SYDNEY: Australia is introducing enforced quarantine by midnight on Saturday (Mar 27) for citizens returning home from overseas and will deploy armed forces to ensure people already subjected to self-isolation measures are complying.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said everyone arriving by plane would be detained in a hotel in the city of their arrival for two weeks, toughening up the previous self-isolation requirements.
Morrison said returning Australians accounted for around two thirds of the country's more than 3,000 coronavirus cases, making it the "biggest issue" to be addressed.
"As time has gone on, the risk of those who are returning from other parts of the world actually increases," Morrison said in a televised briefing.
Australia has already closed its borders to everyone but Australian citizens or residents returning home.
The Australian Defence Force would be deployed to check on people who have already been instructed to self-isolate at their home, Morrison said.
Health officials, meanwhile, stressed that local transmission remains a serious risk and they were keeping an eye on the rate of the increase in cases.
Australia has reported 13 deaths from the pandemic so far.
SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it was aware of scammers using automated voice calls or impersonating its staff members and COVID-19 contact tracing personnel.
Fraudsters have requested personal information from people, including financial details; or have asked them to collect documents from the ministry, MOH said in an advisory on Friday (Mar 27).
According to Scam Alert’s website, numerous people have come forward with similar experiences.
One person said on Friday they had received a call from MOH in both English and Chinese about an outstanding “urgent matter” and that “medical benefits will be ceased in two weeks’ time”. They were asked to press "9" on their phone for further assistance.
“Upon pressing '9', it was connected to an operator (guy) who spoke in Chinese … He then asked if I could speak in Chinese,” the person wrote on Scam Alert.
A day earlier, another person reported a similar case and sensed something was wrong.
“I received this automated call in Chinese saying it's from MOH (and) was redirected to someone who also spoke in Chinese asking me if I (had) received any messages from MOH,” the person said.
“I felt it was off ... He said they had a Chinese department and then told me to go down to collect documents at MOH’s office. I told him I'll check later myself and he just hung up.”
Another person commented on Mar 22: “It’s so immoral to call people during this time of COVID-19, especially pretending to be from staff of MOH.”
Scam Alert’s website shows complaints of such calls date back to at least a week ago.
"MOH WILL NOT ASK FOR YOUR FINANCIAL DETAILS DURING CONTACT TRACING"
In its clarification, MOH said: “MOH will not ask for your financial details during contact tracing; and MOH will not ask you to collect documents from us, if you do not have existing matters with us.”
“When in doubt, please verify the authenticity of phone calls by calling MOH hotline at 1800-333-9999.”
Earlier this week, nightclub Zouk was the target of unverified claims. A message circulating on social media said that a student with COVID-19 had visited Zouk.
The club and its employees have neither been issued a quarantine order, nor did it receive any notice from health and government authorities on such an incident, a Zouk spokesperson said.
There were also rumours online of an impending lockdown last weekend in Singapore that National Development Minister Lawrence Wong debunked.
"There is a rumour going around on WhatsApp - some of you may have heard the rumour - that there is going to be a lockdown in Singapore this weekend. Can I just make it very clear - there is no lockdown," Mr Wong said in a press conference last Friday.
SINGAPORE: A teenager who robbed a 7-Eleven store, as he felt hungry and wanted to mimic movie scenes, was sentenced to two years and nine months' probation on Friday (Mar 27).
Jacob Seow, now 19, has to undergo a violence prevention programme and perform 150 hours of community service. He had pleaded guilty last month to one charge of robbery, which had been reduced from armed robbery.
Seow had taken a fruit knife from his kitchen and gone to a 7-Eleven outlet at Block 403A, Fernvale Lane, on Aug 3 last year.
He placed a chocolate bar on the cashier's counter before pointing his knife at the 21-year-old store assistant and demanded money and cigarettes.
After the victim said he could not open the cash register, Seow took six packets of cigarettes and a Cheesy Chicken burger from the fridge.
He strangled the victim with both hands as he wanted to make him faint and delay him from calling the police.
"Fearing that passers-by would enter the store, the accused stopped strangling the victim. Instead, he thanked the victim for allowing him to steal the cigarettes and left the store," said Deputy Public Prosecutor Sean Teh.
He changed into a set of clothes that he had brought with him, before heading to a basketball court where he ate the burger and smoked a stolen cigarette.
A police report was made after the robbery. Seow had wanted to rob a second store, but changed his mind as he did not have more clothes to change into, the court heard.
Defence lawyer Ashwin Ganapathy had asked for probation for Seow and the prosecution did not object. Mr Ganapathy said his client was young and that this was his first brush with the law.
He said Seow's reason for the offence was that he had seen movies involving robberies and felt the sudden urge to mimic them.
"When probed further as to why our client wanted to mimic the robbery scenes he had seen on the television, our client merely kept silent and periodically asserted that he was wrong and 'evil' to do such a thing," said the defence counsel.
Seow's mother and her partner furnished a bond of S$5,000 to ensure his good behaviour.
For robbery by night, he could have been jailed between three and 14 years and given at least 12 strokes of the cane.
HONG KONG: From being duped into taking poisonous "cures", to watching businesses crumble and avoiding life-saving medication, people are suffering devastating real-world impacts of a deluge of online virus misinformation.
As the new coronavirus that has killed more than 20,000 people causes markets to crash and sets scientists scrambling for a solution, rumours and false claims are fuelling confusion and deepening the economic misery.
The effects can be tragic – in Iran, one of the hardest-hit countries, more than 210 people died from drinking toxic alcohol after claims circulated online that it could treat or ward off COVID-19, the official Irna news agency reported.
Dangerous fake cures debunked by reporters include consuming volcanic ash and fighting infection with UV lamps or chlorine disinfectants, which health authorities say can harm the body if used incorrectly.
Another remedy that "kills the coronavirus", according to misleading social media posts, is drinking silver particles in liquid, known as colloidal silver.
"I am making colloidal silver now. I have asthma and does it really work ... worried/stressed over virus. Does this help if I take a teaspoon a day. New to this ..." said a post by a user named Michelle in a public Facebook group, alongside a photo of a jar of water with a metal rod in it.
The side effects of taking colloidal silver can include a bluish-grey skin discoloration and poor absorption of some medicines including antibiotics, according to the US National Institutes of Health.
But this has not put some people off. An Australian man who said he regularly buys the concoction told reporters it had "sold out in my town ... but before the virus, I could always get some".
Cocaine and bleach-like solutions are also among the risky fake cures touted online. "No, cocaine does NOT protect against #COVID-19," the French government tweeted in response.
BUSINESSES HIT HARD
As panic buying leaves supermarket shelves empty around the world, some Indian traders and farmers have had the opposite problem – people shunning their products due to false information.
Retailers in Delhi told reporters they had stocked up on Chinese-made goods such as toy guns, wigs and other colourful accessories ahead of Holi festival earlier this month.
"Misinformation about Chinese products – that they might transmit coronavirus – caused a downfall in the sales of Holi goods. We witnessed a reduction in sales of around 40 per cent compared to previous year", said Vipin Nijhawan from the Toy Association of India.
The World Health Organization has said the virus does not last long on inanimate surfaces, so it is unlikely imported goods would remain infectious even if contaminated.
The rapid spread of information online means that when scientists discuss as-yet unproven theories, anxious patients can take unnecessary risks.
Confusion has been sparked by letters and theoretical papers published in scientific journals about whether some types of heart medication can raise the chance of developing a serious form of COVID-19.
This has prompted health authorities across Europe and America to advise heart patients - already more at-risk for the disease - to continue taking their drugs.
Carolyn Thomas, who runs a blog for women living with heart disease, said dozens of her readers had contacted her for advice after seeing tweets warning about ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers.
"Until I get in to see my own cardiologist, I'm still taking my own drugs, even as I wonder if they are increasing my own vulnerability to catching the virus," Thomas, who is self-isolating at home in Canada, told reporters.
"I'm afraid to take them, yet I'm afraid to stop," she said.
Professor Garry Jennings, chief medical advisor for Australia's Heart Foundation, said the theoretical papers were "based on a number of factors which are all disputed" and warned that if patients stopped taking their medication there could be an upshot in heart attacks and deaths.
"In the absence of any other evidence that it's actually happening, and with the knowledge that these drugs are beneficial ... it's not a good idea to stop," he said.
And a man died in the US from taking a form of chloroquine - hailed by President Donald Trump as a potential "gift from God" remedy" - after he took a form of the drug his wife had used to treat her pet fish.
The woman told reporters: "I saw it sitting on the back shelf and thought, 'Hey, isn't that the stuff they're talking about on TV?'"
Banner Health, a non-profit health care provider based in Phoenix, said on its website that "a man has died and his wife is under critical care after the couple, both in their 60s, ingested chloroquine phosphate, an additive commonly used at aquariums to clean fish tanks."
SINGAPORE: The validity period for a Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) for Malaysia-registered vehicles will be extended until Jun 30 to help Malaysians who have opted to stay in Singapore during the period of Malaysia's movement control order, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Thursday (Mar 26).
“Many Malaysian workers have chosen to remain in Singapore as Malaysia’s movement control order is in force,” LTA said, referring to the order that bars Malaysians from travelling overseas during the COVID-19 outbreak.
On Wednesday, the movement control order, initially set to finish at the end of the month, was extended by two weeks until Apr 14.
Malaysian motorists will not need to submit any application for the extension, LTA said in a Facebook post.
“They will however, need to ensure they have sufficient value in their Autopass cards for Singapore’s VEP fee, Reciprocal Road Charge (for foreign cars only), ERP charge and toll payments before driving out of Singapore,” it added.
“They should also update their vehicle insurance validity dates using the VEP digital service to cover the full duration of their stay in Singapore.”
SINGAPORE: Travellers arriving in Singapore from 9am on Friday (Mar 27) will be notified of their stay-home requirement via email before they arrive in the country, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said in a news release on Wednesday.
The move will enable travellers to be notified of the requirements in advance, instead of only during immigration clearance in Singapore.
They will also be warned in advance of the penalties they face should they fail to comply with the 14-day stay-home notice.
Singapore has been progressively tightening its border restriction measures as the country seeks to tackle a rise in COVID-19 cases, many from overseas Singaporeans returning home.
As part of new measures to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak, all travellers - including residents and long-term pass holders - arriving in Singapore from 9am on Friday will have to submit a health declaration online before proceeding with immigration clearance.
They can submit the declaration up to three days before arrival.
Upon submission of their health declaration, travellers will be sent an acknowledgement e-mail.
They will also receive a reminder of the stay-home notice requirement, 24 hours before their arrival.
After they land, travellers will need to show the acknowledgment e-mail - either a mobile device or a print-out - to ICA officers.
Those who do not have an acknowledgment e-mail will face delays while clearing immigration, said the authority.
Anyone who does not comply with a stay-home notice requirement may be fined up to S$10,000, jailed for up to six months, or both.
Other penalties included the shortening of the validity or total revocation of various passes that enable them to stay in Singapore. Students may face disciplinary action, including suspension or dismassal.
As of Wednesday, Singapore has confirmed 631 cases of COVID-19. The country has seen two deaths related to the disease, a 75-year-old Singaporean woman and a 64-year-old Indonesian man.
Recent days have seen a spike in the number of imported cases, and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has warned the country to to prepare for an "expected surge" in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks.
Earlier this month the authorities announced that all Singaporeans, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors returning from overseas will be issued a 14-day stay-home notice.
NEW DELHI: India's billion-plus population went into a three-week lockdown on Wednesday (Mar 25), with a third of the world now under orders to stay indoors, as the coronavirus pandemic forced Japan to postpone the Olympics until next year.
Financial markets soared after a catastrophic month as the US Congress looked set to pass a mammoth stimulus bill, joining the world's central banks in combatting the crisis with major cash injections.
Donald Trump voiced hope that the United States would be "raring to go" by Easter, which falls on Apr 12 for most Christians, but despite the president's optimism, more governments are taking unprecedented action to stop potential virus-carriers going out and about.
India ordered its 1.3 billion people - the world's second-biggest population - to stay at home for three weeks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "total lockdown" call doubled the number of people around the globe under some form of movement restriction to more than 2.6 billion people.
"To save India, to save its every citizen, you, your family ... every street, every neighbourhood is being put under lockdown," Modi said in a televised address.
But China, where the new virus emerged last year, loosened tough restrictions on the 50 million people in its epicentre province of Hubei on Wednesday after a months-long lockdown as the country reported no new domestic cases.
The city of Wuhan - the initial ground zero of the outbreak after it was initially detected at a market that sold wild animals for human consumption - will allow residents to leave from Apr 8.
The pandemic has cut a swathe through the world's sporting and cultural events, and on Tuesday claimed the biggest of them all: the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tried to sound an optimistic note, vowing that the rescheduled Games in 2021 would be "a testament to mankind's defeat of the new virus".
It marks the first time that the world's biggest sporting event, set to open on Jul 24, has been delayed in peacetime.
Across the planet, the grim COVID-19 toll mounted further, with more than 18,200 deaths and 405,000 declared infections, half of them in Europe according to an AFP tally.
The medical situation is still critical in Europe, where hardest-hit Italy had mixed news.
The Mediterranean country's death toll shot back up to 743 after two days of slight decline from a world-record peak of 793 on Saturday. But officially registered new infections rose just eight percent for the second straight day.
Elsewhere Ireland ordered non-essential businesses shut, Britain planned a 4,000-bed emergency hospital in London and Spain called for practical support from the NATO military alliance.
Countries in Africa, where health systems are often fragile, are also ramping up their response to the virus as cases and deaths rise.
And nearly 130 million Americans, or 40 per cent of the population, are under or will soon come under some lockdown order, including in the largest state of California.
Many governments are listening to health experts who warn the only way to slow the epidemic - and save the lives of the elderly and vulnerable - is by imposing "social isolation" measures on a population.
But Trump is not convinced the move is worth the enormous economic cost.
"A lot of people agree with me. Our country - it's not built to shut down," he told reporters. "You can destroy a country this way by closing it down."
Global markets finally started to recoup some of the losses seen in the February bloodbath.
The Dow Jones Industrial Index on Tuesday surged 11.3 per cent, its biggest rally in percentage terms since 1933 during the Great Depression.
The massive rise comes as US legislators reported headway on a US$2 trillion rescue package that would be the largest emergency spending effort ever and inject cash both into the hands of consumers and businesses.
"Of the few outstanding issues, I don't see any that can't be overcome in the next few hours," top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said after meeting Trump's negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The US Federal Reserve earlier unveiled an unprecedented bond-buying programme, in a move not seen since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.
And finance ministers and central bank chiefs of the Group of Seven major industrial democracies have vowed to "do whatever is necessary to restore confidence and economic growth and to protect jobs, businesses, and the resilience of the financial system".
Asian equities rallied again on Wednesday, with Tokyo up 5.7 per cent at the break, while Hong Kong, Sydney, Singapore and Wellington all gained more than two per cent.
SINGAPORE: A police officer who was entrusted to collect lost-and-found wallets at a police station filched the cash inside and used it for his own expenses instead.
For one count of criminal breach of trust by a servant, 24-year-old Isaac Lim Jun Cheng was jailed for three months on Wednesday (Mar 25).
The court heard that Lim was employed by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and attached to the Pasir Ris Neighbourhood Police Centre as a ground response force officer.
He took a total of S$207 in cash from wallets that had been found and handed to him on three occasions between June 2018 and November 2018.
Two of those incidents took place in June 2018 and August 2018, when he took at least S$27 in total and used it for his own expenses, the court heard.
He lodged reports to document receiving these two wallets, but deliberately omitted mentioning the cash when describing the wallets' contents, in order to avoid detection.
HAWKER GIVEN WALLET, TRIED TO RETURN IT
On Nov 18, 2018, a woman went to Tampines Neighbourhood Police Centre and reported losing her wallet, a coin purse, personal cards and cash, saying she had last seen her belongings when having lunch at Changi Village Hawker Centre two days ago.
A passer-by had found her wallet and passed it to a drinks stall hawker, Mr Balakrishna Kandasamy.
Mr Balakrishna noticed cash and cards in the wallet and recognised the picture on the NRIC, as the woman was a regular customer of his.
He kept the wallet with him, intending to return it to the woman if he saw her again. However, she did not turn up and Mr Balakrishna asked his son to help return the wallet to the address listed on the cards.
No one was at home when the boy went there to the address. Mr Balakrishna then took the wallet to Pasir Ris Neighbourhood Police Centre at noon on Nov 26, 2018, to hand it over to the police.
Lim, who was on duty that day, attended to him and took the wallet before asking Mr Balakrishna to leave.
Lim removed S$180 in cash from the wallet and kept it in his own pocket, and did not lodge a report documenting receipt of the woman's wallet.
He contacted the woman and told her that her wallet had been found, but when she went to the station to collect it, she realised that the cash was missing.
She asked Lim about it, and Lim lied to her that the wallet had been found by the side of a road.
He spent the money on his own expenses, but the truth came to light when the woman ran into Mr Balakrishna at the hawker centre.
The woman told the hawker about the missing notes, and Mr Balakrishna told her that he had seen them inside the wallet when he handed it over to the police.
Suspecting something amiss, the woman lodged a police report about the missing cash and investigations uncovered Lim's actions.
For criminal breach of trust as a servant, Lim could have been jailed for up to 15 years and fined.
Reporters has contacted SPF for more information.
SINGAPORE: Some stations along the East-West and North-South lines will close early between April and June for maintenance and renewal works, said SMRT on Wednesday (Mar 25).
In April, four MRT stations on the East-West Line from Bedok to Paya Lebar will close earlier at about 11pm on Apr 3, Apr 4, Apr 17, Apr 18, Apr 24 and Apr 25, said the operator in a media release.
In May and June, five stations on the East-West Line from Dover to Lakeside, and three stations on the North-South Line from Jurong East to Bukit Gombak, will close earlier at about 11pm on selected Fridays and Saturdays, SMRT added.
The early closures will take place on May 15, May 16, May 29, May 30, Jun 5, Jun 6, Jun 12, Jun 13, Jun 19, Jun 20, Jun 26 and Jun 27.
During the closures in May and June, train services between Queenstown and Buona Vista stations will operate as a two-way shuttle with longer service intervals of up to 12 minutes.
"This arrangement allows train services to continue between these stations using a single track, while facilitating the turn-around of trains for the rest of the EWL (East-West Line)," said SMRT.
SHUTTLE BUS SERVICES
To maintain connectivity between Aljunied and Tanah Merah train stations, shuttle bus service 7 will be provided for affected commuters during the early closures in April.
Shuttle bus service 2 will take commuters between Buona Vista and Boon Lay stations in May and June, while shuttle bus service 4 will ferry commuters between Jurong East and Choa Chu Kang stations during the same period.
The buses will pick up and drop passengers at designated bus stops near the affected MRT stations at two- to five-minute intervals.
As the timing of the last trains departing from each station will vary, commuters are advised to check the departure times at the affected stations or on SMRT Trains’ website and social media platforms, said the operator.
"More time will be needed to travel between the affected MRT stations using the shuttle bus services," it said.
The additional engineering hours will be primarily used to carry out installation of 22kV power cables as part of the power supply system renewal works, SMRT explained.
"Where feasible, the installation of railway noise barriers and replacement of track circuits will also be carried out along the early closure sectors in May and June 2020," it said.
PHOENIX, Arizona: An Arizona man has died and his wife is in critical condition after they ingested chloroquine phosphate - an aquarium cleaning product similar to drugs that have been named by President Trump as potential treatments for coronavirus infection.
The couple, in their 60s, experienced immediate distress after swallowing the drug, an additive used at aquariums to clean fish tanks, according to Banner Health Hospital in Phoenix.
Chloroquine phosphate shares the same active ingredient as malaria drugs that President Trump has touted as possibly effective against COVID-19, the potentially life-threatening disease caused by the coronavirus.
On Saturday (Mar 21), Trump tweeted about the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, saying it had “a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine”.
The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, played down that claim, saying the therapy must be tested to assure its safety and efficacy.
"Chloroquine, a malaria medication, should not be ingested to treat or prevent this virus," Banner Health said in a statement on Monday.
The new coronavirus, which causes the highly contagious COVID-19 respiratory illness, emerged in December in Wuhan, China and has spread throughout the world.
There are currently no vaccines or treatments approved for the disease, but researchers are studying existing treatments and working on experimental ones. At the moment, most patients can only receive supportive care.
“Given the uncertainty around COVID-19, we understand that people are trying to find new ways to prevent or treat this virus, but self-medicating is not the way to do so,” said Dr Daniel Brooks, Banner Poison and Drug Information Center medical director.
Brooks urged the medical community to not prescribe chloroquine medication to any non-hospitalised patients.
“The last thing that we want right now is to inundate our emergency departments with patients who believe they found a vague and risky solution that could potentially jeopardise their health.”