SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrived in court on Monday (Nov 30) to testify in his defamation suit against The Online Citizen (TOC) editor Terry Xu.
Mr Xu's lawyer Lim Tean began his cross-examination of PM Lee.
The week-long hearing could also see the Prime Minister's siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, take the witness stand to testify in court.
The case revolves around claims made by TOC in an article published on Aug 15 last year, titled "PM Lee's wife, Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members".
The TOC article had commented on how PM Lee's wife, Ms Ho Ching, had shared a link on Facebook to an article titled "Here's why sometimes it is okay to cut ties with toxic family members".
It also referenced a Facebook post that Dr Lee made in May. Mr Lee Hsien Yang had also shared the post by Dr Lee.
In September last year, PM Lee asked TOC to remove the article, along with a Facebook post linking to it, and publish a full and unconditional apology.
His press secretary Chang Li Lin said the allegations in the article and post were libellous and repeated several false allegations against PM Lee that were previously made by his sister.
One such allegation was that PM Lee had misled his father, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, into thinking that his 38 Oxley Road property had been gazetted by the Singapore Government, and that it was futile for the founding prime minister to keep his direction to demolish it.
Another allegation was that Mr Lee Kuan Yew removed PM Lee as an executor and trustee of his will after it was revealed to him in late 2013 that the 38 Oxley Road property had in fact not been gazetted.
PM Lee later initiated legal proceedings against Mr Xu when the latter refused to take the article and post down or apologise. He also filed a suit against the Malaysian author of the article, one Rubaashini Shunmuganathan.
His lawyers said the article had gravely injured PM Lee's character and reputation and that PM Lee had been "brought into public scandal, odium and contempt".
The case could see PM Lee taking the witness stand to testify in court, Ms Chang said in September.
She noted that although PM Lee had chosen not to sue his siblings as it would further besmirch his parents' names, this did not mean he would not ever take legal action should it become necessary.
In October last year, Mr Xu applied to bring PM Lee's siblings into the suit as third parties. He said he wanted them to bear the damages if he was found to have defamed PM Lee in the TOC article.
He said the TOC article merely quoted directly from public comments made by Mr Lee and Dr Lee and that they would have knowledge of particulars relating to the truth of the allegations.
"The Defendant reserves the right to cross-exam LWL and LHY to provide more information," Mr Xu said in his defence document, referring to Dr Lee and Mr Lee by their initials.
SINGAPORE - Local medical technology company Cell ID has created a portable polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kit which can confirm if someone has Covid-19 in five minutes.
Chief technology officer Xander Sim said those administering the test would not need specialised training or a laboratory to produce results.
The nasal swab test is run through an app on a laptop, and requires under two hours of training to operate.
However, the operator must be trained to take nasal swab samples.
"This way, when passengers come in at an airport, you only need to hold them for a short time before you get a result," Mr Sim said on Monday (Nov 30) at a press conference to announce the Quiz PCR Biochip test kit.
The "gold standard" for Covid-19 testing is the PCR test.
However, PCR tests require highly specialised labs and technicians to run the tests, and liquid reagents that must be kept refrigerated.
It can also take days to return results.
Increasingly, as Singapore seeks to reopen its economy further, it has been tapping Antigen rapid tests (ARTs), which can produce results in under 30 minutes.
But ARTs have lower sensitivity and specificity, and may carry a higher risk of false positives and false negatives.
Mr Sim said Cell ID's PCR test can confirm a positive case in five minutes, and a negative case in under an hour.
"The aim was to develop a device that is accurate, without any compromise in the test result, but at a very affordable price...a test kit that someone in the third world can use as well,"added Mr Sim.
The Quiz PCR Biochip has 97-100 per cent sensitivity to Covid-19, and specificity of 100 per cent.
This is comparable to conventional PCR tests, unlike other rapid tests which are fast but have less specificity and sensitivity.
With the Quiz PCR Biochip, the nasal swab sample is first mixed in a solution.
A very small quantity of the resultant mix - 10 microlitres - is then combined with another solution.
This ensures that the virus' genetic signature is in sufficiently high quantities for it to be detected.
The mixture is then put into one of two test wells on the Quiz PCR Biochip, which itself is smaller than a credit card.
The chip is then plugged into a special USB dongle, dubbed "Poche", and connected to a laptop for the test to begin. The results can be monitored in real time.
Gene segments of the virus consume reagents in the solution as the virus multiplies, showing up as a dip in the graph that is displayed on the laptop screen.
Based on the number of USB ports available, multiple tests can be run at the same time.
The chip is disposed off after each test.
Trained in engineering
Mr Sim, 56, spent over three decades in the engineering and manufacturing fields before switching in 2013 to developing medical diagnostic tools, despite having no background in biology.
He invented Quiz PCR Biochip in 2015 and it was originally used for HIV tests in 2018.
Mr Sim said he had to endure years of failed prototypes which also saw him suffer two strokes. It left him temporarily blind and with a weak left leg.
"(I told God) I don't need to live for 100 years, just give me a little more time so I can finish my work and my mission," Mr Sim recalled at a press conference on Monday.
In April, amid the circuit breaker, Cell ID developed a reagent that allowed it to be used to test for Covid-19.
Mr Sim said that it is difficult to predict how much testing will cost when using Cell ID's chip, as it would depend on factors such as the overhead costs incurred by the testing agency.
He said it currently costs less than US$50 ($67) to produce one of the chips, but this is expected to fall with economies of scale.
Tested at dorms
The Quiz PCR Biochip was tested at the S11 dormitory and the Expo Community Care Facility earlier this year, in collaboration with staff from Sengkang General Hospital and Woodlands Health Campus.
Out of 215 people who were tested using the chips, 27 positive cases were detected.
Mr Sim recalled: "The first result came back positive within seven minutes. We were overwhelmed.
He said everyone at the command centre was surprised an accurate Covid-19 test could be done onsite.
"I nearly teared up," he added.
The tests were also verified at a third-party lab in Switzerland in November, where it was discovered that the biochip can detect the coronavirus equally well in saliva and nasal swab specimens.
Mr Sim said he is excited about this, as saliva tests are faster and require less equipment than nasal swab tests.
They are also not as uncomfortable for the patient.
He is currently waiting for regulatory approval from authorities such as the United State's Food and Drug Administration and Singapore's Health Sciences Authority for the kit to be used.
Mr Sim said: "My hope is that the test can be deployed globally and that it will be useful in helping countries to open up safely again.
"That is my greatest hope."
SINGAPORE - Nearly three weeks have passed since a Covid-19 case was last reported in foreign worker dormitories, and some health experts now approve of easing the strict movement restrictions on them.
The residents have remained subject to more stringent movement curbs here, following the rapid and massive outbreak of the virus in dorms that began in end March.
Apart from going to work or to run essential errands, workers are still largely restricted to their dorms, but can visit specified recreation centres on their rest days.
However, several health experts reporters spoke to said that the Covid-19 situation in dorms has abated, and the authorities can consider lifting such restrictions, although the experts differed on when this can be done.
Infectious diseases specialist Leong Hoe Nam said the authorities can now consider allowing the workers more freedom to move in the community, given that Singapore crossed the 14-day mark without infections in dorms last Wednesday. The last infection in dorms was reported on Nov 10.
There are already many safeguards in place to prevent another outbreak in dormitories, such as routine screening of workers, mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing rules, said Dr Leong.
While it would take 28 days, or two incubation cycles of the virus, to fully ensure that dormitories are free of Covid-19, Dr Leong said this timeline can be shortened because of the extensive measures in place.
Even if an infected person goes out into the community, the disease should not spread if everyone abides by the mask-wearing measure and social distancing rules, he said. "With this argument in place, it makes sense for foreign workers to have some normality."
Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said workers should be allowed back into the community when Singapore moves on to its next phase of reopening, as that would mean the whole community is ready for rapid contact tracing and testing.
The authorities have said that Singapore will enter phase 3 of its reopening only when about 70 per cent of the population participates in TraceTogether, a technology-enabled contact tracing programme.
"With the widespread use of TraceTogether, it is much more possible to halt an outbreak quickly through aggressive contact tracing, testing and quarantining," said Prof Teo.
Dr Ling Li Min, an infectious diseases physician, urged caution, noting that there are "pockets of asymptomatic infections lurking around". This is evident by new cases that emerged after 15 days of no infections in the community, she said. Three such cases have been reported since last Thursday (Nov 26).
She added that it would be expected that the authorities take a "steady and gradual approach" in relaxing the strict measures.
In response to queries from reporters, the Manpower Ministry said it will further ease the restrictions on dorm residents if infection rates are "sustained at low levels".
It has also worked with community groups to arrange for organised excursions for residents.
Meanwhile, workers said they hope the rules can be relaxed soon.
Mr Saddam Mohammad, 27, a Bangladeshi carpenter who stays in a purpose-built dormitory, said his life revolves around work.
He said he reports to work almost every day, and he returns to his dormitory straight after. He hopes to be able to venture out again "because I'm very bored in the dorm".
But employers reporters spoke to said that not all their workers seem keen on heading out as most are focused on making up for their income loss with overtime work.
An owner of a construction company, who gave his name only as Mr Salman, 49, said his foreign workers have been working overtime daily. "While our work has been delayed by six months, the deadlines set by our clients remain the same."
PARIS - French authorities are investigating allegations that a black music producer was physically attacked and racially abused during a police check in Paris after CCTV footage of the beating was released.
The incident was captured on closed circuit television and mobile phone footage which was circulating online and was headline news on French television channels.
In an interview with France 2 television, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the officers would be sanctioned if the alleged wrongdoing was confirmed.
"When people overstep the boundaries, they must give up the uniform of the Republic, they must be sanctioned and they must be punished by the justice system," Darmanin said.
Earlier, he said on Twitter that France's IGPN police watchdog is investigating the allegations.
The alleged victim, who only gave his identity as Michel, told reporters on Thursday (Nov 26) that he was jumped upon by police at his music studio in Paris' 17th arrondissement on Nov 21.
He said he had been walking around nearby without a face mask - against French Covid-19 health protocols - and upon seeing a police car, went into his music studio to avoid getting a fine.
However, the police followed him inside the studio and started to physically attack and racially abuse him, he said.
"I was lucky enough, unlike many other people, to have had the video that protects me," Michel told reporters.
Hafida El-Ali, the lawyer representing Michel, added that her client would be making a formal complaint against the police over the incident. Video footage of the alleged attack was first obtained by the LoopSider news organisation.
In the video, which has no sound, Michel is seen struggling with the three police officers - two in uniform, one in civilian clothes - in the cramped entrance of his building for several minutes.
He told reporters on Thursday that he struggled with the men because he was not sure they were police.
Two of France's top soccer players, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, spoke out against police violence on their Twitter feeds.
"Unbearable video, inadmissible violence," Mbappe tweeted.
The Paris police force has already faced criticism this week after people posted videos on social media of police hitting demonstrators as they cleared a migrant camp in central Paris.
France's government is trying to push through a law that would make it a crime to circulate images of police officers in certain circumstances.
Following protest by journalists' organisations and opposition politicians, the prime minister's office said on Thursday it will set up a commission tasked with proposing a new version of the bill.
NEW YORK - Americans marked a muted Thanksgiving Day holiday on Thursday (Nov 26), sometimes seeing family only by video after political leaders discouraged travel or large gatherings in the face of the surging coronavirus pandemic.
Thanksgiving, normally a day for family and friends to gather in big numbers to feast on turkey and pumpkin pie and remember life's blessings, has been upended by the pandemic, as most US states struggle with spiralling infections and deaths.
"All of a sudden I feel kind of lonely, I have to admit," said Ms Janis Segal, 72, as she prepared to join family members in a Zoom call for Thanksgiving.
Eight months after the pandemic erupted across the United States, most major cities remain under strict rules imposed by state and local officials restricting public gatherings, closing businesses and forbidding indoor dining at restaurants.
The traditional Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, a spectacle of giant character balloons that has delighted children for nearly a century, was scaled back significantly.
The route was reduced to one block, rather than 4km; balloon handlers were replaced by specially rigged vehicles; and spectators were prohibited from lining the streets as before.
The event concluded at noon after three hours of performances, floats and balloons, featuring music stars like Dolly Parton and a four-storey-tall Snoopy in astronaut gear - all without the usual millions crowding the streets to watch.
Metal barricades keeping spectators at a distance did not deter people like Mr Brian Campbell, a 55-year old native of Rockaway, New Jersey, who described his fifth year of coming to the parade as "disappointing", or Ms Moriah Hargrave of Lafayette, Louisiana, who got as close as she could to the action near Macy's flagship store in midtown Manhattan with the hopes of stealing a glimpse of Parton.
"We came to just knock out a few things on our bucket list for New York City," said Ms Hargrave, 36. "It's a little sad to be this far away. But it's fun to be here."
The holiday is being celebrated at a time of severe economic strain for millions of Americans. More than 20 million people are receiving some form of unemployment benefits, and a fresh wave of lay-offs is expected as governors impose business restrictions in a bid to tamp down spiralling infections, and with additional aid from Congress nowhere in sight.
Ms Asia Foreman, who recently founded a non-profit with her sister to raise awareness about mental health issues, was working on Thursday afternoon to finish delivering 500 plates of chicken, macaroni and cheese, yams and greens in Washington, DC.
"We wanted to feed as many people as possible, so turkey wasn't in the budget," she said, adding that many in her community were struggling to make ends meet. "A lot of people haven't been able to find new jobs to provide for their families because of Covid. It's not their fault."
US hospitalisations for Covid-19 reached a record of more than 89,000 on Wednesday, and experts warn that Thanksgiving could lead to a spike in cases and significantly boost a death toll that has exceeded 262,000 nationwide.
Despite advice from the Centres for Disease Control to stay home for the holiday, nearly six million Americans travelled by air from last Friday to Wednesday, according to the US Transportation Security Administration, although that is less than half the figure during the same period last year.
Many Americans have not seen their loved ones for months and see the annual get-together as important enough to outweigh the possible risks.
Nearly 40 per cent plan to attend a "risky gathering" during the holiday season, either in excess of 10 people or with people from outside their household, and a third will not require masks of their guests, according to a national survey by Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre.
Many others have cancelled travel plans and will instead connect with loved ones over FaceTime or Zoom.
Ms Margaret Bullard, a public defender in Atlanta, said she and her husband have taken every precaution since the onset of the pandemic, which came soon after the birth of her nine-month-old son. They drove from their home in Marietta, Georgia, to North Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with her in-laws, who have been equally fastidious in limiting potential exposure to Covid-19.
"As much as we would like to see some other family members, we know that we would be taking a much bigger risk by doing so," said Ms Bullard, who is co-administrator of a Facebook group for "Covid-conscious" Georgians.
"There will be plenty of opportunities for get-togethers in the future if we all do what we can to stay safe."
Seoul Garden in Tampines Mall closed for disinfection after visit by customer later found to have Covid-19
SINGAPORE - The Seoul Garden outlet in Tampines Mall, which was visited by Singapore's latest Covid-19 case in the community, has been closed until further notice.
When reporters visited the restaurant at about 10.50am on Friday (Nov 27), a Seoul Garden employee was putting up a notice that read: "We are closed. Sorry for the inconvenience caused."
The worker told reporters it will be closed until further notice, as the restaurant was preparing for disinfection. It was last open on Thursday.
Reporters understands that it was waiting for an external company to disinfect the premises, and that an officer from the National Environment agency had spoken to the restaurant's staff.
Around noon, two staff from professional cleaning firm Clean Solutions arrived at the outlet, carrying a high pressure jet cleaner and containers of cleaning solutions.
After decking themselves in full protective gear, masks and goggles, they disinfected the food counters, windows, tables and pillars in the restaurant with the high pressure jet cleaner. They also wiped down the cashier's counter, and items such as credit card terminals. The two Clean Solutions staff left the outlet after about an hour.
"After disinfection, we will wash the crockery again, wipe the tables, sweep and mop," said the restaurant's manager.
Some customers arrived just before lunch at Seoul Garden, but they walked off after seeing the notice.
On Thursday night, the Health Ministry (MOH) said that a Singaporean, who works as a service engineer, had dinner with 12 family members at Seoul Garden last Saturday before he developed a fever and sore throat on Monday. That was when he was tested for Covid-19.
The Master Systems Marine employee's job entails going on board vessels docked at Marina South Pier and West Coast Pier for servicing and maintenance of ships' navigational systems.
He became Singapore's first locally transmitted Covid-19 case in 16 days.
SINGAPORE - Male Singapore citizens and permanent residents born between Oct 1, 2003, and Jan 1, 2004, must register for national service from next month.
Registration begins on Dec 2, and ends on Dec 22, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement on Friday (Nov 27).
Registrants may apply online or in person at the Central Manpower Base (CMPB) Podium at 3 Depot Road.
Online registration is recommended, as there might be a queue for walk-in registration.
Registrants can apply online or in person to postpone their enlistment to complete their studies in Singapore. They must do this after they register for NS but before they start service.
If successful, the registrant will receive further notice as to when he must report for enlistment and go for his medical examination.
All other registrants who do not meet the postponement criteria or are unsuccessful in applying for it, must pick a date between Jan 27, 2021 and March 2, 2021 for their medical screening, and turn up on the appointed date at CMPB from 8am to 1pm.
Under the Enlistment Act, all male citizens and Singapore PRs are liable for NS registration upon reaching the age of 16½ years old.
SINGAPORE - The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) opened a new dialysis centre on Monday (Nov 23), the first to be built within a hospital compound so patients can access different medical treatments more easily.
The dialysis centre is located within Yishun Community Hospital (YCH), which is adjacent to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH).
KTPH is an acute hospital where patients receive short-term treatments like operations for severe injuries or illnesses, while community hospitals like YCH focus on their recovery afterwards.
With the new centre, a dialysis patient discharged from KTPH after heart surgery, for example, can receive both rehabilitative care and dialysis at YCH. Likewise, a dialysis patient at YCH who requires acute treatment can be easily transferred to KTPH.
Keppel Corporation donated $2 million to the NKF for the new dialysis centre.
Keppel chief executive Loh Chin Hua said: "Through this partnership, Keppel hopes to support NKF in ensuring that its patients are able to receive safe and convenient dialysis treatment."
The new dialysis centre is equipped with 22 stations which can serve up to 132 haemodialysis patients. They are treated by inserting two needles - one to remove the blood and the other to return cleansed blood to the body.
Unlike other NKF centres which only offer haemodialysis, this centre can cater to a wider group of patients, as it also offers peritoneal dialysis, where a cleansing fluid is introduced into the abdomen through a tube.
Mr Tim Oei, chief executive of NKF said: "This centre provides comprehensive services to support patients who choose peritoneal dialysis as their preferred mode of treatment."
Six members of 12-person gathering on Lazarus Island fined $3,000 each for flouting safe distancing measures
SINGAPORE - Six people have been fined $3,000 each for taking part in an unlawful gathering on Lazarus Island amid the Covid-19 outbreak on Aug 8.
They were part of a 12-person gathering on the island that violated Covid-19 regulations, which prohibited social gatherings of more than five people who do not stay in the same place of residence.
Natalie Joanna Sarkies, 29; Zoe Louise Cronk, 30; Jeff Richard Alexander, 32; Lowri Mair Jeffs, 31; Richard Henri Lagesse, 31, and William Edwin Dunford, 32, had each pleaded guilty to an offence under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act.
Sarkies is Singaporean while the rest are British.
According to court documents, the unlawful gathering took place between 11am and 6pm on Aug 8.
Another member of the group, 32-year-old Briton Paul Jonathon Gold, was fined $3,000 on Oct 14.
The cases for the remaining five - Helen Ann Sullivan, 30; Joshua Adam Roth, 31; James Riby Oram Trimming, 31; Luong Thi Thu Ha, 31, and Edward John Joseph Lee-Bull, 32 - are still pending.
If found guilty of the offence under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act, first-time offenders can be jailed for up to six months and fined up to $10,000.
Repeat offenders can be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $20,000.
SINGAPORE - A woman who poured hot water on her boyfriend's groin, thinking he was cheating on her, was sentenced on Thursday (Nov 26) to four years' jail.
Zareena Begum P. A. M. Basheer Ahamed, 50, was found guilty by District Judge Brenda Tan of voluntarily causing grievous hurt after a trial which ended on Sept 28.
The man was hospitalised for 26 days and unable to work for about six months as a result of the incident, which occurred while he was asleep.
He suffered second- and third-degree burn injuries over 12 per cent of his body.
In submissions at the end of the trial, Deputy Public Prosecutor Ng Jun Chong said the two became a couple in 2006 but over the course of their relationship, broke up several times while accusing each other of cheating.
On Jan 12, 2017, Zareena saw her boyfriend at the HarbourFront Centre ferry terminal with a woman, someone Zareena suspected had been having an affair with her boyfriend since 2015.
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.
The DPP said she grew furious when she saw messages from the other woman to her boyfriend.
"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," said DPP Ng.
Zareena boiled water before pouring a mugful on her boyfriend's pants, over the groin area.
The man shot up in extreme pain and asked Zareena why she did this to him, to which she replied "serve you right".
Zareena, who was represented by defence lawyers S. S. Dhillon and Suppiah Krishnamurthi, had argued that the entire incident was an accident.
She claimed she woke her boyfriend up and asked to check his phone, but this lead to an argument.
As she left for the kitchen, where she had been boiling water for a drink, he followed her.
Zareena claimed in court that while holding a mug of hot water, the man pulled on her left arm, causing the contents to spill onto his groin area.
Dr Chew Khong Yik, who attended to the victim, testified that the burn injuries suggested that he was lying down when the hot water was poured on him.
He described 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.
On Thursday, Mr Dhillon told the court that Zareena intends to appeal against her conviction and sentence. Her bail has been set at $30,000.
An offender convicted of voluntarily causing grievous hurt with a heated substance can be jailed for life or jailed up to 15 years with a fine or caning. Zareena cannot be caned as she is a woman.