Singapore Breaking News
S'pore schools offer mental health support to students affected by River Valley High School incident
SINGAPORE - Schools around the island have told students that they can approach teachers and counsellors to discuss Monday's (July 19) alleged murder at River Valley High School, which has shaken the nation.
At least six notices have been sent since Tuesday evening by principals of multiple primary and secondary schools, including St Margaret's Primary School and Maris Stella High School, addressing the incident and offering psychological support to their students and staff.
The Straits Times understands that several principals spoke about the incident during school assemblies - including at Juying Secondary School and Singapore Chinese Girls' School - on Wednesday to remedy any anxieties.
On Tuesday, a 16-year-old student from River Valley High School was charged with murder in a district court. He cannot be named as he is under 18 years old.
A few principals also prayed for the families and students affected by the tragedy.
Over at Methodist Girls' School, principal Grace Ng appealed to parents in a letter to help their children process the incident, while offering help from school counsellors and form teachers.
Ms Ng said: "It will be important to help our children understand that this is indeed an exceptional incident and tragedy, and that schools remain a safe and caring space due to the systems we have in place."
In a notice to parents and guardians, Mrs Mary Seah, principal of School of the Arts Singapore (Sota), outlined how its teachers will talk to students about the alleged murder, which included acknowledging that it is normal to fear and worry for their safety, as well as the tightening of school security.
Mrs Seah added in the letter: "In spite of all these rules, security features and emergency preparedness, the mental health of our students remains the most important factor as we learn from this incident."
Parents told ST that they are rattled by the incident and concerned about how to discuss what happened with their children as young as Primary 1, some of whom have heard about the incident from their friends and classmates.
A 48-year-old housewife who wanted to be known as Mrs Kam said: "I had to stabilise myself before talking to my children about the incident. I never thought it would happen on our shores."
Her two children attend Maris Stella High School and St Margaret's Secondary School, which have taken different approaches in addressing the matter either by speaking to the students directly or asking them to pen down their thoughts in class.
She said: "Whether or not a letter was sent to parents, it gives me peace of mind that schools are trying their best to help students."
Mrs Esther Foong, whose children, aged eight and 10, attend Rulang Primary School, added: “I think the school did a good job (in helping pupils to understand the incident) because my daughter told me how she learnt to show more care and concern for her friends.”
The 36-year-old co-founder of The Treasure Box Sg, which equips and provides resources for families, added: "We have been having conversations to help our children understand the incident.
"I think everyone plays a part, not just teachers, in helping students to be more gracious in their speech and actions as well as looking after their mental welfare."
For many parents, the incident has been a reminder to pay attention to their children's mental health.
Said Mrs Kam: "It's a wake-up call to us parents on how we speak to our children - to not be too strict with their studies and to check up on them."
Housewife Pichaya Sretthoe, 44, whose daughter is a Secondary 1 Sota student, said parents at the school have started a survey to see how they can help support their children's mental well-being.
She said: "This incident does not make me feel less confident of school safety, as this could happen anywhere... I am more concerned about how I should deal with my own kid at home - how to help her have a healthy mind, and how to prevent her from having dangerous thoughts that may result in her harming herself or others."
SINGAPORE - With Singapore returning to heightened alert on Thursday (July 22), some tuition centres were again focused on offering virtual lessons, citing safety reasons, although in-person tuition classes may continue with class sizes of up to 50.
Principal of Knowledge Trail Learning Centre Darrin Tan said classes were moving online for the safety of their students and staff.
"The students do not need to travel to attend our lessons and this will also help reduce the risks of community transmission as well as minimise the risk of student intermingling," he told The Straits Times.
Co-founder of Integral Learning Academy Alex Lim, 34, said that he was concerned over the increasing number of primary school pupils testing positive for Covid-19.
He has decided to adopt a hybrid approach of virtual and physical lessons until Aug 18.
But others said there are real benefits to in-person classes that online alternatives cannot match, and a hybrid of both suits different learning styles.
Chief executive of Indigo Education Group Isaac Lim, 40, said: "While some students have coped well with online lessons, others prefer in-person lessons as they are experiencing 'Zoom fatigue' and find it difficult to focus. With the year-end school and national examinations looming, it is crucial we offer a range of options to ease our students' anxiety and prepare them well."
There are challenges to going online, such as weak Internet connections, and malfunctioning of the student's camera and audio instruments.
Mr Lim of Integral Learning Academy noted that learners at the primary level especially seem less engaged online.
Demand for tuition centres has not diminished, especially for children taking national examinations.
That demand is high has helped defray the financial costs presented by the pandemic for tuition centres.
Ms Theresa Ho, assistant general manager at Learning Point, said the centre's costs increased by over 20 per cent during Covid-19, after installing air ionisers in classrooms and using more digital tools for online learning.
Parents The Straits Times spoke to welcomed having in-person classes for their children, but also accept that hybrid models of learning are necessary during Covid-19.
Accountant Surbhi Palta, 39, said her eight-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter were easily distracted during their virtual classes. She said: "I found my kids losing focus easily, and many times I caught them checking their mobiles."
Technical support officer Irene Tan, 43, added that some school lessons can be missed, scaled down or rushed through during the pandemic.
She said: "My children do not like one-to-one tutoring as they feel pressured that the tutor's whole attention is on them for one to two hours.
"Tuition centres also have benefits like learning with peers and picking up good ideas from them."
SINGAPORE - A former director at an automation firm was jailed for two weeks on Thursday (July 22) for assaulting a private-hire car driver while intoxicated.
American Andrew McKee Bowles, 50, previously a managing director at Automation Anywhere, pleaded guilty to voluntarily causing hurt to Mr Ng Chee Siang.
Just hours before the incident on Aug 16 last year, Bowles attended a social gathering at Robertson Quay at around 2.30pm and he consumed alcoholic beverages.
One of his friends noticed that he was intoxicated at around 7pm.
The friend then booked a private hire vehicle to take Bowles home at Orange Grove Residences in Orange Grove Road.
Mr Ng arrived soon after in his car, the court heard.
The 41-year-old Singaporean noticed that Bowles' gait was unsteady and he was reeking of alcohol.
The American slipped into the rear passenger seat and nodded off. The two men did not communicate or interact with each other throughout the journey.
Bowles was still asleep when Mr Ng arrived at the drop-off point at Orange Grove Residences at around 7.30pm.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Kenny Yang said: "The vehicle's automated rear sliding door opened and this roused the accused from his sleep. The accused mumbled incoherently and refused to get off the vehicle."
Mr Ng then flashed the headlights of his car at the property's security officer to seek his assistance. The officer approached the car and recognised Bowles as one of the residents there.
The DPP added: "At this juncture, the accused suddenly leaned forward to the driver's seat and hit the victim's face with his elbow. The victim alighted from his vehicle and the accused followed suit.
"The accused then chased the victim around the vehicle and hurled vulgarities."
Bowles tried to punch Mr Ng but missed and fell onto a grass patch.
The security officer alerted the police and Bowles was then taken home by his wife.
Mr Ng went to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and was found with tenderness to his jaw.
The court heard that Bowles has since made more than $200 in restitution to him.
Defence lawyers Rakesh Vasu and Farhan Tyebally pleaded for Bowles to be given a fine, stressing that he is very remorseful.
The lawyers from Gomez & Vasu said: "Upon hearing from his wife of the events which occurred, Andrew was in deep shock because the actions displayed whilst he was in such an inebriated state were absolutely out of character."
They added that Bowles immediately went to a police station and gave his statement to an investigation officer.
For voluntarily causing hurt, an offender can be jailed for up to three years and fined up to $5,000.
SINGAPORE - Scientists from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have developed a bicycle helmet that could be cheaper for cyclists, while offering them greater protection from accidents.
They said their prototype, using a new carbon-reinforced thermoplastic, is tougher, stiffer and less brittle than helmets with an outer shell made of polycarbonate.
"Our prototype helmet has been subjected to a barrage of internationally-benchmarked tests and has demonstrated the ability to provide greater protection for cyclists compared with conventional helmets", said Associate Professor Leong Kah Fai of the NTU School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who led the team behind the prototype.
Speaking at a media briefing on Thursday (July 22), Prof Leong added that his team is exploring options to scale up the manufacturing process of the helmet, but it could be two to three years before the prototype is commercialised.
The helmet's outer shell consists of Elium, a new thermoplastic resin, reinforced with carbon fibre. This composite allows the outer shell to absorb more energy on impact over a longer period of time, while dissipating it more evenly throughout the helmet.
As a result, less force is transferred to the user's head in the event of an accident and the risk of critical injury is reduced.
The tests are the same as those conducted by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The team said their prototype meets the CPSC 1203 certification, an internationally-recognised safety standard for helmets.
Dr Bhudolia Somen Kumar, a research fellow at NTU and a member of the team, said they found that about 75 per cent of impact energy is absorbed by the foam layer of polycarbonate helmets, which is in direct contact with the cyclist's head.
In contrast, the outer shell of the team's helmet absorbed more than 50 per cent of impact energy, leaving less energy - about 35 per cent - for the foam layer to absorb.
Dr Somen added: "When the helmet hits a surface at high speed, we noticed that there is a deformation... which means the outer shell is taking more load and absorbing more energy.
"This is what you really want - the more impact absorbed by the shell, the less of it that reaches the foam, and so there is less overall impact to the head."
The thermoplastic resin Elium was developed by French specialty materials giant Arkema, an industry partner of NTU.
As Elium is liquid at room temperature and can be moulded without higher temperature processing, the team said their helmet is easier to produce.
Prof Leong said it would offer the same protection as high-end helmets on the market, but at the price of mid-tier helmets, which cost between $100 and $150.
His team is also considering a range of other potential applications for composite materials that use Elium, such as in other high performance sports equipment, and in the electrification sector, he added.
The team, which includes research associate Goram Gohel, and master's student Elisetty Shanmuga, is supported by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research under the Research Innovation Enterprise 2020 Plan.
SINGAPORE - The usual din was missing at wet markets, hawker centres and coffee shops as tighter Covid-19 safety rules kicked in on Thursday (July 22).
When The Straits Times (ST) visited wet markets at Telok Blangah, Geylang Bahru, Amoy Street, Toa Payoh West and Potong Pasir in the morning, many fishmongers had closed their stalls.
Stallholders have to receive a negative polymerase chain reaction test result before they can open for business. This follows the detection of Covid-19 cases linked to the Jurong Fishery Port cluster at several wet markets here. The cluster recorded a total of 454 linked cases as at Wednesday.
Some of these markets have also made it mandatory for visitors to use the TraceTogether (TT) contact tracing app or token, among other stricter rules rolled out from Thursday.
For instance, Geylang Bahru market has been fenced off with an orange plastic mesh, leaving only an entrance and an exit. At the entrance and exit points, a safe distancing officer was seen enforcing the use of TT to check into the venue.
It was a similar set-up at two other wet markets that reporter visited: Block 201C Tampines Street 21 and Telok Blangah Crescent Block 11 Market and Food Centre.
Ms Jean Tan, 48, who visited Telok Blangah market, said she feels safer with TT check-ins being enforced. Ms Tan, who works part-time in the food and beverage industry, said: "The authorities will be able to track who goes where, because you don't know who is infected."
Hawker centres and coffee shops were also quieter on Thursday, the first day the no dine-in restriction kicks in. Patrons can only take away purchased food.
Additionally, the maximum group size has been reduced from five to two people. When ST visited five hawker centres and two coffee shops in the morning, people were mostly in pairs or moving about alone - even though short queues were seen at some stalls.
At Telok Blangah Crescent Block 11 Market and Food Centre, half of the food stalls were closed. Two safe distancing ambassadors were patrolling the area.
Stallholders said that the usual crowd had thinned as people were afraid to go out amid the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the community.
Mr Abdul Aziz, owner of Aziz and Family Malay Food at the food centre, said: "The situation is getting worse now. I can't blame anyone, but I hope the Government can give us more help."
He said he expected to earn only about 30 to 40 per cent of what he would on a "normal" day.
Others were frustrated with the constant reintroduction of restrictions.
Student G. Shaamini, 21, said she was not looking forward to spending her school holidays under the stricter rules. She was at Toa Payoh West Market & Food Centre in Lorong 1 to buy food.
"A month ago, the Government said that it had confidence that we could continue with our lives despite the number of daily cases but, within a month, we are back to square one. So I don't know under exactly what kind if conditions will we be able to continue our lives normally even with clusters and growing cases," she said.
Briton charged over failure to wear mask on MRT train now accused of same offence outside State Courts
SINGAPORE - A man who was filmed not wearing a mask on an MRT train in May is now accused of failing to don one within and outside the State Courts building between 9.57am and 10.33am on July 2.
Benjamin Glynn, 40, appeared in a district court on Monday (July 19) and was handed his latest charge - his second under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act.
The Briton, who had been released on bail of $5,000 earlier this month, had his bail revoked on Monday.
Glynn first appeared at the State Courts on July 2 and was not wearing a mask when he arrived at the main entrance of the building. He put one on after a security officer asked him to do so.
He was later charged with one count each of harassment, being a public nuisance and an offence under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act.
He was walking outside the State Courts building after his court proceedings on July 2 when he was caught on video with his mask off.
His three charges on July 2 involved him allegedly failing to wear a mask while travelling on an MRT train from Raffles Place to Holland Village stations between 11.06pm and 11.31pm on May 7.
He then allegedly caused annoyance to the public during the trip by declaring: "I will never wear a mask."
In a video circulating on social media, the Briton is seen telling the other commuters: "I'm very religious... I hate seeing uncles, granddads with a mask on."
He then rejects a mask when a fellow commuter offers him one.
The video also shows a commuter leaving her seat when he sits down next to her.
On May 9, Glynn was at the ground level lift lobby of the Allsworth Park condominium in Holland Road at around 12.30am when he allegedly used threatening words while addressing two police officers - Assistant Superintendent Alvin Quek Chin Han and Inspector Chee Xiu Quan.
The Briton is said to have hurled an obscene word at them when he said: "I'm going to... drop you." He is also alleged to have adopted a "boxing stance". He has been charged with harassment over this incident.
Glynn's pre-trial conference will be held on July 23.
For each charge under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act, an offender can be jailed for up to six months and fined up to $10,000.
If convicted of harassment, an offender can be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $5,000.
Those convicted of being a public nuisance can be jailed for up to three months and fined up to $2,000.
SINGAPORE - Dining in and other mask-off activities that carry a higher risk of Covid-19 infection will be banned once more when Singapore reverts to phase two (heightened alert) measures from Thursday (July 22) till Aug 18.
All food and beverage (F&B) establishments, including hawker centres and foodcourts, will be allowed to offer only takeaway and delivery services during this period, the Ministry of Health said on Tuesday. Cinemas, too, must not serve food or drinks.
Wedding receptions are the sole exception to the ban on dining in.
"We acknowledge that wedding couples have faced significant uncertainties over the past few months," said MOH.
"Hence, as a special provision, wedding receptions may be allowed to continue."
However, pre-event testing must be conducted for all attendees, and the reception must be limited to 100 attendees in total. Group sizes will remain capped at five people per table.
"This will allow couples to continue with their wedding plans, albeit with some adjustments," said MOH, adding that all attendees must nonetheless strictly abide by the prevailing safe management measures, maintain social distancing and avoid mingling with others beyond their own table.
The ministry also strongly discouraged unvaccinated individuals from attending such events until they are fully vaccinated.
Following Tuesday's announcement on the tightened Covid-19 measures, the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) called on the Government to make it mandatory for landlords to offer rental rebates.
RAS president Andrew Kwan said most F&B operators have been operating at a reduced seating capacity of 40 per cent on average.
"Business has suffered in unprecedented ways, resulting in huge struggles for F&B operators," he said.
Mr Kwan added that most landlords have not offered any rebates beyond what the Government extended to tenants in government-owned properties despite the tighter measures in place during phase two and phase three.
He said RAS is asking the Government to make it mandatory for landlords to "meaningfully assist" F&B tenants and give rebates in proportion to lost revenue.
Personalised care services that involve patrons removing their masks, such as facials, saunas and make-up services, must also cease. The same goes for strenuous indoor exercise classes or sports activities involving participants removing their masks.
Indoor classes where individuals keep their masks on, as well as outdoor activities, can continue with class sizes capped at 30 and groups capped at two.
Activities that involve singing and the playing of wind instruments will also not be allowed.
These restrictions will not apply to medical and dental consultations that require patients to have their masks removed, but non-medical facial treatments will not be exempted.
SINGAPORE - The mood in River Valley High School was solemn as students returned on Wednesday (July 21), two days after the alleged murder of a 13-year-old student on campus.
More than a dozen school staff and security officers stood at the gates to usher in students as early as 6.30am. Only minimal greetings were exchanged.
The school in Boon Lay was closed for Hari Raya Haji public holiday on Tuesday.
Parents, who were seen dropping off their children outside the school, waited as they entered the compound.
Many parents and students declined to comment when approached by the reporters
But one parent, who declined to be named, said her 17-year-old daughter – who had been asked about the alleged attack on a few occasions – was not comfortable answering any questions.
“The students are confused... investigations are still ongoing,” the parent added, noting that teachers in the school are doing their best to manage the situation. “School is still a safe space for students.”
River Valley High School has students from 12 to 18 years old and offers a six-year Integrated Programme, which allows them to skip the O levels and take the A levels in their sixth year.
Many students on Wednesday turned up with flowers to pay their respects to their schoolmate and left them at the school foyer.
On Tuesday (July 20), a 16-year-old student from the school was charged with murder in a district court. He cannot be named as he is under 18 years old.
He will be remanded at Complex Medical Centre in Lim Chu Kang Road for psychiatric observation and is scheduled to be back in court on Aug 10.
The police said in a statement on Monday that officers found the 13-year-old boy lying motionless with multiple wounds in a toilet.
An axe was seized as evidence when the 16-year-old was arrested.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that preliminary investigations suggest the older boy had purchased the axe online and that he had a history of mental health issues.
SINGAPORE - New Covid-19 cases have been detected among fishmongers working at Haig Road Market and Cooked Food Centre, Jurong Central Plaza and Shunfu Mart, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said.
In a statement on Sunday night (July 18), MOH said: "We are closely monitoring the situation and taking action to quickly contain and manage the cases, including contact tracing, quarantine and aggressive testing."
In its daily update, MOH also said its investigations have found likely transmission of the virus at four more KTV clubs: Maze Club at 2, Aliwal Street, China Doll at 1, Sophia Road, Club Myth at 1, Coleman Street and Martell W KTV Chivas at 6, Foch Road.
MOH said: "All visitors to the affected premises are advised to monitor their health closely, and minimise social interactions as far as possible, for 14 days from their date of visit or interaction. They are encouraged to see a doctor immediately if they feel unwell.
"We also advise all visitors to markets and food centres to avoid crowds and to do your marketing during off-peak hours or at supermarkets, and to strictly observe the safe management measures."
Singapore reported a total of 92 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, including 88 locally transmitted cases and four imported cases.
The local cases included 25 new cases linked to the KTV cluster, which now stands at 173 cases, and 42 new cases linked to the Jurong Fishery Port cluster, which now stands at 63.
Overall, the number of new cases in the community has increased from 17 cases the week before to 325 cases in the past week.
The MOH said it is likely that rising case numbers will be reported in the coming days as it steps up efforts to detect new cases to contain their spread in the community.
The number of unlinked cases in the community has also increased from eight cases the week before to 31 cases in the past week.
Speaking at the FairPrice Fresh Food Distribution Centre in Tagore Lane, she said Senoko Fishery Port has been activated, and major wholesalers have also been asked to increase their purchases so that they can continue to supply seafood.
"Our major supermarkets have also increased stocks so that they can substitute for the wet markets. We've some stocks of frozen and chilled seafood, so we don't expect disruption or our shops to run out of seafood," she added.
The assurance comes after Jurong Fishery Port was closed to help break the chain of Covid-19 transmission and enable deep cleaning. The closure will last for two weeks until July 31.
It handles about 30 per cent of the country's seafood imports, including those that arrive by land and air, said the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).
The Straits Times has contacted SFA on how it will be supporting the Senoko port, which has 35 merchants and between 700 and 1,000 customers daily, to ramp up operations.
The Jurong facility boasts more than 100 merchants and attracts up to 3,000 customers daily.
Ms Fu also said a number of fishmongers in wet markets have seen disruptions to their operations as they have been asked to go for testing as a precautionary measure.
The Ministry of Health said on Saturday that fishmongers from all markets will be tested for Covid-19.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesman for FairPrice said it immediately contacted suppliers to explore alternatives and boost existing deliveries, following the news on Saturday.
"Additional resources were quickly put in place to receive the fresh seafood, as well as manage the increase in demand over the next two weeks," he added.
The fish sold in FairPrice supermarkets are sourced locally and imported from places such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
Business has been brisk for local fish farms.
Mr Leow Ban Tat, chief executive of Aquaculture Centre of Excellence, which owns floating fish farm Eco-Ark, said sales on its website have doubled since Saturday.
Choices such as grouper and sea bass were snapped up.
Mr Malcolm Ong, chief executive of The Fish Farmer, said demand has doubled since Jurong Fishery Port was announced as a Covid-19 cluster last Friday.
He said: "Since then, my phone has been ringing non-stop. Usually, we harvest the fish when they have grown for 12 months. But during this period, we are harvesting earlier at 11 months so we can continue to supply fresh, safe and quality local fish at affordable prices.
"We usually plan the harvest according to forecast, but now we are increasing our harvest."
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