WASHINGTON - The world officially recorded 1 million deaths from Covid-19 in one of the most sobering milestones of the pandemic, but the real tally might be almost double that.
Actual fatalities from the worst outbreak in a century may be closer to 1.8 million - a toll that could grow to as high as 3 million by the end of the year, according to Dr Alan Lopez, a laureate professor and director of the University of Melbourne's global burden of disease group.
The coronavirus's rapid spread and ability to transmit in people who show no signs of the disease have enabled it to outrun measures to accurately quantify cases through widespread diagnostic testing.
"One million deaths has meaning by itself, but the question is whether it's true," Prof Lopez said in an interview before the tally was reached. "It's fair to say that the 1 million deaths, as shocking as it sounds, is probably an underestimate - a significant underestimate."
Even in countries with sophisticated health systems, mortality is difficult to accurately gauge. Tens of thousands of probable Covid-19 deaths in the US weren't captured by official statistics between March and May, a study in July found, frustrating efforts to track and mitigate the pandemic's progression.
The dearth of accurate data undermines the ability of governments to implement timely strategies and policies to protect public health and promote economic recovery.
If the mortality from Covid-19 reaches 3 million as Prof Lopez predicted, it would rank the disease among the world's worst killers. An undercount in deaths could also give some people a false sense of security, and may allow governments to downplay the virus and overlook the pandemic's burden.
India has confirmed more than 6 million Covid-19 cases, but accounts for only about 95,000 of the 1 million reported deaths worldwide, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
The country, which has the highest number of infections after the US, lacks a reliable national vital statistics registration system to track deaths in real time.
Meanwhile, in Indiana in the US researchers found that although nursing home residents weren't routinely tested for the virus, they represented 55 per cent of the state's Covid-19 deaths.
"Yes, cases are reported daily everywhere, but as soon as you get to the next tier down, like how many were admitted to hospitals, there have just been huge gaps in the data," said Dr Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Medical data, including duration of illness and symptoms, help to ascribe a probable cause of death, he said.
Patients with heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other chronic conditions are at greater risk of dying from Covid-19. Some governments, including Russia, are attributing the cause of deaths in some of these patients to the pre-existing condition, raising questions about the veracity of official mortality data.
In July, Russia recorded 5,922 fatalities due to Covid-19. At least 4,157 other deaths were linked to the coronavirus, but not included in the tally because of how the nation defines such deaths. Overall, it recorded 29,925 more deaths in July than in the same month of 2019.
The WHO laid out guidance for classifying coronavirus deaths in June, advising countries to count fatalities if patients had symptoms of the disease regardless of whether they were a confirmed case, and unless there was a clear alternative cause.
A Covid-19 fatality should be counted as such even if pre-existing conditions exacerbated the disease, said the organisation. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released similar guidelines.
Still, it may take health workers certifying deaths time to adopt the methodology, the University of Melbourne's Prof Lopez said. His research has received funding by Bloomberg Philanthropies, set up by Mr Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News' parent Bloomberg LP.
"Doctors often are learning as they go along, so they're not certifying all the deaths that are due to Covid as Covid deaths," Prof Lopez said.
Although the pandemic has altered mortality patterns worldwide, not all of the changes are a direct result of the pandemic, he said. Physical distancing measures may have reduced road fatalities and deaths caused by influenza. In Japan, which has been scrutinised for its lack of widespread testing and relatively lax containment efforts, deaths fell by 3.5 per cent in May from a year earlier even as Covid-19 cases peaked.
"The pandemic actually works in contradictory ways to affect mortality," Prof Lopez said.
Likewise, the economic cost of the pandemic - which may top US$35.3 trillion (S$48.42 trillion) through 2025 - will be driven more by changes in people's spending patterns than number of deaths and government-mandated "lockdown" measures, according to Prof Warwick McKibbin, an economics expert at the Australian National University and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"We estimate this outbreak is going to cost tens of trillions to the world economy," Prof McKibbin said in an interview. "The change in economic outcomes is caused by individuals changing their behaviour, not because the government mandated a shutdown."
Worldwide, the growth in the number of daily deaths has eased since spiking in March and April, helped by improved medical care and ways to treat the disease. But as resurgences flare in Europe and North America ahead of winter and the flu season, Covid-19 fatalities may rise sharply again.
It took nine days for cases in the UK to double to 3,050 in mid September, compared with the previous doubling time of five weeks, the BMJ journal said last week.
Covid-19 patients between ages 75 to 84 are 220 times more likely to die from the disease than 18-to-29-year-olds, according to the CDC. Seniors over 85 years have a 630 times higher risk of dying. The older age of fatal Covid-19 cases has made some people think "they're old people, they're going to die anyway," said Dr Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
"I have a really hard time with that," Dr Osterholm said in an interview. "That's an unfortunate and very sad way to come to understand this pandemic. Many of those people who died are very important loved ones to so many of us that it's hard to just dismiss it as it's just a number."
NEW YORK - Teenagers are about twice as likely to become infected with the coronavirus as younger children, according to an analysis released Monday (Sept 28) by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The report is based on a review of 277,285 cases among children aged 5 to 17 whose illness was diagnosed from March to September. The findings come as 56 million children in the United States resume schooling amid contentious debates about their safety.
Scientists are scrambling to understand how often children are infected and how often they transmit the virus, but the findings have been inconsistent. Much of the national debate has centred on children in primary schools.
But the new study adds to a body of evidence suggesting that older teenagers, in high school and college, are more likely to be infected and more likely to transmit the coronavirus than are children under age 10, said Dr Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
"Less emphasis had been put forward on high schools or universities, compared to younger classes, but I think that may be much more of a problem," she said.
Children often have mild symptoms, if any, so researchers have suggested that the low reported numbers of confirmed cases in children may result from a lack of access to testing.
In support of this idea, the incidence of infections in children climbed as tests became more widely available, the CDC analysis found.
The number of children tested increased to 322,227 on July 12 from 100,081 on May 31; the incidence of children found to be infected rose to 37.9 per 100,000 children from 13.8 per 100,000.
"It's not necessarily that the incidence in children has gone up," said Dr Helen Jenkins, an expert in infectious diseases and statistics at Boston University. "It's just that our testing has improved."
Yet the dissimilar rates of infection between younger children and adolescents may partly be explained by testing.
"If adolescents are more likely to have symptomatic disease, then they will be more likely to get tested," Dr Jenkins said.
That may have led to greater numbers of confirmed cases among adolescents.
In the CDC study, 58 per cent of school-aged children with confirmed infections reported at least one symptom; only 5 per cent reported having no symptoms. Information on symptoms was missing for 37 per cent of the children.
"The chances are that this is just catching kids that are symptomatic," said Dr Megan Ranney, an expert in adolescent health at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
Other studies have suggested that half of children infected with the coronavirus have no symptoms. The number of cases among children could be twice as high as those reported by the CDC, Dr Ranney suggested.
The incidence of confirmed coronavirus infections increased threefold among those under age 19 from May to July, and was highest among young adults 20 to 29 years old.
These data suggest that "young persons might be playing an increasingly important role in community transmission," the CDC researchers wrote.
The number of tests and the incidence of infections decreased after July, but may again be on the rise, they added.
The rate of infection during the study period varied by age. The weekly incidence among adolescents was 37.4 per 100,000, compared with 19 per 100,000 among younger children.
Children who had pre-existing medical problems were more likely to become severely ill, the analysis also found. Among school-aged children who were hospitalised, who were admitted to an intensive care unit or who died, 16 per cent, 27 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively, had at least one underlying medical condition.
But many of the children had no such conditions. By comparison, about half of children who die after getting the flu have an underlying condition.
In the case of the coronavirus, "a kid doesn't necessarily have to be sick already to die," Dr Ranney said. "They don't have to have a preexisting condition in order to get really sick from Covid-19," the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Of 161,387 infected children whose race and ethnicity were known, 42 per cent were Hispanic, 32 per cent were white and 17 per cent were Black, the CDC researchers reported. Deaths among children were rare overall, but Hispanic and Black children were more likely to be hospitalised or admitted to an ICU.
These data are consistent with studies among adults showing that communities with a high proportion of frontline workers are hardest hit by the pandemic, Dr Cevik said.
How often children are infected and how efficiently they transmit the virus have been among the most contentious issues of the pandemic.
Recently in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers reviewed 32 studies worldwide comprising 41,640 children and adolescents under age 20, as well as 268,945 adults. The analysis also included 18 studies, including three based in schools, in which scientists had traced the contacts of infected individuals.
The analysis found - like the new CDC study - that younger children are roughly half as likely as adults to become infected, and that children older than 14 may be just as likely as adults to be infected. Antibody studies also suggested that adolescents seemed to be similar to adults in terms of their risk of infection.
Experts praised the scientists for trying to make sense of studies that vary widely in methods, in cultural milieu and even in how they defined children - ranging anywhere from 10 years to 20 years as the outer limit.
The evidence overall from these studies suggested that younger children are relatively protected from the virus, but older teenagers - those aged 15 and older - are roughly at the same risk as adults, said Dr Cevik, who led a similar analysis.
"I think we need to consider the older adolescent group, over the age of 15, as an adult, because they have similar social patterns," she said. "Also, they have potentially much larger networks, compared to adults."
Other experts said it was clear that younger children could transmit the virus, even if less efficiently than older teenagers and adults - and thus might help perpetuate an outbreak, particularly in communities with high levels of infections.
"We know that they can get the virus," said Dr Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York, referring to children. "And if we know that they are able to pass it on, if we presume that they're not complete dead ends, then they're participating in the transmission cycle."
SINGAPORE - A 50-year-old woman was found guilty of voluntarily causing grievous hurt to her boyfriend, whom she suspected was cheating on her, by pouring boiling water over his groin as he slept.
Her actions left him hospitalised for 26 days and unable to work for about six months. He suffered second- and third-degree burn injuries over 12 per cent of his total body surface area.
The court rejected Zareena Begun P. A. M. Basheer Ahamed's defence that it was an accident and convicted her on Monday (Sept 28).
In his submissions, Deputy Public Prosecutor Ng Jun Chong said the couple began their relationship in 2006. Over the course of their tumultuous relationship, they had broken up a few times, each accusing the other of cheating.
On Jan 12, 2017, Zareena saw her boyfriend at the HarbourFront Centre ferry terminal with a woman with whom she had, since 2015, suspected he was having an affair.
In the wee hours of July 5 that year, Zareena took her boyfriend's mobile phone from his bag as he slept in her living room after supper. She read messages that the other woman had sent him, and "was furious", DPP Ng said.
"She wanted to teach him a lesson for letting her down over and over again. She wanted to teach him a lesson that he would never forget," DPP Ng submitted.
The DPP then argued that Zareena boiled water and poured a mugful on her boyfriend's pants, over the groin area.
The man woke up in extreme pain and asked Zareena why she did this to him, to which she replied "serve you right".
Zareena's lawyer, however, argued that the entire incident was an accident.
According to her, on July 5, she woke him up and asked to check his phone, leading to an argument between the two.
After this, she claimed, she boiled water to drink and he followed her into the kitchen and sat on a stack of stools.
As she held a mug of the hot water, the man then pulled on her left arm, causing the water to spill onto his groin area, she said.
However, the doctor who tended to the victim, Dr Chew Khong Yik, that his burn injuries suggested that he was lying down when the hot water was poured onto him. Called as a witness, Dr Chew said there were sudden splash injuries on his upper torso, and none on his knees, calves, feet and toes, which would have been expected if he was sitting upright.
Furthermore, there was a burn on his left buttock, consistent with the water flowing down from his groin.
DPP Ng said it was the hospital which reported the matter to the police, and the man never made a police report against Zareena.
Zareena is expected to be sentenced on Oct 20.
A person convicted of voluntarily causing grievous hurt faces imprisonment for life or up to 15 years, and a fine or caning. As a woman, Zareena will not be caned.
For the past two weeks, Singapore has consistently recorded two or fewer Covid-19 infections within its local community each day and for the past week, the average number of daily cases among foreign workers housed in mega-dormitories has fallen to below 20.
This is a sharp dip compared with just five months ago, when the combined daily toll was as high as 1,426.
The latest official figures show that almost 99 per cent of close to 58,000 cases have been reported as recovered, with just 31 individuals remaining in hospitals and 275 with milder symptoms isolated at community facilities.
On Monday, Singapore reported 15 new cases, just two of which were considered community transmissions. Meanwhile, countries in Europe are battling with a resurgence of cases while Malaysia has imposed strict movement restrictions in some areas of Sabah state amid a growing outbreak.
On Monday, the government started allowing more employees to return to their workplaces. Work-related events, such as conferences, seminars, and annual general meetings, were also allowed to resume, but the health ministry has made clear that strict rules should be observed, including a maximum capacity of 50 attendees at such events, with food and drinks served only if necessary.
Later this week, restrictions on religious gatherings and wedding receptions are expected to be eased, with 100 people allowed at such events, up from the previous 50-person limit, although the gatherings are still subject to social-distancing regulations.
The latest steps are part of the Singapore government’s “safe and sustainable” three-tiered reopening.
Although public health experts say the country has firmly turned a corner in its battle against Covid-19, allowing for such a reopening, they remain cautious on Singapore’s ability to sustain a rate of no new daily infections for the long term.
Hsu Li Yang, an associate professor at National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said the low numbers were an indication that “the Covid-19 epidemic in Singapore is truly under control, including in the migrant worker dormitories”.
But Dr Jeremy Lim, also an associate professor at NUS’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said it was crucial for Singapore to maintain “eternal vigilance” as it implements the reopening measures. “What’s critical beyond vigilance is that Singapore preserves our capabilities in public health interventions including contact tracing, rapid testing, isolating, so that when the inevitable community outbreak occurs, we are fully prepared,” Lim said.
Singapore, he said, had paid a heavy price to lower the rate of daily recorded cases. In April, it imposed a nationwide lockdown – or a so-called circuit breaker – after a dramatic surge in infections among foreign workers living in crowded dormitories.
It closed schools, retail shops and most workplaces, and also barred dine-in eating at restaurants.
Workers were kept in their dorms as construction work was shut down and borders were gradually closed, bringing Singapore’s trade-reliant economy to a standstill. The country now faces its worst recession since independence, with annual GDP expected to shrink by up to 7 per cent.
Bloomberg on Monday reported that the central bank is in talks with lenders about extending the nation’s debt moratorium programme beyond the end of the year to provide extra relief for borrowers, whether firms or individuals, hit by the virus fallout.
On June 3, most of the curbs were lifted, and workers were allowed to return to construction sites, with the caveat that they take a routine Covid-19 test every two weeks.
There are still rules limiting social contact – for instance, dining in at restaurants is only allowed for groups of five or fewer, and alcohol cannot be sold after 10.30pm at food and drink outlets.
The rules are similar to those promulgated in Hong Kong, which only allows groups of four people to dine at restaurants, and in South Korea, which has suspended operations of “high-risk” establishments such as nightclubs, bars and buffets in the densely populated Seoul area.
Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said the city state’s success in combating the pandemic was due to its social-distancing measures and compulsory mask-wearing. The use of masks would need to continue, he said, likening the virus to a thief that “sneaks out … in the night to strike unsuspecting countries”.
Leong ventured that Singapore’s infections would hit zero in the next two to four weeks, although he cautioned against discounting a resurgence next month, when Singapore begins to allow in more foreign visitors for meetings and conferences.
Up to 250 people will be allowed in for each meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (Mice) event as the country attempts to boost tourism revenues, which last year contributed about 1 per cent to Singapore’s GDP.
Foreign visitors who arrive for such events would have to use a contact tracing app, but would be allowed to interact with others but only within designated cohorts of 50.
The trade ministry would also ensure that they follow “safe itineraries”, which are leisure activities that comply with prevailing guidelines.
Leong said that this group of foreign travellers, along with Singaporeans and permanent residents returning to the country, poses the “greatest risk” for the spread of Covid-19, and is one of two main groups that should be subject to closer scrutiny along with foreign workers, who have consistently been the main source of infections in Singapore since the outbreak.
“If we contain these two groups, the risk of having large outbreaks is slim,” he said.
But Alex Au, vice-president of the non-profit Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), said Singapore must learn its lesson that there are spillover effects when certain communities – like foreign workers – are treated “so badly that they become vulnerable”.
“Singapore thought we were doing it right by doing it cheap, cutting costs by housing foreign workers in very dense and therefore very cheap accommodation, but Covid-19 has shown that is a false economy,” Au said.
“We ended up paying a terrible price both in economic output and the actual costs of confinement, security and massive testing for the workers,” he said.
Hsu, the NUS professor, said Singapore must ensure that migrant workers receive “fair and equitable treatment in all aspects of their lives in Singapore”.
Just last week, TWC2 called for workers’ dormitories to be opened up, citing how “hundreds of thousands of workers” were still confined to dormitories without being able to enjoy any leisure time outside.
It said anyone else in Singapore was free to leave their homes to buy takeaway food or groceries and to jog or cycle even in the midst of the lockdown, “yet all this while and till now, migrant workers have been locked away”.
Getting down to zero
While Leong was hopeful that Singapore could soon see “consistently” low or even zero new daily infections, Hsu said he thought that goal was unattainable.
“We will have to safely open up our borders with more countries over time,” he said. “As more travellers come to Singapore for work and play, and as more Singapore residents travel abroad and return, we may see an uptick in imported cases, which are still counted towards our daily numbers.”
Singapore authorities were also cautious when asked if the city state could soon see zero infections among its foreign worker community. Education minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs a multi-ministerial task force that deals with the coronavirus, said during a press conference last week that he expected there would still be a “very, very low level of ongoing transmission” despite regular testing.
The other co-chairman, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, also noted that even if there were no reported infections, there “will still be asymptomatic cases, and undetected” ones.
“There‘s no possibility of zero cases in the whole of Singapore until we have the vaccine available, so therefore I think we need to continue to be vigilant,” he warned.
SINGAPORE - Singaporean students returning to the United Kingdom may have escaped being quarantined upon their arrival, but are likely to face new restrictions as the country experiences a spike in Covid-19 cases.
The UK is into its second wave of coronavirus infection, recording 6,873 new coronavirus cases last Friday (Sept 24).
This was the highest daily figure since mass testing began. This comes as many Singaporean students have returned to the UK following the lifting of the 14-day quarantine requirement for travellers from the Republic on Sept 19.
With the rise in number of cases in the UK, the returning students may be facing another round of circuit breaker-like restrictions.
However, some remain unfazed, and even welcome the move towards greater regulation in the UK.
"A lockdown will be quite reassuring because the number of cases in the UK has been rising and there is some anxiety about going back," said Ms Yang Xin, 22, a third-year medical student at the University of Oxford.
She changed her flight from one scheduled for Sept 19 to another on Sept 26 on learning about the relaxation of the quarantine.
Second-year biology student Bryan Tan, 21, at the University of Cambridge agreed, saying it would be difficult to stop the spread of the virus without adequate government response.
"There are some minor regulations already in place but they don't seem to be helping to curb the exponential spread.
"So some form of lockdown, even a minor one, seems like the next logical step."
Travel for students is currently not discouraged by the Singapore Government.
The Health Ministry in an advisory on Sept 1 said travel is allowed for students pursuing qualifications overseas, and if distance learning is not an option.
However, The Straits Times understands that the relevant ministries are monitoring the situation in the UK.
Some students are still not taking the risk.
Ms Beatrice Tan, who is studying social sciences with quantitative methods at University College London, was supposed to leave for the UK this month for her final year.
However, her parents advised her to delay her return to London.
"It's bittersweet, not going back," said the disappointed 23-year-old. "I really want to, but not many people will be there and all my lessons are online anyway."
Her mother, Madam Loo Mee Fong, said her daughter's health was the primary reason for the decision not to return to the UK.
"It is not safe and there are many cases. If she gets the virus there, she wouldn't be able to fly back, and I cannot go and visit her," said Madam Loo, 55, a housewife.
"As a mother, you are sure to worry."
NEW YORK - Coronavirus infection rates have increased at "an alarming rate" in several New York neighbourhoods, particularly among the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, city health authorities warned on Sunday (Sept 27), threatening to sanction certain schools if they fail to comply with anti-virus regulations.
Although the Big Apple has touted that it kept its infection rate under one percent for more than a month, six neighbourhoods in Brooklyn and two in Queens have seen their rates spike, surpassing five to six per cent in Midwood and Gravesend.
The increase coincides with the Jewish High Holidays, the most holy days in the Jewish calendar, that culminate on Monday with Yom Kippur.
"These areas account for over 23 percent of new cases citywide... despite representing just under seven percent of the city's overall population," New York city health services said in a press release.
They added that the data showed an increase in hospitalised patients in two Brooklyn hospitals, and at least one hospital in Queens.
The increase has raised fears of a second wave in New York, which reported a record 23,800 Covid-19 fatalities when the epidemic peaked in the spring.
On Friday, health authorities organised a press conference in one of the most affected Brooklyn neighbourhoods, Borough Park.
"This may be the most precarious position with Covid-19 we have experienced in months," said health commissioner Dave Chokshi, urging people to wear face masks and respect social distancing measures.
But he and his colleagues were booed by at least two people in the crowd, including an Orthodox Jewish radio host known for his anti-mask stance, Heshy Tischler, video from NBC showed.
"There are people who refuse to believe the truth, this is a deadly virus and we have easy ways to avoid it," Mitchell Katz, the chief of New York's municipal healthcare system, told the news station.
BACK TO SCHOOL?
Health authorities announced a series of educational activities for neighbourhood residents in the coming days.
With the reopening of public schools scheduled for Oct 1, authorities also warned they would conduct inspections in non-public schools - including many yeshivas, or religion-focused Jewish schools - and would close facilities and impose fines if necessary.
But the restart of in-person learning has been a touchy subject and has already been postponed twice, as more parents of New York's some 1.1 million public school students opt instead for remote classes.
The Council of School Supervisors & Administrators (CSA) has called for management of the school system - traditionally the mayor's responsibility in the US - to be transferred to the New York state educational services during the pandemic.
New York mayor Bill de Blasio recently promised to hire some 4,500 additional teachers to facilitate both in-person and online learning.
But according to the CSA, a union that claims to represent about 6,400 officials for the city's 1,800 public schools, he and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza failed to hire enough teachers.
It is unclear whether schools will reopen on October 1 as planned. De Blasio and the state Department of Education have not responded to the CSA's statement.
YEREVAN - Armenia and Azerbaijan, two ex-Soviet republics in the Caucasus, are locked in a decades-long territorial dispute with deadly fighting erupting on Sunday (Sept 27).
Here are the key issues surrounding their conflict:
At the heart of the standoff between Yerevan and Baku is the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The Soviet authorities merged the predominantly ethnic Armenian territory with Azerbaijan in 1921.
After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenian separatists seized it in a move supported by Yerevan.
An ensuing war left 30,000 dead and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Despite a ceasefire mediated in 1994 by Russia, the United States and France, peace negotiations struggle to move forward and fighting erupts frequently.
The latest clashes on Sunday saw Azerbaijan and Armenian separatists accuse each other of igniting the fighting that left both sides with casualties, including civilians.
It followed a flare-up along the border in July which claimed the lives of 17 soldiers from both sides.
In April 2016, some 110 people were killed in the most serious fighting in years.
REVOLTS AND DYNASTY
Armenia, a Christian country since the fourth century, has been rocked by political and economic instability since it gained independence from the former USSR.
The country's post-Soviet leadership repressed opposition to its rule, was accused of falsifying ballot results, and was largely beholden to the interests of Russia.
In the spring of 2018, mass street protests brought current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to power. He has since cracked down on corruption and introduced popular judicial reforms.
Muslim-majority Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea, has been under the authoritarian grip of a single family since 1993.
Heydar Aliyev, a former officer of the Soviet security services, the KGB, ruled the country with an iron fist until October 2003. He handed over power to his son, Ilham, weeks before his death.
Like his father, Ilham has quashed all opposition to his rule and in 2017 made his wife, Mehriban, the country's first vice president.
RUSSIA AND TURKEY
Turkey, with ambitions to be regional powerbroker in the Caucasus, has thrown its weight behind oil-rich and Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan.
Their alliance is fuelled by a mutual mistrust of Armenia, and Ankara routinely issues strongly worded statements in support of Baku's ambitions to reclaim Nagorno-Karabakh.
Yerevan harbours hostility towards Turkey over the massacres of some 1.5 million Armenians by Turkey under the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
More than 30 countries have recognised the killings as genocide, though Ankara fiercely disputes the term.
Russia, which maintains close ties with Armenia, is the major powerbroker in the region. It leads the Collective Security Treaty Organisation military alliance of ex-Soviet countries that includes Armenia.
Yerevan relies on Russian support and military guarantees because its defence budget is overshadowed by Azerbaijan's spending on arms.
OIL AND DIASPORA
Azerbaijan has recently begun leveraging oil revenues as part of a bid to overhaul its image in the West.
Baku has invested in massive sponsorship deals including with the Euro 2020 football championship, which was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Baku was due to host matches this year and Azerbaijan has held Formula 1 Grand Prix races since 2016.
Azerbaijan has also tried to pitch itself to European countries as an alternative energy supplier to Russia.
On the international stage, Armenia has a vast and influential diaspora that fled during the Ottoman-era repressions.
Reality TV star Kim Kardashian, the late singer Charles Aznavour, and pop star and actress Cher all trace their roots to Armenia.
Some have appointed themselves unofficial ambassadors, like Kardashian who has been outspoken on the issue of the Armenian genocide.
SINGAPORE - From Oct 1, a new Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) online service will allow people to change their local or overseas residential address.
With this service, those who wish to process a change of address will no longer be able to do so at neighbourhood police posts (NPPs) or neighbourhood police centres (NPCs) from Dec 1.
Applicants can access the change of address e-Service at ICA's website using their SingPass and follow a few basic steps.
Within three to five days, they will receive a unique PIN sent by mail to their new address.
International delivery time will vary based on the destination country's postal service.
Applicants will then be asked to enter the PIN via the e-Service to verify the new address.
Upon verification, an instant acknowledgement will be sent to indicate that the change of address is successful.
The new address will be updated in the databases of public agencies within one working day.
A second mail will then be sent to the applicant, containing a sticker with the new address. Applicants must affix the sticker to the back of their NRIC according to the instructions.
Under the National Registration Act, all NRIC holders need to report a change of address within 28 days of moving into a new residence, whether it is located in or outside of Singapore.
The ICA's new e-Service will be available in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil.
Those residing in the same household can also update their address with a single application.
If they are not able to submit applications through the online service, they may appoint proxies who are SingPass holders to submit the application on their behalf.
The proxies must provide the applicant's NRIC number and its date of issue to access the e-Service. To complete the process, the proxies must also obtain and enter the PIN mailed to the applicant's new address.
Those who are unable to apply for a change of address online and do not have proxies may visit the ICA for assistance.
Users of the new e-Service should also note that enforcement action will be taken against anyone who misuses it.
Under the National Registration Regulations, anyone who reports a false residential address can be fined up to $3,000, jailed for two years, or both.
It is also an offence if the user does not subsequently follow through to affix the new address sticker onto the IC.
Coronavirus: No rush of workers in CBD on Monday morning even as rules ease for more people to return to workplaces
SINGAPORE - While rules have been eased to allow more people to return to the workplace, there appeared to be no rush of workers in the central business district on Monday morning (Sept 28).
When reporters visited Raffles Place at around 9am during the morning rush hour, there was a slow but steady stream of workers who made their way from the MRT station there to their workplaces.
The morning crowd was similar to that from last Friday at about the same time, before the relaxing of workplace rules kicked in on Monday.
All the 20 workers reporters interviewed said they did not return to their workplaces for the first time since the two-month circuit breaker ended in early June. Instead, they had been back for some time now.
Barista Shawn Tan, 23, who works at a Starbucks Coffee outlet in Raffles Place, said that there was "no significant difference" in the number of customers he saw on Monday compared with the last few weeks.
He now sees an average of 10 to 15 customers from 7.30am to 10am but he did notice one regular he had not seen for ages and believes she could have just recently returned to her workplace.
The move to allow more employees to return to their workplace was part of the easing of safe distancing measures announced by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong at a virtual press conference last Wednesday, as the number of Covid-19 cases in the community remained low.
Employers have to ensure that safe management measures are in place, and that flexible working hours and staggered reporting times are also implemented.
In addition, employees must continue to work from home for at least half their working time, and no more than half of such employees are at the workplace at any point in time.
Events within the workplace, such as seminars, corporate retreats and annual general meetings are also allowed to resume, though work-related events at external venues remain prohibited for now.
For many people like Mr Ang Chung Yuh, 33, returning to work in the CBD on Monday morning has been the case for several weeks or months now.
The fixed income manager said that he has been back to the office since phase two started in June and, for now, his company is unlikely to change plans for split operations arrangements for employees.
For Mr Eric Neo, the chief executive of investment company RF International Holdings, he has been back since after the circuit breaker ended.
Asked if he preferred working from home or in the office, the 46-year-old said: "I'm a parent of two young kids so it's definitely more productive working from the office.
"But if I were single and living with my parents, there wouldn't be much difference, but a lot of travelling time is saved."
He said that the Government has done a good job in slowly opening up the economy and that the public has been very cognisant of safe distancing measures.
Mr Neo also felt the returning CBD crowd in the past weeks creates a sense that "the market is coming alive".
This is particularly so during lunch time when the sight of queues forming is a positive sign for investors and traders alike, as this is something they cannot be seen when they are working from home.
SINGAPORE - A 20-year-old man pleaded guilty on Monday (Sept 28) to handcuffing and blindfolding a girl, then 13, before committing various indecent acts on her in a handicapped toilet at Plaza Singapura last year.
Alaric Lim Qixian was then a full-time national serviceman with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
The girl cannot be named because of a gag order to protect her identity.
District Judge Sharmila Sripathy called for probation and reformative training reports to be made.
The court heard that in early 2019, Lim met the girl at a cosplay event before they began messaging each other on Instagram.
He claimed to be a photographer who took risque photos and offered to take such pictures of her.
The girl said she wanted to take part in a photo shoot depicting bondage, discipline or domination, sadism and masochism, or BDSM, but clarified that she did not want to go fully naked.
Lim then offered to give the girl a test run and suggested they go to an obscure part of a mall.
After agreeing to meet at Plaza Singapura, the pair spent 15 minutes playing a mobile game before Lim brought out a rope, a black blindfold and black leather handcuffs.
In a handicapped toilet on the fourth floor, he began touching her under her shirt.
The court heard that the girl told him to stop and he withdrew his hands, but soon started licking her.
The ordeal lasted 15 minutes and the girl felt "shocked and disgusted" but did not shout for help because she was afraid of what Lim would do.
Afterwards, she took a bus home, showered and told her mother. They made a police report the next day.
Upskirt videos of two women were later found on Lim's phone. He had taken them at Bukit Panjang MRT station in 2018.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Joshua Phang noted that Lim had committed "three serious offences of a sexual nature".
Lim's lawyer argued that his client had met the girl at a cosplay event, and seeing as this entailed role-playing characters in costume, his client did not believe his acts were sexual in nature.
He said that Lim was admitted to the Institute of Mental Health in June last year for adjustment disorder.
District Judge Sripathy noted that Lim showed "an escalation of sexual (offences) over a period of more than one year".
Lim's case will next be heard on Oct 5.