WHO says many countries 'heading in wrong direction' as global coronavirus cases rise above 13 million
WASHINGTON - Coronavirus infections rose above 13 million across the world on Monday (July 13), according to a Reuters tally, climbing by one million in just five days in a pandemic that has killed more than half a million people.
World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there would be no return to the old normal for the foreseeable future, with too many countries headed in the wrong direction.
"Let me be blunt, too many countries are headed in the wrong direction, the virus remains public enemy number one," he told a virtual briefing from WHO headquarters in Geneva. "If basics are not followed, the only way this pandemic is going to go, it is going to get worse and worse and worse. But it does not have to be this way."
The Reuters global tally, which is based on government reports, shows that the disease is accelerating the fastest in Latin America. The Americas account for more than half the world's infections and half the deaths.
Parts of the world, especially the United States, with more than 3.3 million confirmed cases, are seeing huge increases in a first wave of Covid-19 infections, while others "flatten the curve" and ease lockdowns.
Other places, such as the Australian city of Melbourne and Leicester in England, are implementing a second round of shutdowns. Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, albeit with a low 1,522 cases, is tightening social distancing measures again amid growing worries about a third wave.
The US reported a daily global record of 69,070 new infections on July 10. In Brazil, 1.86 million people have tested positive, including President Jair Bolsonaro, and more than 72,000 people have died.
The US state of Florida reported a record increase of more than 15,000 new cases in 24 hours on Sunday, more than South Korea's total since the disease was first identified at the end of last year.
Coronavirus infections were rising in about 40 US states, according to a Reuters analysis of cases for the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks.
Yet US President Donald Trump and White House officials have repeatedly said the disease is under control and that schools must reopen in the autumn.
"The President and his administration are messing with the health of our children," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on CNN's State Of The Union programme.
"We all want our children to go back to school, parents do and children do. But they must go back safely."
STAY AT HOME
Hungary has imposed new restrictions on cross-border travel as of next Wednesday in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after a surge in new cases in several countries, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff said on Sunday.
The leader of the Spanish region of Catalonia called on residents of an area that has seen a surge in coronavirus cases to stay at home despite a ruling by a judge who threw out a mandatory lockdown order for the district of 160,000 people.
Spain, which has been one of the European countries worst hit by the coronavirus, lifted nationwide confinement last month, when the pandemic seemed to have come under control.
The first case was reported in China in early January and it took three months to reach one million cases. It has taken just five days to climb to 13 million cases from 12 million recorded on July 8.
The number of cases is around triple that of severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to the WHO.
There have been more than 568,500 deaths linked to the coronavirus so far, within the same range as the number of yearly influenza deaths reported worldwide.
The first death was reported on Jan 10 in Wuhan, China, before infections and fatalities surged in Asia, Europe and later in the United States.
A WHO advance team has gone to China to investigate the origins of the new coronavirus, first discovered in the city of Wuhan. The team’s members are in quarantine, as per standard procedure, before they begin work with Chinese scientists, WHO emergencies head Mike Ryan said
India, the country with the third-highest number of infections, has been contending with an average of 23,000 new infections each day since the beginning of July.
In countries with limited testing capacity, case numbers reflect only a proportion of total infections. Experts say official data likely under-represents both infections and deaths.
WASHINGTON - The United States formally rejected most of China's contested claims to the South China Sea on Monday (July 13), issuing a statement that backed an international arbitral tribunal's ruling in 2016 that Beijing's claims are illegal.
"Beijing's claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them," said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in the US said it firmly opposed the statement, which it said deliberately distorted the facts and international law, exaggerated the situation in the region, and attempted to sow discord between China and other coastal states in the South China Sea.
"The US is not a country directly involved in the disputes. However, it has kept interfering in the issue," said the spokesman in a statement.
"We advise the US side to earnestly honour its commitment of not taking sides on the issue of territorial sovereignty, respect regional countries' efforts for a peaceful and stable South China Sea and stop its attempts to disrupt and sabotage regional peace and stability," the spokesman added.
In his statement, Mr Pompeo said the US was aligning its position with the tribunal's decision in 2016, which rejected China's maritime claims as having no basis in international law.
China claims swathes of the South China Sea within its "nine dash line", including waters and maritime entitlements within the exclusive economic zones of other coastal states like Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Those claims were rejected in 2016, almost exactly four years ago, by an international arbitral tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), in a case brought by the Philippines.
While Washington has objected to China's claims before, sending navy ships to the contested waters for freedom of navigation operations, analysts said that Monday's statement is the first time the US has definitively rejected the claims.
"The statements themselves represent an evolution, rather than a sharp break from, prior US policy towards the South China Sea. It makes certain positions which the US has implicitly held for many years more open and explicit," said Mr Patrick Chovanec, an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, on Twitter.
He added: "It potentially lays the legal foundation for the US to take more assertive action contesting China's efforts to control, and interfere with other countries activities, in the South China Sea...if it wishes and is prepared to do so."
In the statement, Mr Pompeo explicitly sided with South-east Asian nations, saying: "The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire. America stands with our South-east Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law."
"We stand with the international community in defence of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose "might makes right" in the South China Sea or the wider region," he added.
The Chinese embassy spokesman, however, said that China and other littoral countries have maintained dialogue and communication through consultation mechanisms on maritime affairs, and worked to promote cooperation over the South China Sea.
"Within the framework of fully and effectively implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, China and Asean countries are advancing the consultation on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and are making visible progress," said China's statement.
It also criticised the US for citing Unclos, pointing out that Washington has refused to ratify that international convention.
S'pore, Malaysia aim to set up commuting arrangements for long-term pass holders and essential travellers on Aug 10
SINGAPORE - Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to start implementing reciprocal green lane and commuting arrangements for long-term pass holders and essential business and official travellers.
The target is to have the necessary systems and processes in place on Aug 10.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein and Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan announced this in a joint statement on Tuesday (July 14).
The proposed Aug 10 date will give the relevant agencies of both governments time to finalise the standard operating procedures of the two initiatives, said the statement.
The requirements, health protocols and application process involved for entry and exit into Malaysia and Singapore will be published 10 days before their implementation.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Dr Balakrishnan wrote: “Singapore and Malaysia share deep and extensive ties, and cross-border people-to-people interactions and economic exchanges are important to both countries.”
“Through these travel arrangements, we hope to progressively and safely restore these exchanges and address the needs of different groups of travellers.”
The reciprocal green lane will allow travel for essential business and official purposes between the two countries. Those eligible will have to abide by measures, including taking Covid-19 swab tests and submitting their itineraries.
The periodic commuting arrangement will allow Singapore residents and Malaysia residents who hold long-term immigration passes for business and work purposes in the other country to enter that country for work.
After at least three consecutive months in their country of work, they may return to their home country for short-term home leave, and thereafter re-enter their country of work to continue work for at least another three consecutive months, said the statement.
Malaysia imposed a movement control order on March 18 to stem the spread of coronavirus cases in the country.
It has now entered a “recovery phase” since June, although its international borders remain shut.
On June 8, Singapore gradually reopened its borders by launching a “fast lane” agreement with China which allowed the resumption of essential business and official travel.
But restrictions apply, such as travellers having to seek approval from the authorities.
Currently, long-term pass holders arriving in Singapore – other than those who have spent the last 14 days in certain countries or regions – have to serve a 14-day stay-home notice period at dedicated facilities.
Malaysia and Singapore have also agreed to develop other schemes for cross-border movement, such as a daily cross-border commuting proposal for work purposes for travellers from both countries.
This will take into account the required health protocols and available medical resources in both countries to ensure the safety of the citizens of both sides.
Dr Balakrishnan said in the Facebook post that these other schemes will take time as the necessary public health protocols and available medical resources of both countries need to be considered.
“I would therefore seek the patience of fellow Singaporeans, as we navigate these challenges carefully.”
Singapore has started churning out ventilators to meet the global shortage as Covid-19 cases worldwide surged past the 13 million mark.
Home-grown medical device company Advanced MedTech, which is wholly owned by Singapore's Temasek, has received emergency approval from the Health Sciences Authority for its Alpha ventilator.
Even before emergency approval was received yesterday, it had already received inquiries and advance orders from countries like India and Indonesia.
It expects to ramp up production to about 200 a month before the end of the year, and eventually to 1,000 a month if it also receives non-emergency approval, which will allow the device to be used outside of an emergency.
Mr Abel Ang, the company's group chief executive, is confident the ventilator will meet international standards. The company has already filed for approval with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States.
He said the Alpha ventilator is the world's first telehealth ventilator and ideally suited for treating patients with infectious diseases.
Unlike conventional ventilators which have to be read and adjusted manually, it can be tweaked both manually as well as remotely with a computer.
This reduces the need for healthcare workers to gear up with personal protection equipment to take readings or make any adjustments.
This can be especially useful in large countries, as it enables an expert to manage several telehealth ventilators from a central location.
Since the device is controlled over the Internet, distance is not a factor, said Mr Ang.
He added that the use of a ventilator is complex, and not just a matter of fitting the patient onto the machine and switching it on.
"Weaning the patient off a ventilator is equally important. If it is not done correctly, a patient may still die," he said.
The machine, which weighs less than 4kg, is also portable, with a battery life of three hours.
This way, if a patient is put on a ventilator in an ambulance, the same ventilator can go with the patient into the hospital - instead of having to take the patient off a portable ventilator and plugging him into one at the hospital, Mr Ang said.
The company started looking at manufacturing ventilators following Temasek's "battle cry" to all its subsidiaries early in the year to take up arms against Covid-19.
When Covid-19 exploded globally in February and March, countries were scrambling for ventilators since patients who are seriously ill usually need help with breathing for several days.
Despite the soaring prices, there was a massive shortage globally, which has still not been resolved.
Countries whose healthcare systems were overwhelmed had mortality rates of more than 10 per cent, while those that were able to cope well had rates of about 1 per cent.
In March, Mr Ang contacted ABM Respiratory Care - a small medical device company with offices here, in India and the US - which has an FDA-approved respiratory device for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to help them cough out phlegm.
He asked if the device could be converted into a ventilator as both types of equipment pump air into the lungs. Advanced MedTech invested US$10 million (S$14 million) to facilitate the research needed to convert it into a ventilator and for its manufacture.
With local production of ventilators, Singapore hospitals are guaranteed a supply. But Mr Ang said he does not want something that is only for the current pandemic.
He expects continued demand, given the Alpha ventilator's advantage in remote control.
Several hospitals in India have rejected cheap, rapidly produced ventilators that work only if a tube is inserted into a patient's lung - claiming that such invasive treatment, if not required, could harm Covid-19 patients whose lungs are already affected by the disease.
Mr Ang said the Alpha ventilator is able to provide both invasive and non-invasive oxygen: "We did not want to offer an overly simplified ventilator to the market."
The firm plans to add another floor to its plant in Tuas, which was opened only two years ago, so production can be ramped up.
Pricing will be competitive, he said. Hospital ventilators cost around US$25,000 each while travel ventilators used in ambulances sell for US$10,000 to US$15,000 each.
The Alpha ventilator will retail for less than US$10,000, Mr Ang said.
Case numbers in foreign worker dormitories have not come down as fast as expected, a clear sign that there are hidden reservoirs of infection there, experts said.
What makes the situation harder to control is that many of the workers who are infected are likely to show no symptoms, allowing the virus to continue spreading.
While most of the dorms have been ring-fenced - with workers segregated and isolated - the spread can continue in an undetectable fashion since most foreign workers are young and healthy, and those who get Covid-19 may be asymptomatic or very mildly symptomatic, said Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.
He had previously predicted that the cases in foreign worker dormitories would fall below 100 by the end of last month.
However, such a drop is taking longer because the outbreak happened in an environment where transmission was faster than expected, with so many workers living in close proximity.
"It will take a while longer to clear all the dormitories," he said.
Dorm infections hit a high of around 1,400 new daily cases on April 20. They have been hovering between 100 and 200 new cases daily since the end of last month but rose to 306 new cases yesterday.
The Health Ministry said that the higher number of cases yesterday is mainly due to fewer tests being conducted by Covid-19 testing laboratories over the public holiday last Friday as well as on Saturday, with the backlog of samples being cleared from Sunday.
Dorms have been steadily cleared with about 70 to 80 per cent of the workers set to be cleared by the end of this month, multi-ministry task force co-chair Lawrence Wong said at a briefing on June 25.
Not all dorms have the same rates of infection, with some more badly affected than others.
Said Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health: "Not all dorms have been affected to the same degree, and the least badly affected ones may still have potential for infection to 'sneak in' through asymptomatic residents."
Infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam is also disappointed at the numbers that continue to test positive in dormitories, as he had expected infections to have tapered off by now.
Noting that some of the workers he had encountered had only very mild symptoms, he said: "These workers did not meet anyone or go to work, and were confined in their quarters, suggesting that there is active asymptomatic transmission among them.
"We can do better."
NEW YORK - New Jersey adopted a stringent coronavirus face-mask order on Wednesday (July 8), and New York City unveiled a plan to allow public school students back into classrooms for just two or three days a week, as Covid-19 cases soared elsewhere in the United States.
Officials in New Jersey and New York, the hardest-hit states at the outset of the US outbreak, want to preserve progress against the virus in the face of its resurgence elsewhere, primarily the US South and West.
More than 47,000 people have perished from Covid-19 in the two north-eastern states, accounting for more than a third of the US death toll of more than 132,000, according to a Reuters tally.
More than 60,000 new Covid-19 infections were reported across the United States on Wednesday, the greatest single-day national tally of cases yet since the virus emerged late last year in China.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy unveiled an executive order requiring face coverings outdoors where social distancing was not possible, saying the measure was necessary because of a rise in the state's coronavirus transmission rate.
"Wearing a face covering, I remind you, is not about politics. It's about quite simply being sick or healthy. It's about life and death," Murphy, a Democrat, said at a briefing.
Many states require masks in public indoor settings and recommend them outside, but have stopped short of mandating their use outdoors.
"I think that's the right thing to do," said Jordan Grant, 23, a real estate accountant who expressed dismay at seeing groups still congregating outside restaurants or at backyard barbecues without masks. "It's what we should have been doing months ago."
Republican state Senator Mike Doherty, however, accused the New Jersey governor of "exploiting a public health crisis for power", calling the new mask directive "oppressive".
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan for 1.1 million students in the nation's largest public school district to return to classes in September. Pupils would alternate attending school two or three days weekly and spend the remaining time at home.
'BACK TO SCHOOL'
Republican President Donald Trump, who has exhorted Americans to return to their daily routines, threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that fail to reopen on their normal schedule due to the coronavirus outbreak.
States are chiefly responsible for primary and secondary education, but the federal government provides some supplementary funding.
Vice-President Mike Pence said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would soon issue new back-to-school protocols after Trump criticised current recommendations as too strict and costly. But Pence stressed that CDC guidelines are advisory.
Coronavirus cases have been on the rise in 42 of the 50 states over the past two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis.
The percentage of people testing positive among those who are screened has climbed above 5 per cent- to levels health experts deem concerning - in some two dozen states.
On Tuesday, the number of confirmed US cases crossed the 3 million mark, roughly equivalent to 1 per cent of the population and about 25 per cent of all known infections worldwide.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who faces Trump in a Nov 3 election, described the grim milestone as "awful" and "avoidable".
He accused Trump of putting the nation in a precarious spot by not ramping up testing and deliveries of protective equipment.
The virus, which first surfaced in China late last year, is sweeping through a number of heavily populated states, including California and Texas, both of which reported their highest daily toll of Covid-19 deaths to date. Twenty states have reported record increases in cases this month.
PANDEMIC AND POLITICS
Houston, the largest city in Texas and the US oil industry’s hub, registered more than 1,000 new cases on Tuesday, a single-day record, Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted on Wednesday, calling the spread “severe and uncontrolled.”
Turner, a Democrat, ordered the cancellation of a Texas Republican Party convention scheduled for July 16-18 in Houston, citing public health concerns.
In neighbouring Oklahoma, Dr Bruce Dart, the top health official in Tulsa, said Trump’s campaign rally at an indoor arena in the city last month likely contributed to hundreds of new coronavirus cases over the past few days.
White House spokesman Kayleigh McEnany said she had seen no data to support Dart’s conclusions.
An outbreak at the Mississippi state Capitol in Jackson left 26 lawmakers and 10 others infected, prompting the governor to urge anyone who had contact with a legislator to get tested, the Mississippi Clarion Ledger reported.
The surge has forced authorities to backpedal on moves to reopen businesses, such as restaurants and bars, after mandatory closures reduced economic activity to a virtual standstill in March and April and put millions of Americans out of work.
In Arizona, one of the latest epicentres of the US outbreak, 91 per cent of all adult intensive care unit beds are occupied, the state health department said on Wednesday.
BRASILIA (BLOOMBERG) - Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro plans to put a four-month ban on fires in the Amazon and Pantanal regions in response to criticism from international investors and Brazilian companies about a surge in deforestation.
The decree is being drafted by the Environment Ministry, with a start date yet to be decided.
Last year, the government banned burning for 60 days before adding another 60 days. This year, it's going straight to 120 days to prevent another jump in uncontrolled fires in the dry season, which started in June.
The moratorium is one of the measures the administration will use to try to convince international investors that it's taking a stand against deforestation. The stricter rules for the Amazon and Pantanal regions won't apply in the Cerrado biome, a tropical savanna increasingly used for farming.
A video conference with businessmen and senior executives is scheduled for Thursday (July 9). In attendance will be Vice-President Hamilton Mourao, who chairs the Council of the Amazon, Central Bank president Roberto Campos Neto as well as ministers for the environment, agriculture and foreign affairs, said two people with knowledge of the event.
The far-right government has faced mounting pressure from investors and entrepreneurs to do more to protect the environment amid surging deforestation in the Amazon.
On Tuesday, a group of companies including pulp maker Suzano SA, meatpacker Marfrig Global Foods SA and agribusiness giant Cargill Inc sent a letter to the authorities stating that the negative perceptions are potentially damaging to both reputation and business prospects.
Amazon deforestation has surged in the past two years under the government of Bolsonaro, who defends opening up the world's largest rainforest to agriculture and mining.
In early June, Amazon Environmental Research Institute, known as Ipam, warned that an area 11 times the size of New York City could be incinerated in the dry season. In June, the first month of the dry season, fires in this biome rose to a 13-year high, National Institute for Space Research data show. In Pantanal, the world's largest wetland area, the number of fires this year through June is more than the double all of those recorded last year.
According to Ipam, smoke from fires may also inhibit Brazil's efforts to contain Covid-19 infections.
In a closed-door meeting in May, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles urged Bolsonaro to take advantage of global leaders' Covid-19 blinders to simplify regulations, according to a video of the gathering released by the Supreme Court.
More than 500 Covid-19 patients here who have recovered are part of an ongoing study to monitor the long-term effects of infection.
The effort, which will continue for up to two years, is helmed by the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID).
Numerous studies worldwide have found that the disease can wreak havoc on almost every organ, including the kidneys, liver, heart and brain. Patients have died not only from lung failure, but also from kidney failure, blood clots, liver abnormalities and neurological manifestations.
In Singapore, for example, a 41-year-old Covid-19 patient died of a massive pulmonary thromboembolism - when a blood clot gets lodged in the lungs, more than two weeks after he was discharged.
But most patients here do not suffer the long-term complications seen overseas, as many are young and do not develop severe infections, said Associate Professor David Lye, a senior consultant and director of the Infectious Disease Research and Training Office in NCID. He noted that a small number of them do suffer persistent lung issues and were referred to lung specialists. The death rate in Singapore from the virus is also among the world's lowest.
Agreeing, Associate Professor Sophia Archuleta, head and senior consultant of the division of infectious diseases at the National University Hospital, said that the recovery process has been predictable for the vast majority of patients here.
"It is unlikely that a year from now, someone will have a complication that wasn't on our radar earlier."
Doctors and scientists say, however, that the disease needs to be studied further.
"This is still a very new disease with only around six months of history, more research is needed," Prof Archuleta stressed.
This is where the NCID's study plays a crucial role.
For one, doctors are keen to find out if there is a link between Covid-19 and heart inflammation, amid mounting evidence that while the virus initially affects the airways and lungs, the inflammatory response of the body can affect the heart too.
Professor Tan Huay Cheem, a senior consultant and director at the National University Heart Centre, Singapore, explained that troponin, a blood cardiac marker, is found at elevated levels in up to 30 per cent of Covid-19 patients, a sign of heart injury possibly from heart inflammation or myocarditis.
Patients with myocarditis can go on to develop permanent enlargement and weakening of the heart, a result of a persistently overactive immune system, he said.
Explaining that the heart damage is caused by an immune response due to the infection rather than an attack by the virus itself, Harvard Medical School cardiologist Michael Gibson said: "To date, no virus particles have been found inside the heart muscle cells, although there have been numerous inflammatory cells seen surrounding the heart muscle cells."
NCID's latest study is part of a broader effort called Protect - A Multi-centred Prospective Study To Detect Novel Pathogens And Characterise Emerging Infections, which began in 2012 and aims to put novel pathogens under the microscope.
Under the scheme, information and biological samples are collected from all public hospitals here. NCID collaborates with public hospitals, Duke-NUS Medical School, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, and DSO National Laboratories - Singapore's defence research and development organisation.
Hospitals abroad are also tracking their patients. For instance, Johns Hopkins Hospital in the United States has a clinic exclusively dedicated to following up on Covid-19 patients from the intensive care unit or medical ward, and has seen more than 125 patients so far.
For most mildly symptomatic patients, they tend to experience fever, cough and fatigue. Some might have shortness of breath, muscle and joint pain and loss of smell and taste.
For those hit hard by the virus, however, the story is different.
For patients with severe symptoms and have to be placed under intensive care or need a ventilator to breathe, the side effects can come not just from the body's reaction to the virus, but also from being bed-bound for long periods.
Some, for instance, might suffer blood clots and might need blood thinners for several months. It is hypothesised that the virus enters the blood vessel lining, causing inflammation which results in clots.
Dr Dale Needham, a critical care physician at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a leader in the field of intensive care recovery, told The Straits Times that prolonged muscle weakness, lasting for months or longer, is not just limited to the limbs, but also extends to breathing muscles, since Covid-19 is a respiratory illness that attacks the lungs.
Post-Covid-19 care is needed not just for the body, but also for the mind.
Recovered patients can experience psychological effects ranging from mild adjustment to severe depression and anxiety disorders, said Dr Michael Yong, group chief in Psychological Medicine at the National University Health System.
"The causes range from the trauma of having the illness to being isolated from others; lack of contact with friends and family for some people like foreign workers; worries about finances and employment; to the guilt of being infected," said Dr Yong, who is also the head of the Department of Psychiatry at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.
SINGAPORE - Almost seven times as many Housing Board resale flats were sold in June compared with May, according to flash data released by real estate portal SRX Property on Thursday (July 9).
Estimates showed that about 2,450 HDB resale flats were sold in June, up from 364 the month before.
The surge in sales was likely due to the end of Singapore's circuit breaker period, said industry analysts.
ERA Realty's head of research and consultancy Nicholas Mak said: "Pent-up demand accumulated in the eight-week circuit breaker had driven HDB resale transaction volume in June 2020 to be 6.7 times the volume in the preceding month.
"During the circuit breaker period, potential home buyers and property agents were not allowed to visit and view any properties offered for sale. When buyers were allowed to view properties in June, the result was a sharp increase in transactions of HDB resale flats."
He added that the resale volume in June was also the highest monthly volume since July 2018, when 2,553 units were transacted.
"It was as if the HDB resale market was on steroids in June," said Mr Mak.
Christine Sun, head of research and consultancy at Orange Tee & Tie, cautioned that the significant spike in sales volume may be attributed more to a backlog of transactions and may not be indicative of a market recovery.
"Some transactions were delayed as certain procedures could not be finalised during the circuit breaker period, while some buyers were also waiting for the safe distancing measures to be eased before inspecting the units physically and making a purchase," she explained.
The number of resale flats sold in June 2020 was also 26.7 per cent higher than that of June 2019, when 1,936 transactions were made.
Four-room units were the most popular, making up 40.3 per cent of the flats sold, followed by three-room flats at 26.3 per cent and five-room flats at 24.1 per cent. Executive units made up 7.4 per cent, while the rest were two-room flats.
Despite the high sales figures, resale prices dropped by 0.2 per cent in June compared with May.
Mr Mak said the decrease indicated that many sellers were realistic about current market conditions.
Comparing 2020's second-quarter resale volume to that of the past four quarters, Ms Sun said that the quarterly sales were considered weak. About 3,200 flats were sold in Q2 2020, compared with more than 5,500 in each of the previous four quarters.
Mr Mak said that resale figures in July could remain relatively high at about 2,100 flats as pent-up demand continues to work its way through the public housing market, before returning to a more sustainable monthly volume of between 1,600 and 2,100 flats.
After low sales of less than 500 units in April and May, Ms Sun said the HDB resale market may continue to improve in the coming months if the pandemic situation remains under control in Singapore and the economy does not deteriorate drastically.
Al-Ansar mosque in Bedok resumes prayers after disinfection; visited 8 times by Covid-19 case between June 26 and July 2
SINGAPORE - Al-Ansar Mosque in Bedok North was notified by the Ministry of Health on Tuesday (July 7) that a confirmed case of Covid-19 had visited the mosque for evening prayers eight times between June 26 and July 2.
As a precautionary measure, the mosque was closed from the evening of July 7 until July 8 to allow for comprehensive cleaning and disinfection.
The mosque resumed prayer services on July 9, and Friday prayers will be carried out as planned on July 10.
These are the times when the individual with Covid-19 was in the mosque:
June 26 - 8.43pm to 8.59pm
June 27 - 7.25pm to 7.39pm and 8.36pm to 8.54pm
June 28 - 7.21pm to 7.38pm and 8.40pm to 8.58pm
June 30 - 7.21pm to 7.35pm
July 1 - 8.32pm to 8.55pm
July 2 - 8.34pm to 8.51pm
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) advises members of the public who have been to Al-Ansar Mosque at these specified times to monitor their health closely for 14 days from their date of visit.
They should seek treatment if they do not feel well.
Due to the processes that mosques have put in place, the individual was traced, Muis said in a statement on Thursday.
Contact between worshippers at the mosque was transient because of restrictions on the amount of time they can spend in it, Muis added.
The Health Ministry has confirmed that other worshippers are at low risk of being infected.
Muis would like to remind the community to remain vigilant, follow all safe management procedures stipulated by the mosques, and stay home if unwell.
In particular, vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and children, and those with chronic respiratory conditions, are strongly encouraged not to come to the mosques and to perform their prayers at home instead.
"With everyone's cooperation, we can keep Covid-19 at bay and progressively resume more activities at the mosques in time to come," added Muis.