NEW YORK - The average number of vaccine doses being administered across the United States per day topped 2 million for the first time Wednesday (March 3), according to data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A month ago, the average was about 1.3 million.
President Joe Biden set a goal for the country shortly after taking office to administer more than 1.5 million doses a day, which the nation has now comfortably exceeded.
Mr Biden has also promised to administer 100 million vaccines by his 100th day in office, which is April 30.
As of Thursday, 54 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Johnson & Johnson's one-shot vaccine was authorised for emergency use Saturday, but those doses do not appear yet in the CDC data.
The milestone was yet another sign of momentum in the nation's effort to vaccinate every willing adult, even as state and city governments face several challenges, from current supply to logistics to hesitancy, for getting doses into people's arms.
Mass vaccination sites across the country are opening up or increasing their capacity, in part to respond to the new influx of doses from Johnson & Johnson.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that three short-term mass vaccination sites will open in the state Friday. Three other state-run sites, including one at Yankee Stadium, will begin administering shots around the clock.
In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp announced five new sites will open March 17.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has recently helped open seven mega-sites in California, New York and Texas that are staffed with active-duty troops. In Chicago, a vaccination site at the United Centre will open next week, with a capacity of 6,000 shots a day. Many more such sites are planned.
There have been some hiccups in the massive logistical challenge of distributing millions of doses across the country, with special requirements for storage and handling.
In Texas, more than 2,000 doses went to waste over the past two weeks, according to an analysis by The Houston Chronicle. A majority of those losses were blamed on blackouts that swept the state in February, leaving millions of homes and businesses without power, some for multiple days.
And Mr Biden has made equity a major focus of his pandemic response, saying he wants pharmacies, mobile vaccination units and community clinics that help underserved communities to help increase the pace of vaccinations.
Experts say that Black and Latino Americans are being vaccinated at lower rates because they face obstacles like language barriers and inadequate access to digital technology, medical facilities and transportation.
But mistrust in government officials and doctors also plays a role and is fed by misinformation that is spread on social media. In cities across the country, wealthy white residents are lining up to be vaccinated in low-income Latino and Black communities.
The president said Tuesday that the country would have enough doses available for every US adult by the end of May, although he said it would take longer to inoculate everyone and he urged people to remain vigilant by wearing masks.
The administration also announced it had brokered a deal in which drug giant Merck & Co will help manufacture the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The unusual agreement between two rivals in the pharmaceutical industry was "historic," Mr Biden said Tuesday.
"This is a type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War II."
Mr Biden was also going to invoke the Defence Production Act, a Korean War-era law, to give Johnson & Johnson access to supplies for manufacturing and packaging vaccines.
BERLIN - European authorities will offer a coronavirus vaccine to every adult in an Austrian district battered by a surge in infections to determine how effective the inoculation is against the variant first found in South Africa.
Starting next week, everyone aged 16 and older living in the Schwaz district, near the western Austrian city of Innsbruck, will be eligible for free shots of the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech, as part of the unique drive to learn more about fighting the variant.
The study in Austria is part of a much broader global effort to answer a crucial question as the virus mutates and new variants emerge: Do vaccinations designed last year work against more recent mutations? If not, scientists will have to keep developing new versions of the inoculations.
Laboratory studies have shown that some vaccines that work well against earlier variants are less effective - though they still offer significant protection - against the variant known as B1351, which was first found in South Africa in December and has become the dominant one there.
Real-world tests of those findings are still needed, and some combinations of variants and vaccines have not yet been tested, even in lab settings.
Authorities in the Schwaz district, in the state of Tyrol, appealed on Thursday (March 4) to residents to sign up for their vaccines by March 8, to allow for enough doses to be ordered and delivered for the study.
More than 20,000 residents, roughly one-third of all those eligible, registered in the first 24 hours, authorities said.
Earlier this week, Ms Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, agreed to allocate 100,000 extra doses of the vaccine to Austria, in exchange for allowing a multinational team of scientists to collect data from the mass vaccination in Tyrol.
The region has seen one of the worst outbreaks of the variant in Europe and Austria's chancellor Sebastian Kurz had been lobbying the European Union for extra doses to try to stop its spread.
"Our goal is to be able to massively halt, if not eradicate, the South African variant," Mr Gunther Platter, the governor of Tyrol, said, announcing the project on Wednesday. "We want to protect the people from this variant."
The pilot programme in Austria is the first such inoculation drive targeting a specific region within the EU, where the vaccine rollout has lagged among member states, far behind some other wealthy nations.
About 6 per cent of the bloc's people have received at least one shot, compared with 16 per cent in the United States, 31 per cent in Britain and 55 per cent in Israel.
"From a scientific point of view, it is an unbelievably important study where we can learn a lot," Dr Herwig Kollaritsch, a member of Austria's immunisation commission, said in an interview with public broadcaster ORF.
"It will also be beneficial to Pfizer, which is legitimate because these vaccines have not been on the market for very long and every day we acquire more knowledge that helps us to understand how to best use them," Dr Kollaritsch said.
But the success of the project is dependent on everyone being willing to take part. Officials hope to begin administering shots on March 11.
Dr Kollaritsch said it would take roughly one month for the full effect of the vaccine to take hold. Teams of scientists from Austria and abroad will be monitoring how well the vaccine prevents infection with the variant, a scenario that has not yet been clinically tested, he said.
SINGAPORE - A fire broke out in a three-room flat on the 11th storey of Block 456 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 on Friday morning (March 5), said the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) in a Facebook post.
A police spokesman said a 20-year-old man and a 48-year-old woman were unconscious when taken to the hospital.
He said the woman died from her injuries.
The police do not suspect foul play and investigations into the unnatural death are ongoing.
The SCDF said that at about 6.10am, it was alerted to the fire where the woman was found unconscious in a bedroom of the flat.
She was not breathing and had no pulse. SCDF responders performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on her.
It said the man was rescued from the kitchen toilet.
Both were taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital by the SCDF.
The pair were known by neighbours to be a mother and son.
SCDF said about 30 other people from the affected block were evacuated and its firefighters wearing breathing apparatus sets had to conduct forced entry into the unit.
It said on Facebook: "The fire had engulfed the living room due to the vast accumulation of combustible items within it.
"The firefighters' movement within the unit was severely impeded as they had to carefully manoeuvre over heaps of items to conduct firefighting operations."
The fire was extinguished with one water jet and one compressed air foam backpack, said the SCDF.
When The Straits Times visited the flat at about 10am, the corridor was cordoned off by the police.
Retiree Cheng Mok Yin, 60, whose flat is on the same floor, woke to the smell of smoke.
He said in Mandarin: "When I opened my door, I saw the police and SCDF officers knocking loudly on the door and eventually breaking into the flat."
Mr Cheng said he saw SCDF officers wrapping both victims in white bandages before moving them to the ground floor.
Student Thong Jia Rui, 27, said he heard a commotion and smelled smoke at about 6.30am.
He said he and his neighbours were evacuated by the SCDF.
SINGAPORE - A 38-year-old permanent resident was charged in court on Friday (March 5) for allegedly leaving his hotel room twice to meet his wife while he was under a stay-home notice (SHN).
Bai Fan, who is American, is said to have done this on Sept 19 and 20 last year.
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said he had arrived in Singapore on Sept 19 from China after transiting Hong Kong. His SHN was from that day to Oct 3.
Instead of remaining in Fairmont Singapore after checking in there, the man met his wife, who picked him up at the hotel.
On Sept 19, the couple spent about an hour and forty minutes together in a car in the vicinity of the hotel. The next day, they spent five hours together in the same car and drove to a carpark nearby as well.
His case has been adjourned to March 26.
Reminding members of the public to comply with SHN requirements to safeguard the community's health and safety, the ICA reiterated on Friday: "All travellers are to comply with the prevailing public health regulations and requirements in Singapore."
Those who fail to comply, including individuals who tamper with or remove the electronic monitoring device, or both, during the SHN period, will be liable to prosecution.
Violators can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for six months, or both.
Foreigners who breach the requirements may face further administrative action by the ICA or the Ministry of Manpower, and may have their permits and work passes cut short or revoked.
Members of the public can report information about those who fail to comply with stay-home notice requirements to the ICA at this website or call the ICA hotline on 6812-5555.
SINGAPORE - Cases of molestation have been on the rise in recent years, and penalties for these offences are set to be raised to allow the authorities to better deal with such crimes, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam in Parliament on Friday (March 5).
Between 2016 and 2020, an average of 1,190 outrage of modesty cases were reported each year; about 24 per cent higher than between 2011 and 2015, he said.
"We want egregious cases to be dealt with more severely," added Mr Shanmugam.
Following a review of the sentencing framework for hurt and sexual offences, the maximum penalties for molestation and two other sexual offences involving minors are set to be raised, he announced.
Those convicted of outrage of modesty could, in future, face a jail term of up to three years, compared with two years now. They could also be fined and/or caned.
This will send a stronger signal of deterrence, given the rise in molestation cases in the past four years compared with the preceding four years, Mr Shanmugam told Parliament in a ministerial statement on the recent review of the sentencing framework.
The proposal is also to raise the jail terms for those who perform sexual activities in the presence of minors, or who show sexual images to minors. These are victims between the ages of 14 and 18.
Offenders could face jail of up to two years on top of a fine, up from a maximum of one year now.
The review of the sentencing framework for hurt and sexual offences, announced last July, came after public disquiet over sentences meted out to those convicted of such offences in recent years.
This included a case of a dentistry student who tried to strangle his former girlfriend and put his thumb into her eye after she rejected him.
He will not have a criminal record after completing his sentence, which included a short detention order of 12 days and 80 hours of community service.
Mr Shanmugam said that the authorities have been constantly reviewing laws on sexual and hurt offences.
The latest review of the penalties, undertaken by the ministries of Home Affairs and Law, was conducted even after amendments to the Penal Code were made recently to strengthen protection for victims of sexual and hurt offences.
In the most recent review, penalties for other sexual and hurt offences under the Penal Code were also reviewed, including those for voyeurism, the distribution of intimate images and voluntarily causing hurt.
"In our view, the maximum penalties are properly calibrated for most of these offences," said Mr Shanmugam, though some areas have been identified so that they can be further fine-tuned.
SINGAPORE - A woman who abused her domestic worker multiple times was sentenced to six months' jail on Thursday (March 4).
Ong Si Mien, 39, had earlier pleaded guilty to three charges of voluntarily causing hurt to the 33-year-old Indonesian.
District Judge Eddy Tham took into consideration three other similar charges when sentencing Ong on Thursday.
The victim - identified only as Yulia - had arrived in Singapore on July 16, 2016. Ong was her first employer.
About two weeks after she moved in with the family, Ong became unhappy with the way she kept the kitchen and hit her on the head with a metal bowl.
The impact was hard enough to dent the bowl and cause pain to Ms Yulia.
After the domestic helper told Ong's husband that she wanted to return to the maid agency, Ong denied her request and scolded her for talking to him.
In another incident in August 2016, Ong scolded Ms Yulia for taking her shower later than usual. She then used a cordless phone to hit her head, causing her pain.
"However, the victim remained standing in front of the accused as one of the rules given by the accused was that she was to stay still when the accused was angry at the victim," Deputy Public Prosecutor Soh Weiqi had said in earlier proceedings.
Ms Yulia again requested for a transfer but Ong refused.
On Sept 24 that year, Ong slapped Ms Yulia after accusing the domestic worker of wrongly dressing up her four-year-old son. The domestic worker suffered a nose bleed as a result.
Ms Yulia took the opportunity to escape with her belongings when Ong later left the flat with her son.
The victim was in the Jalan Kayu area when she approached a stranger for help. The police were alerted and Ms Yulia was taken to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital where a doctor examined her and found her nasal bridge to be tender.
Ong's lawyer Amarjit Singh had earlier said in mitigation that his client is currently suffering from depression with anxiety features as well as borderline and obsessive compulsive personality traits.
He urged District Judge Tham to call for a report assessing her suitability for a mandatory treatment order (MTO). Offenders given MTO will undergo treatment for their mental condition in lieu of jail time.
But the judge rejected Mr Singh's suggestion on Thursday, noting that Ong's depressed state at that time did not justify her use of violence on the victim.
District Judge Tham said he would have taken a more sympathetic view of her case if she had stopped to reflect after abusing Ms Yulia the first time and taken remedial actions.
He added that Ong could still receive treatment for her mental condition while in prison.
The judge also granted her request to defer her jail term to April 1.
For each offence of voluntarily causing hurt to a domestic helper, Ong could have been jailed for three years, or fined up to $7,500, or both.
SINGAPORE - The owner of a water company was fined $3,500 on Wednesday (March 3) for operating a water bottling facility without a valid licence.
To fulfil outstanding sales orders at his company Drinkstar Enterprise, Richard Lim Lian Chye, 70, filled bottles with tap water from the company's toilet and sold them to customers.
The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) was alerted to this by feedback from the public. In December 2019, the agency conducted an investigation and found several empty 19-litre water bottles and water dispensers at 55 Serangoon North Avenue 4, where the company was located.
Lim was instructed to stop the bottling activities and recall the bottled water that had been sold.
Fifteen of the 19-litre water bottles were recalled and disposed of, said the SFA.
"Illegal bottling of water at unlicensed facilities poses a food safety risk," it said.
All water bottling facilities must be licensed and must meet SFA's requirements and food safety standards. The SFA also routinely inspects licensed water bottling facilities.
Those who illegally bottle water can be fined up to $5,000 for the first offence. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for up to three months, or both.
SINGAPORE - Climate change poses an existential challenge for Singapore, but the country's unique constraints mean the trade-offs it faces in cutting its emissions are much starker than what most other nations face, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Thursday (March 4).
Singapore has limited alternative energy sources, land and manpower, he pointed out.
"Our carbon emissions set real cross-cutting constraints on our development and the daily lives of Singaporeans," he told Parliament during a debate on the Government's sustainability plans.
But the country is attempting to break out of these constraints through careful, long-term planning and innovations in policy and technology, said Mr Teo, who is also coordinating minister for national security.
In a wide-ranging speech, he outlined how the nation is taking a considered, committed and collective approach to the global climate crisis.
The carbon tax, for one, which covers 80 per cent of Singapore's carbon emissions, better aligns the real cost of carbon emissions with the emitter, said Mr Teo.
He assured the House that the Government will be reviewing the trajectory and level of the carbon tax post-2023, in consultation with industry and expert groups.
"We seek a carbon tax level that will incentivise companies and consumers to switch to carbon-friendly products, services and activities, while promoting industry innovation and new green growth," Mr Teo added.
In terms of employment, Mr Teo also noted that the switch to cleaner energy will reduce demand for more carbon-intensive fossil fuels.
On March 3, ExxonMobil announced that it will be cutting about 300 positions from its workforce here by the end of the year. This came after fellow oil giant Royal Dutch Shell said last November that it would be axing 500 jobs here and halving the processing capacity on Pulau Bukom in the next three years.
But Mr Teo said demand for sustainable fuels, and higher value-added petrochemical products and specialty chemicals will grow.
These are needed for the modern green ecosystem, such as in solar panels, batteries, thermal insulation for buildings, and durable and lightweight parts for electric vehicles, he added.
He cited how Neste, the world's largest producer of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel, is expanding its production capacity here.
Companies will have to adjust their business models, and workers will have to shift to jobs in new areas of growth.
"Many of the major energy and chemical companies in Singapore have also committed to reach net zero by 2050," he added. "Singapore will partner them in this shift."
Under the Paris Agreement, Singapore's long-term goal is to achieve net zero emissions as soon as viable. Its shorter-term goal is to, by 2050, halve the amount of emissions it produces from its 2030 peak.
Responding to MPs such as Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) who had asked if Singapore plans to set more ambitious climate goals, Mr Teo assured them that these goals are not meant to be static.
"We will press ahead with the measures which are within our control, but how soon we can achieve net zero will become clearer as we gain experience from implementing our programmes, as technology evolves, and as the modalities for international collaboration become formalised," said Mr Teo.
For instance, in terms of energy, he pointed out that Singapore's ability to harness renewable energy is limited.
"Within our small land space, we need to accommodate not just housing, parks and commercial centres, but also power plants, reservoirs, air and sea ports, and industries. The trade-offs are real, and often, the choices are difficult ones. We cannot wish these away," said Mr Teo.
While Singapore does not have acres of land for extensive solar farms, it is tapping sunshine on other fronts - such as on rooftops and reservoirs, he said.
Construction for a new solar farm on Tengeh Reservoir started last year, and when up, it will be among the world's largest such facilities, generating enough solar power to meet the demands of our five local water treatment plants.
This will make Singapore one of the few in the world to have a fully green waterworks system, said Mr Teo.
Water and food security are also key national priorities for the country, he noted.
Singapore is leveraging science and technology to do so, he noted, pointing to Singapore' s fourth desalination plant in Marina East which started operations last year.
On the food front, the Government is encouraging farmers to harness technology through funding schemes, including the new Agri-Food Cluster Transformation Fund.
"We actively engage the Agency for Science, Technology and Research and our institutes of higher learning to develop novel, resource-efficient approaches for water and food production," said Mr Teo.
"These will help us break out of our constraints to secure our water and food, through careful long-term planning and innovations in policy and technology, and keep costs affordable while minimising carbon emissions," he said.
On the novel food front, Singapore became the first country in the world to approve the sale of cultivated chicken - manufactured in bioreactors and which will not involve the slaughter of a live chicken - last December.
He said that even as efforts are made to turn Singapore's constraints into opportunities, and to balance trade-offs with creative solutions, climate change is a challenge that requires all hands on deck.
He added that he was heartened that the House had unanimously passed a motion moved by Mr Louis Ng and several of his colleagues, that acknowledged the seriousness of the global threat of climate change.
The Singapore Green Plan 2030 - an initiative of five ministries - also reflects this Government's aspirations and commitment towards sustainable development.
"Many Singaporeans, especially young Singaporeans, are motivated and energised by this vision and want to play an active role," he said.
"Our desire is to partner every Singaporean to transform Singapore into a global city of sustainability."
SINGAPORE: Newly arrived migrant workers will soon be housed in centres where they will complete their stay-home notice, medical examination and orientation programme all at once.
Called the Migrant Worker Onboarding Centre, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Wednesday (Mar 3) the new facilities will help reduce the transmission risk from imported COVID-19 cases to the community “while helping these new workers to settle in better”.
The process, which starts on Mar 15, applies to workers entering the construction, marine and process sectors from “higher-risk” regions that include India and Bangladesh, where many of the workers are from.
Under the new arrangement, workers will serve their stay-home notice for a few days at hotels as they wait for the results of their on-arrival tests. Workers who clear these tests will move to the onboarding centres to serve their remaining quarantine period and complete their onboarding requirements under one roof.
The Migrant Worker Onboarding Centre will be piloted at five quick build dormitories in Punggol, Eunos, Choa Chu Kang and two at Tengah.
Currently, newly arrived migrant workers need to serve a 14-day stay-home notice at hotels before they move to a designated facility for the additional 7-day stay-home notice. Only after do they complete serving their stay-home notice can they leave the designated facilities and undergo their medical examination and their settling-in programme.
The onboarding process comprises both an “enhanced” medical examination and “residential” settling-in programme, MOM said in a press release.
The revised medical examination includes “detailed” record taking of medical history, and screening for chronic diseases for older workers or those with health risk factors.
“This will enable early identification of health risks and aid effective downstream patient care,” MOM said.
The medical examination form currently available on the ministry’s webpage on foreign worker medical examinations includes checking the worker’s medical history, for specific clinical abnormalities, and whether the worker is fit to work.
The website added that the assessment screens the worker for four types of infectious diseases: Tuberculosis, HIV, syphilis and malaria.
The residential settling-in programme is an “expansion” of the existing scheme, MOM said.
“Apart from learning about their employment rights and Singapore’s social norms, it also serves to inculcate appropriate health-seeking behavior, good hygiene habits, and good dormitory living and worksite practices.”
MOM added that the new system “brings together various entry processes as one efficient, integrated, and seamless end-to-end process”.
“For employers, this means greater convenience. For the workers, they will be able to start their employment in Singapore on the right footing,” it said.
“As the MWOC is a pilot, we will continually tweak our measures and processes to safeguard public health and benefit employers and workers.
EXPANDING THE FOREIGN EMPLOYEE DORMITORIES ACT
In his Committee of Supply speech in Parliament on Wednesday, Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng said the Government might extend the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act to all dormitories.
Currently, the Act only covers dormitories that house 1,000 or more workers.
About 60 per cent of 280,000 migrant workers stay in such dormitories, in which there are around 50 in Singapore. The rest stay in smaller facilities such as factory-converted dormitories and temporary housing on construction sites.
“Our experience in containing COVID-19 in the dorms highlighted the need to strengthen our regulatory levers in order to enable us to raise and enforce housing standards very quickly across the various dormitory types and sizes, and to introduce new housing standards to make dormitory living more resilient to public health risks,” Mr Tan said.
Currently, all dormitories - regardless of the Act - are subjected to regulatory requirements set by various government agencies in areas such as building and fire safety, minimum living and hygiene standards.
The Act imposes additional conditions including ones on public health and safety, security and public order, and provision of social and commercial amenities.
More details will likely be provided in the second half of this year, Mr Tan said.
The Government is also reviewing foreign workers' medical insurance coverage and will give an update later year, he added. It is also looking to finalise better dormitory standards by the end of this year.
In response to Workers’ Party chief’s Pritam Singh’s question on the number of migrant workers who were underpaid, and details of restitution made, Mr Tan said that between 2015 and 2019, 950 employers were caught for not paying the foreign employees their monthly salary or inflating the salaries with no intention of paying them the amount.
About 1,400 foreign employees were affected in these cases.
For not paying the salaries that are due to foreign employees, employers face up to 1 years’ jail and S$10,000 fine under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. They must also make full salary restitution to their employees.
Mr Tan said one way to reduce salary underpayment is by paying workers electronically.
As of January of this year, more than 97 per cent of employers pay their migrant workers living in dormitories electronically, he said.
For the rest, the ministry is in talks with tripartite partners to extend requirements for electronic payments to more workers, including locals and work permit holders who are not living in dormitories.
SINGAPORE - The National Parks Board (NParks) carries out rigorous tree inspections every six to 24 months, with trees that are close to areas with high pedestrian or traffic activity receiving more frequent checks.
The tree inspection regime follows the best management practices set by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), Minister for National Development Desmond Lee told Parliament on Wednesday (March 3).
"During a tree inspection, NParks' inspectors conduct a comprehensive visual examination of the tree crown, branches, trunk and roots to assess the tree's health and stability," said the minister.
"Trees that are found to have possible defects are subjected to an additional in-depth inspection, which involves the use of diagnostic equipment to assess the internal condition of the tree."
Mr Lee added that since November 2016 such in-depth inspections are also conducted annually for trees of more than four metres in girth, as a precautionary measure in response to changing weather conditions.
This goes beyond the ISA's prescribed best management practices, he noted.
The minister was responding to questions by Ms Hany Soh (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) and Mr Shawn Huang (Jurong GRC) on NParks' tree inspection regime, after a woman was killed by a 20m-tall tree that fell on her in Marsiling Park last month.
The minister said NParks has other measures in place to reduce the risk of such incidents, including targeted arboriculture treatments to improve general tree health and their ability to withstand severe weather conditions. Trees also receive regular pruning to remove weak, dry or overgrown branches, which improves their structure and balance.
NParks is also progressively replacing storm-vulnerable tree species with hardier variants and using technology to analyse risks and improve inspection processes.
It also offers training for NParks staff as well as tree care professionals in the private sector and other public agencies that manage trees.
Training is conducted by international and local arboriculture experts.
Mr Lee said training raises the standards of arborists here, who are also deployed under town councils and other agencies.
Staff of town councils and managing agents administering landscaping contracts can also attend training organised by NParks on plant health and other topics.
There are currently more than 620 arborists in Singapore who are accredited with the ISA. NParks also requires its tree maintenance contractors to have certified arborists in their teams, Mr Lee said.
While the number of tree failure incidents has been reduced almost nine-fold over the last two decades, from 3,100 in 2000 to 339 in 2020, Mr Lee noted that it is not possible to completely prevent tree-related incidents.
"Trees are living organisms that can be affected by pests and diseases, as well as environmental conditions. Even healthy and structurally-sound trees can fail during storm events due to exceptionally strong winds or heavy rainfall."
Ms Soh had also asked if NParks would consider measures like tree restraints and ensuring trees are placed in a way that would ensure they fall away from human traffic in the event of tree failure.
Mr Lee said NParks already uses tree support systems for trees that have reached maturity or have known structural weaknesses.
He gave the example of a lychee tree sitting atop Mount Rosie in the Novena area. The tree, which is over 100 years old, is supported by a permanent galvanised steel structure built to withstand elements.
But such systems can also constrain the growth of young or semi-mature trees or restrict their swaying movements during strong winds and may inevitably weaken the tree's structure, Mr Lee noted.
"NParks will study carefully what more situations we can use it (tree support system) in, but we also have to recognise that these structures can also pose safety issues if used without a care in park settings."
Mr Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang) asked how NParks works with town councils on tree inspections.
Mr Lee noted that NParks manages about 6 million trees in Singapore, while about a million are in areas under town council management. He said there are also trees managed by private property owners and other agencies.
"In relation to trees under the town councils, NParks works closely with agencies that manage trees, town councils and land owners to advise them on tree care standards."
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