, found out she had pre-diabetes.
She knew of the study via an e-mail that was sent to all employees at her previous workplace.
"It was my first time participating in a clinical trial and the process was generally very smooth," she said.
The study team closely monitored her blood sugar levels once every six months over three years - from 2018 to last year.
"As I am of a healthy weight and generally do not consume food that is too unhealthy, I did not think that I'd have pre-diabetes," she added.
Ms Tang, who was sedentary in the past, now puts in effort to incorporate some physical activity, such as Zumba classes or brisk walking, into her daily routine in order to keep her glucose levels in check.
Costly cancer drugs: Looking at reducing doses for patients
Newer cancer drugs have come with increasingly higher costs, making it harder for those who need treatment to gain access to them.
"In Asia, cancer diagnosis can be catastrophic for households who are unable to afford it. Though some of these costs are borne by insurance and the Government, there needs to be a way for these costs to be optimised," said Professor Goh Boon Cher, deputy director of research at the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore.
One way is to relook the dose of the drug given, he added.
In a rush for a drug to get registered, the drug is sometimes given at higher doses in the hope that this will lead to a better outcome.
The same result can actually be obtained with a lower dose, but this option is not tested as the trial may not have been as extensive, Prof Goh said.
One example is epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutant lung cancer, where a mutation in the gene for EGFR can make it grow too much, leading to cancer.
This particular mutation occurs in more than 40 per cent of tumours in Singaporean lung cancer patients.
The drug to treat this cancer costs about $8,500 a month.
After examining the pharmacology of the drug, Prof Goh and his team started a trial to recruit 60 patients to find out if halving the dose would achieve the same clinical benefits.
However, funding is a stumbling block. Conventionally, trials are funded by pharmaceutical companies, but such a trial would hold little incentive for them, given an erosion of profits should the dose be halved.
"We, hence, turn to philanthropy," Prof Goh said.
"Our trial remains underfunded at this stage but such trials are hugely beneficial to patients - they are able to pay less for the same outcome and potentially experience fewer side effects."
Additionally, patients can take part in more than one trial and there should not be a misconception that the elderly cannot participate in trials, Prof Goh added.
Madam Hee Poh Lian, 83, who has nasopharyngeal cancer, is one example.
Her first clinical trial experience was an immunotherapy trial, which she started after completing a round of chemotherapy treatment. Her second clinical trial was an oral chemotherapy type.
"The process has been very smooth and the staff have been very nice. They calmed me down and always made sure to check on me," said Madam Hee, whose condition has improved after both trials.
Infections: 'Trojan horse' trial to fight antibiotic resistance
Antibiotic resistance is a common problem in infections such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections and wound or surgical site infections.
This is especially so as all antibiotics that are currently used to treat these infections belong to the same class and have similar modes of action.
However, the discovery of Cefiderocol, a new antibiotic with a Trojan horse mechanism that acts on these infections, has proved to be a game changer, said Associate Professor David Lye, director at the Infectious Disease Research and Training Office in the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.
A Trojan horse refers to any kind of deception that involves getting a target (the bacteria) to willingly allow an enemy (the antibiotic) into a secure place (the cell of the bacteria).
Cefiderocol acts on the channel that transports potassium across the cell membrane.
Potassium is a salt that is very important to the cell's function.
Cefiderocol enters the bacteria via the potassium channel and kills the bacteria once it is inside, Prof Lye said.
Traditionally, antibiotics destroy the integrity of the bacterial membranes and cause the cells to burst.
However, some of these bacteria soon adopt a unique structure of their outer membrane, preventing certain drugs and antibiotics from entering the cell, resulting in resistance.
A clinical trial on Cefiderocol, aptly named Gamechanger, investigates this new mode of action.
The trial is led by Professor David Paterson, director at The University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research.
Retiree Ang Hwee Kheng, 55, who was recruited to be part of the trial earlier this month when he was hospitalised as bacteria was detected in his blood, said the trial process has been smooth so far.
"I wanted to join the trial to contribute to medicine so that better care can be given to others in the future," said Mr Ang, whose doctor had recommended that he joined the trial.
Mr Ang takes the antibiotic via an intravenous drip and does not have to pay for medical tests or antibiotics as they are funded by the trial.
An ongoing study
Nurture (NUh Repository of TissUe and data for Research in Endocrinology) is the National University Hospital's (NUH) initiative to build a secure biorepository of tissue and health records data for research in the National University Health System. This provides resources to investigators in diabetes-related studies ranging from genetics and diagnosis to diets/lifestyles and clinical care treatment.
Those who want to be part of the study can call 9072- 4185 or 9071-9782 during office hours or send an e-mail to NUH_nurture@nuhs.edu.sg
SINGAPORE - A Singapore Management University (SMU) student, who was sentenced to 10 months' jail and ordered to be given three strokes of the cane for molesting a woman on campus, lost his appeal against conviction and sentence on Friday (May 20).
Lee Yan Ru, 25, was convicted last year by a district court for molesting the victim by rubbing himself against her in a study room, after the two met for a study session at about 1am on Jan 8, 2019.
On Friday, High Court judge Chua Lee Ming dismissed Lee's appeal and upheld the lower court's decision on conviction, saying that Lee was "clearly thinking with his private parts" at the time.
Justice Chua rejected defence arguments that Lee believed that the victim had consented to him rubbing against her because there was "growing intimacy" between them as the night progressed.
The judge also dismissed defence arguments that a sentence of six months' jail, without caning, was sufficient to teach Lee a lesson.
Justice Chua granted a request by Lee, who is on bail, to start serving his sentence in a week's time so that he can settle his personal matters.
Lee's lawyer, Mr Thong Chee Kun, told the court that Lee has been suspended from school.
The victim, who was then studying at another university, cannot be named due to a gag order to protect her identity. She was 20 years old when Lee molested her.
SINGAPORE - Fuel pump prices have reached another new high, with posted rates breaching previous records in early March - even though oil prices are around 15 per cent lower than in March.
According to Fuel Kaki, a fuel price tracker initiated by the Consumers Association of Singapore, a litre of diesel is between $3 (SPC, Sinopec) and $3.05 (Caltex, Shell) - up to 15 per cent higher than the previous peak back in March.
A litre of 92-octane petrol now ranges from $3.13 (SPC) to $3.20 (Caltex), or 7 per cent higher than in March.
A litre of 95-octane petrol is between $3.16 (SPC) and $3.25 (Shell, Caltex), while 98-octane petrol is between $3.64 (SPC, Sinopec) and $3.74 (Shell). This is around 0.5 per cent higher than their March highs.
The so-called premium 98-grade now ranges between $3.77 (Sinopec) and $3.96 a litre - also 0.5 per cent higher than their March highs.
The benchmark Brent crude last closed at around US$109 (S$150) a barrel on Thursday (May 19), down from nearly US$128 a barrel on March 8.
RBOB gasoline, however, had gone from nearly US$3.70 a gallon in March to US$4 early this week, before settling at US$3.80 on Thursday. RBOB gasoline is an approximate proxy for wholesale petrol.
After discounts, pump prices are still at their highest ever in Singapore.
For 92-octane petrol, Caltex has reclaimed its lead as the cheapest retailer, with a price of $2.59 a litre (with OCBC Voyage card). But its rate of $2.75 (with Unlimited Cashback card) is also the highest here after discount.
For 95-octane, Sinopec is still the cheapest at $2.48 (OCBC cards) although it has only three stations here. Among retailers with sizeable networks, Caltex offers the lowest rate of $2.63 (with OCBC Voyage card), while Shell has the highest rate of $2.93 (with UOB One card).
For 98-octane, which is necessary for only a minority of cars here, Sinopec again leads with $2.86 a litre. Among retailers with sizeable station networks, Esso's $3.03 is the lowest (with DBS Esso card), and Shell's $3.37 is the highest (with UOB One card).
With the latest increase, motorists are paying around 22 per cent more than in January for a litre of the popular 95-octane fuel after discounts.
Meanwhile, oil majors have been reporting a surge in profits. According to reports compiled by USAToday, Shell trebled its first-quarter earnings to US$9.1 billion, while BP posted a first-quarter profit of US$6.2 billion – its highest in over a decade.
Exxon (marketing the Esso brand of fuels) more than doubled its earnings in the first three months of the year to US$5.48 billion, and Chevron (marketing the Caltex brand of fuels) posted first-quarter earnings of US$6.26 billion – more than four times what it made at the same time last year.
SINGAPORE: All COVID-19 cases sequenced in Singapore in April were found to have been infected with the Omicron variant, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in its daily update on Thursday (May 19).
Of the local infections, 99 per cent were of the BA.2 variant and its lineages, which include BA.2.12.1. The remaining 1 per cent was infected with the BA.1 strain and its lineages.
Among the imported cases, 98 per cent were of the BA.2 strain and its lineages which include BA.2.12.1.
One per cent was of BA.1 and its lineages and the other 1 per cent involved recombinant lineages which include the XJ and XE variant.
A total of 101,480 local and imported infections were reported in April. They include two imported cases of the BA.4 variant, said MOH on Thursday.
The Health Ministry had on Sunday reported Singapore's first two community cases of BA.4, along with a local BA.5 infection. Both these Omicron subvariants were first reported by South Africa in early 2022 and have since become the dominant variants there.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Wednesday that the discovery of new Omicron subvariants is “not a surprise at all”, as it is known that the virus that causes COVID-19 will continue to mutate.
“What we learnt from the data and findings of scientists is that BA.4 and BA.5 have a transmission advantage over BA.1 and BA.2, he said, noting that this is why the two subvariants have been classified as variants of concern by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
“But more importantly, so far, there has been no evidence that the BA.4 and BA.5 will cause more severe illness,” he added.
According to scientists in South Africa, the variants can dodge antibodies from earlier infection but are far less able to thrive in the blood of people vaccinated against COVID-19.
Knowledge of the variants remains limited, with the World Health Organization adding them to its list for monitoring earlier last month.
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