Best of our wild blogs: 31 Aug 16

Sep 2016: Learn mangrove ID so you can help out in RUM surveys!
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative and The Leafmonkey Workshop

How many species of otter world wide?
Life's Indulgences

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26 more local Zika infections confirmed on Tuesday: MOH, NEA

Channel NewsAsia 30 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: Twenty-six more cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection have been confirmed in Singapore, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a joint statement on Tuesday (Aug 30). This is on top of the 15 cases confirmed on Monday and the 41 cases on Sunday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Singapore to 82.

In their media release on Tuesday, the agencies gave more details of the new cases: 17 of them live or work in the Sims Drive/ Aljunied Crescent area and five live or work in Kallang Way and Paya Lebar Way, north of Sims Drive/Aljunied. The authorities are investigating the remaining four cases for their links to the affected area.

The agencies added that another 111 individuals were tested negative over the last 24 hours.

Earlier on Tuesday, MOH urged all pregnant women in Singapore with symptoms of Zika to be tested for the virus, regardless of whether they had been to Zika-affected areas.


NEA added that as of Monday, it has inspected about 5,000 premises out of an estimated 6,000 premises in the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster to check for mosquito breeding, and also conducted ground checks in the vicinity. Thirty-nine breeding habitats – comprising 23 in homes and 16 in common areas/other premises - have been detected and destroyed.

NEA also said it served notices on more than 400 inaccessible premises in the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster to require the owners to contact NEA to arrange for an inspection, failing which NEA will proceed with forced entry. NEA has also inspected the on-site workers' quarters at the construction site at Sims Drive, where a number of cases work. The stop-work order on the construction site at Sims Drive is still in force.
NEA officers and grassroots volunteers have completed the first round of outreach efforts in the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster, to distribute Zika information leaflets, and will be continuing with outreach in the areas of concern to raise general awareness of Zika, reiterate need for source reduction to prevent mosquito breeding, and advise residents to apply repellent as precaution.

NEA said it would also begin vector control operations and outreach efforts in Kallang Way and Paya Lebar Way.


In addition to inspecting homes and their common areas, NEA is also inspecting construction sites and engages dormitory operators. It said: "The latter plays an important role in helping to prevent and stem Zika transmission in their premises by ensuring a clean and hygienic environment. Some good practices include engaging dedicated pest control operator(s) for mosquito control, ensuring and sustaining proper housekeeping, and ensuring that all workers/residents apply insect repellent regularly."

- CNA/dt

Singapore's health ministry advises pregnant women with Zika symptoms to get tested
Channel NewsAsia 30 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Clinical Advisory Group (CAG) on Zika and Pregnancy on Tuesday (Aug 30) urged all pregnant women in Singapore with symptoms of Zika, as well as those with male partners who are Zika-positive, to be tested for Zika virus infection. This is regardless of whether they have been to Zika-affected areas, MOH said in a news release.

Symptoms of Zika include fever and rash and other symptoms such as red eyes or joint pain.

Testing is not routinely recommended for other pregnant women who do not have symptoms of Zika and whose male partners are not Zika-positive, MOH added.
Testing for pregnant women as referred by their doctors, and who meet these criteria, is free at the public healthcare institutions. This is no different from the current practice for Zika testing for those with symptoms and who live, work or study in a Zika-affected area.

MOH said the clinical guidelines have been updated following the localised community spread of Zika virus infection in the Aljunied Crescent/ Sims Drive area. A total of 82 cases have been announced over the past four days.

The guidelines are in line with that of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s current guidelines and are being shared with obstetricians and gynaecologists (O&G), and neonatology and paediatric specialists in Singapore's hospitals, as well as all polyclinics and general practitioners.

MOH’s CAG on Zika and Pregnancy met on Tuesday to review and update the guidelines in light of the latest Zika situation in Singapore, it said.

While there is currently no evidence that women are more likely to get Zika virus infection, the consequences can be more serious if a pregnant woman is infected, as Zika virus infection can cause microcephaly in the unborn foetus of pregnant women, the health ministry said.

Microcephaly is a congenital condition in which the head size is much smaller than usual for a baby of the same age, race and sex. According to MOH, Microcephaly can be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors, such as Down Syndrome, exposure to drugs, alcohol or other toxins in the womb, rubella and a few other infections during pregnancy. There is no specific treatment for this condition, MOH stated.

If a pregnant patient is confirmed to have Zika infection, she will be referred to a maternal-foetal medicine specialist for counselling and advice and the O&G doctor may recommend regular ultrasounds to monitor for foetal growth and abnormalities, the health ministry said. MOH will also arrange for her to be admitted to a public hospital for further management and care if necessary.

"It is important to note that a positive Zika test does not mean that the foetus is infected or harmed. Depending on the population studied and the research methodology, the estimated risk of microcephaly associated with Zika virus infection during pregnancy can vary widely. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the risk of an infected mother giving birth to a child with microcephaly is between one to 13 per cent," MOH said.

- CNA/ly

Singapore manpower ministry urges worksites to step up Zika safeguards
Justin Ong Channel NewsAsia 30 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: Minister of State for Manpower Teo Ser Luck on Tuesday (Aug 30) said authorities have been taking steps to ensure all construction sites across Singapore install preventive measures against the Zika virus, which has so far infected 56 individuals locally.

Mr Teo spoke on the sidelines of a visit to the Sims Urban Oasis construction site, where 39 people have been infected. “I wanted to get some assurance that immediate measures have been taken, and I’m glad that when I inspected the site.. stronger measures have been taken,” he said.

“In fact before (the Zika cluster) happened, this worksite operator actually already had preventive measures in place. When it happened, they doubled and reinforced their measures - for example the number of mosquito traps were doubled.”

Added Mr Teo: “The workers and operator are cooperating with each other and they know certain measures have to be strictly followed, like taking temperature daily and cleaning up their areas so there’s no accumulation of water.”

The site’s construction manager Yong Jian Rong said: “We already have had several measures in place even before news broke - like blacklight traps, netting… We’ve continued our temperature monitoring. If staff or workers have any signs of illness we bring them immediately to seek medical attention.”

“We also brief our workers, subcontractors and anybody involved here on what are the symptoms and how to personally protect themselves. We have definitely beefed up on that aspect, in terms of having additional repellent, arm sleeves, and keeping themselves covered at all times.”

He added: “We have been telling the workers everyday not to worry, if anything happens the company will definitely take care of their health and wellbeing and give them the full medical attention required.”

Workers at the site told Channel NewsAsia that before the Zika outbreak, they were subjected to temperature checks twice daily. Those with fever would be sent to a clinic before being isolated at the dormitory. Since news of the Zika spread broke, they have been asked to wear anti-mosquito patches, arm sleeves and repellent bracelets at all times, said workers.

The construction site has also been served with a stop-work order by the National Environment Agency (NEA). Asked when this would be lifted, Mr Teo said: “We are working with NEA closely on this. They will take a few days to monitor the situation and make sure preventive measures are in place, like mass fogging. Once we have assurance, they will work with us on whether we should lift the work order. But it’s most important to keep the community safe from the spread of Zika.”


Mr Teo also stressed that it was “important” for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to ensure that beyond the Sims Urban Oasis site, all construction sites in Singapore take preventive measures against Zika.

“We have already stepped up inspections and will continue to do so, not just for sites within (the Aljunied and Sims cluster) but all others,” he said. “The Zika virus itself reinforces some of the things we are doing and at this point in time we want to reassure the community that the whole of the Government; the ministries are doing their part to make sure we reinforce measures.”

“We have sent out advisories and messages to all operators and worksites… asking them to take as many preventive measures as they can.”

Added Mr Teo: “We are trying to use this opportunity to tell operators that these are some things you should have done already. At worksites, we expect certain standards they have to meet. We hope operators take care of their workers and worksites and dormitories and these measures are, to us, very basic things you have to do.”

He also said it was imperative that “everyone understands the seriousness of the situation”. Operators must “make sure every single worker is educated and aware”, Mr Teo noted.

“If anyone doesn’t, we will take action because this is a very important matter to follow through and we need all the stakeholders to come together so we can curb this issue.”

"Workers also have to have their own self-discipline,” he said. “If they feel a bit unwell, they should tell their supervisor and get immediate medical attention. It’s very important. Even mild fever, rashes, or any symptoms associated with Zika, please highlight and come forward.”

- CNA/jo

Zika and pregnancy: Frequently asked questions
TODAY Online 31 Aug 16;

Amid an outbreak of locally-transmitted Zika cases, concerns have been raised over how pregnant women should cope. The Ministry of Health has released a list of Frequently Asked Questions on Tuesday (Aug 30). We reproduce it in full here.



1. If a woman who is not pregnant is bitten by a mosquito and infected with Zika virus, will her future pregnancies be at risk?

Zika virus infection does not pose a risk of birth defects for future pregnancies.

2. If a couple is planning for pregnancy, what is MOH’s advice if either one lives, works or studies in an affected area?

If both the man and woman are well

They should take strict precautions against mosquito bites, and if they have further questions, consult their doctor.

If woman is symptomatic

(with fever and rash and other symptoms such as red eyes or joint pain)

She should seek medical attention promptly, and if confirmed positive for Zika, she should practise safer sexual practices or abstain from sexual intercourse for at least 8 weeks after recovery, before trying to conceive.

If the man is symptomatic

(with fever and rash and other symptoms such as red eyes or joint pain)

He should seek medical attention promptly, and if confirmed positive for Zika, he should practise safer sex through the correct and consistent use of condoms or abstain from sexual intercourse for at least six months after recovery.


Testing and Prevention

3. Are there any tests which can be done to determine if a pregnant woman is infected with Zika?

Currently, the only reliable test available for Zika is the reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test which looks for genetic material of the virus in blood or urine. However, RT-PCR test is only able to detect Zika infection in blood within 5-7 days of onset of symptoms and in urine within 14 days of onset. Therefore, the time window in which a pregnant woman can be tested using RT-PCR is very short.

At present, there is no reliable serological test (which looks for antibodies in the blood) for Zika.

4. If I am pregnant and my male partner is tested positive for Zika, do I need to get tested if I do not have any symptoms?

If you have had sexual intercourse with your partner, you should consult a doctor and inform him/her of possible exposure to Zika so that he/she can arrange for Zika testing.

5. If I am pregnant and asymptomatic, but worried about possible exposure to Zika, where should I go to get tested?

WHO’s May 2016 guidelines, and MOH’s August 2016 clinical guidelines on Zika virus infection and pregnancy do not recommend routine Zika testing for asymptomatic pregnant women. If you are concerned, you should discuss further with your doctor.

6. Should a woman who is pregnant get regular blood/ urine tests for Zika, to make sure that she is not infected?

No, unless she has symptoms of possible Zika Virus Infection (fever and rash and other symptoms such as red eyes or joint pain).

7. Is it safe for pregnant women to use insect repellent?

Yes, insect repellents sold in Singapore are safe for use for pregnant women.

You can also prevent mosquito bites by wearing long, covered clothing, and sleeping under mosquito nets or in rooms with wire-mesh screens or air-conditioned rooms to keep out mosquitoes.

8. If I am pregnant and have recently visited a Zika affected area in Singapore, what should I do?

There is no need to see your doctor, if you are well. You should continue to take strict precautions against mosquito bites. If you have symptoms of possible Zika virus infection (fever and rash and other symptoms such as red eyes or joint pain), you should seek medical attention immediately, and consult your Obstetrics and Gynecology (O&G) doctor.

9. If I am pregnant and live, work or study in a Zika affected area in Singapore, what should I do?

You should take steps to prevent mosquito bites and consult a doctor if you develop a fever and rash and other symptoms such as red eyes or joint pain after possible exposure to Zika. You should tell the doctor where you live, work or study.

10. If my female partner is pregnant and I am tested positive for Zika, what should I do?

You should practise safe sex through the correct and consistent use of condoms, or abstinence, for at least the whole duration of your female partner’s pregnancy.

11. If my female partner is pregnant and I live, work or study in a Zika affected area in Singapore, what should I do?

You should practise safer sex through the correct and consistent use of condoms, or abstinence, for at least the whole duration of your female partner’s pregnancy.

You should take steps to prevent mosquito bites by wearing long, covered clothing, applying insect-repellent, and sleeping under mosquito nets or in rooms with wire-mesh screens or air-conditioned rooms to keep out mosquitoes.

You should consult a doctor if you develop a fever and rash and other symptoms such as red eyes or joint pain after possible exposure to Zika. You should tell the doctor where you live, work or study.

Pregnant women/ Mothers with Zika

12. What is being done in other countries to manage pregnant women with Zika? Is Singapore doing the same?

In countries with community transmission of Zika Virus Infection and in line with WHO’s guidelines, pregnant women with Zika are advised to follow up closely with healthcare practitioners to detect any fetal abnormalities. Singapore has also adopted similar recommendations.

13. If I am pregnant and my blood tests positive for Zika, will I need to be hospitalised?

Like other patients tested positive for Zika, you should be referred to a hospital and managed by an O&G doctor.

14. If I am pregnant and positive for Zika Virus Infection, will my baby have microcephaly?

Currently, even if a pregnant woman is confirmed to be infected with Zika virus, there is no test that will predict the future occurrence of microcephaly. We advise that you follow-up closely with your doctor.

15. If a pregnant woman is positive for Zika virus Infection, should she consider termination of pregnancy?

A pregnant patient with confirmed Zika infection will be arranged for admission to a public hospital with a referral to an O&G doctor for further management. Serial ultrasounds and amniotic fluid testing may be considered after the potential risks and interpretation of results are discussed. The termination of pregnancy is a personal choice which should be carefully made by the parents in consultation with their doctor.

16. Can mothers with Zika infection breastfeed their baby?

Zika virus has been detected in breast milk but there is currently no evidence that the virus is transmitted to babies through breastfeeding.


17. What is Microcephaly?

Microcephaly is a congenital condition in which the head size is very much smaller than usual for a baby of the same age, race, and sex.

Microcephaly can be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors, such as Down Syndrome, exposure to drugs, alcohol or other toxins in the womb; rubella and a few other infections during pregnancy.

There is no specific treatment for this condition. Infants with microcephaly showing developmental delay might benefit from early intervention programs or developmental, physical, and occupational therapy, as well as interdisciplinary programmes.

18. Does Zika cause microcephaly?

There is evidence that Zika can cause microcephaly.

19. What is the impact of microcephaly on an infant?

Microcephaly can be an isolated condition, meaning that it can occur with no other major birth defects, or it can occur in combination with other birth defects. Infants with microcephaly may have concurrent disabilities. Different symptoms and signals associated with microcephaly (very small head, difficulty feeding, high pitched crying, fits, stiffness of arms and legs, developmental delays and disabilities, among others) have been described.

Infants with suspected microcephaly should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. In addition to clinical evaluation, neuroimaging tests to evaluate possible structural deformities may be required.

20. Can microcephaly be picked up through pre-natal screening? If so, what options are available to pregnant women if it is detected?

Microcephaly may be picked up during pre-natal screening, such as through ultrasound of the fetus. However, not all cases may be picked up in the early stages of pregnancy (i.e. within the first trimester). Some may not be diagnosed until after late in the pregnancy or after the birth of the child. This is similar to other congenital conditions, such as Down Syndrome. Similarly, a small head measured on ultrasound does not necessarily confirm the diagnosis of microcephaly. A significant proportion of fetuses with small heads on ultrasound turn out to be neuro-developmentally normal.

If this condition is picked up through pre-natal screening, the parents should consult with their healthcare professional on their options.

21. Can amniocentesis tests be used to detect Zika Virus Infection in the fetus?

If the woman is not known to be infected with Zika virus, amniocentesis is not recommended for detecting Zika virus infection in the fetus. If the woman is confirmed to be positive for Zika, the O&G doctor will assess and counsel her on the pros and cons of doing such a test.

22. I think my child’s head is smaller than usual. Does he have microcephaly?

Having a seemingly smaller head may not mean that your child has microcephaly. Just as importantly, having a small head does not automatically mean that the child will have developmental concerns. The child should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. More tests may be needed to determine if there are any issues of concern.

23. Can microcephaly be treated? What support can be provided to a child born with microcephaly?

Treatment and support depend on whether the child has any disabilities and if so, the type and degree of disability. Treatment and support will include rehabilitative measures which may include environmental stimulation, physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.

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Zika outbreak: Several countries issue travel advisories to S'pore, but impact still minimal

TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 31 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — Despite several countries warning their citizens to put off non-essential trips to Singapore, travel agencies here have not seen any cancellations yet, but they are watching the situation closely given that major events such as the Formula One night race is around the corner.

Australia, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Kingdom have issued advisories against visiting Singapore, asking travellers to take precautions if they need to do so — after news broke of the first cluster of Zika infections here.

Pregnant women, or women who are planning to get pregnant, are advised not to travel to Singapore, and if so, to take extra precautionery measures. Australia also told its citizens not to get pregnant for two months after they return.

As of Tuesday (Aug 30), there have been 82 locally transmitted Zika cases reported in Singapore, centred in the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Avenue districts, with a few cases further north from there in Kallang Way and Paya Lebar Way.

Travel agencies interviewed by TODAY said there have been no cancellations on bookings, and they would adjust their itineraries if necessary as they keep watch over the latest developments.

Ms Jane Chang, head of marketing communications at Chan Brothers Travel, said: “We will closely monitor the local situation, including updates from the Ministry of Health, as customer safety is our utmost priority. Adjustments to programmes can be made if need be, and visitations to attractions can be replaced with other indoor inclusions.”

Tour East Holdings is hoping that there would be minimal impact to travel bookings. “So many people (were) willing to travel to Brazil during the Olympics despite the high level of infection (there),” its spokesperson said, adding that those with tickets to the Formula One event happening Sept 16 to 18 here are unlikely to cancel their trips.

“If there were to be any impact, it will be those who have not made any arrangements,” she added.

The Singapore Tourism Board sought to reassure travellers that Singapore “remains a safe travel destination”. Ms Choo Huei Miin, director of visitor experience at the board, said: “The well-being and health of our visitors remain our top priority. We advise visitors to refer to the (Health Ministry’s) webpage on Zika for the latest health advisory and adopt measures to protect themselves against mosquito bites.”

For those already staying at or going to Sentosa island, the Sentosa Development Corporation urged “all to play their part in mitigation”, adding that it is “too preliminary to assess Zika’s impact on visitorship”.

The resort island has stepped up vector checks and control as a precautionary measure, its spokesperson said. “We are intensifying inspections at common areas and construction sites, including working with our island business partners and residents to do the same at their premises. Our focus is on searching and destroying any potential mosquito breeding habitats, with increased frequency of such operations.”

It, too, is monitoring the situation closely and will take action based on guidelines from the various Government agencies.

At the Aljunied area where the Zika infection cluster is, at least one food outlet has seen a drop in traffic. It and other businesses have quickly adopted measures to protect customers against mosquitoes.

Mr Phuah Teck Shin, general manager of Eco Harmony Cafe, said business has been hit hard in the past few days, although his cafe does not have any outdoor seating.

“When the news came out, everyone was scared of (going to) the area, so business has been poor since Sunday afternoon,” he said.

Now, he burns “a type of dry grass” that is said to ward off mosquitoes at the premises, and has closed all the windows.

Wang Jin Coffeeshop at Block 261 Serangoon Central Drive, just 2km away from Aljunied, has told its pest control company to step up treatments weekly. Owner Andy Wong said: “I hope Zika won’t spread to this area. Hygiene is important, and now we are spraying our premises more often than before.”

Outside of the cluster zone, Red Baron, a cafe at Gillman Barracks off Alexandra Road, is providing mosquito repellents for its customers because it has mostly outdoor seating. Co-owner Prashant Somosundram said: “We have put out bottles of these, which can easily be seen, or customers can just ask for them.”

Johor to tighten control at 6 entry points to curb Zika spread
Channel NewsAsia 30 Aug 16;

JOHOR BAHRU: The Johor government is stepping up control at six entry points in the state as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of Zika virus into the country.

State Health and Environment Committee chairman, Mr Ayub Rahmat said the six entry points were the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) Complex at Bangunan Sultan Iskandar, Sultan Abu Bakar CIQ Complex in Tanjung Kupang, Johor Port in Pasir Gudang, Tanjung Pelepas in Gelang Patah, Puteri Harbour Ferry Terminal in Iskandar Puteri and the Stulang Laut Ferry Terminal.

"Control at the six points of entry will be tightened through screening of visitors and Malaysian citizens coming from Singapore by using thermal scanners to stop those with body temperature above 37 degrees Celsius from entering the country," he said.

Mr Ayub was speaking to reporters after observing a health screening exercise to prevent the spread of the Zika virus, held at the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar CIQ Complex on Tuesday (Aug 30).

Mr Ayub said screening would be carried out round the clock with three shifts of personnel including doctors and staff of the Johor Health Department and Johor Bahru Health Office, with the assistance of the Immigration Department.

He said apart from screening, the department also encouraged vehicles including cars, buses and lorries using the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar CIQ Complex and Sultan Abu Bakar CIQ Complex to have aerosol sprays in their vehicles to prevent mosquitoes from being brought in.

He said some quarters may regard the measure as trivial but it could be one of the most effective ways to combat the spread of the virus.

"It is estimated that about 50,000 vehicles enter and exit through the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar CIQ Complex daily.We don't want the people to take the Zika spread too easily," said Mr Ayub, though he added that people need not panic.

Meanwhile, on dengue in the state, Ayub said 8,662 cases were recorded from the first to 34th week ending Aug 27, compared to 9,058 cases during the same period last year.

He said there were 14 fatalities recorded during the period this year compared to 25 over the same period last year.

"This means the efforts of the Johor Health Department with the cooperation of all the district health offices to combat dengue are seeing results. We will continue to actively fight the disease in dengue sources such as housing areas, open spaces and house compounds," he said.

- Bernama/hs

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Renewed call to boycott haze-linked firms in Singapore

Today Online 30 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — With haze making a reappearance last week, the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) have renewed their call to consumers to boycott companies whose land-clearing practices contribute to forest fires.

In a media statement on Tuesday (Aug 30), both groups, expressing disappointment at the return of the haze, said it “represents the growing demand for both paper as well as palm oil products”.

“The boycott last year led to worldwide publicity regarding unsustainable agricultural practices in Indonesia. We believe that the publicity has motivated some of the companies to act more responsibly,” the SEC and CASE said.

They noted that the Indonesian authorities have put in measures to tackle the land and forest fires that are causing the haze. “Compared with the haze last year, these measures are paying off with some results,” they said, adding that businesses should also join the boycott.

Last weekend, a change in wind direction brought brought noxious haze from fires in Sumatra to Singapore, causing air quality to breach unhealthy levels for the first time this year. The situation has improved this week so far, with 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings remaining within the moderate range (51 to 100). As of 5pm on Tuesday, the 24-hour PSI reading was 44 to 56.

In an advisory on Tuesday, the National Environment Agency said the PSI was expected to be in the moderate range on Wednesday. There were showers in parts of Sumatra on Tuesday and four hot spots were detected, with no visible haze, the agency said.

The boycott spearheaded by SEC and CASE began last year when Singapore experienced its worst episode of prolonged haze since 2013, with the PSI entering hazardous territory. It led to supermarket chains dropping products from firms linked to fires causing the haze.

In the statement, CASE president Lim Biow Chuan said in the statement urged consumers not to wait for the haze to return before taking action. “We must work collectively as a group to continue to send a clear signal that such practices are unsustainable and would adversely affect our environment,” he said.

SEC chairman Isabella Loh said consumers should buy paper products bearing the Singapore Green Label certification.

“We must re-emphasise that these plantation owners must take full responsibility in educating their communities and suppliers about the hazards of haze,” she added.

Earlier this year, the SEC also said it was drawing up a new category under the Singapore Green Label certification scheme, which will look at companies’ management of plantations, with an emphasis on peatland management and fire prevention.

CASE, SEC reiterate call to buy sustainable products after haze returns
Channel NewsAsia 30 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The call for consumers to boycott products made using irresponsible methods of clearing land was made again on Tuesday (Aug 30) by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE).

In a joint press release, the organisations said they were "disappointed" that the haze problem has returned this year, and it represents the growing demand for both paper as well as palm oil products.

"The boycott last year led to worldwide publicity regarding unsustainable agricultural practices in Indonesia. We believe that the publicity has motivated some of the companies to act more responsibly," they said.

They also noted that the Indonesian authorities have put in measures to tackle the land and forest fires causing the haze.

To further combat the haze issue, they called on businesses to continue boycotting products that are produced through slash-and-burn methods. "Businesses that have yet to do so, should join this campaign. Consumers can also support this movement by purchasing paper and palm oil products only from sustainable sources," they said in the press release.

Ms Isabella Loh, Chairman of SEC, said that consumers should buy Singapore Green Label paper products.

On Aug 26, the haze returned to Singapore after it was blown in from central Sumatra due to prevailing westerly winds. Readings on the 24-hour Pollutants Standards Index (PSI) crept into the Unhealthy range from 4pm, although the air quality has since improved and is in the Moderate range as at 1.30pm on Tuesday.

- CNA/kk

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Haze could hit Singapore over next few days, Indonesia warns

Today Online 31 Aug 16;

JAKARTA — Indonesia has warned that smoke from forest fires in Riau province could head towards Singapore and Malaysia in the next few days due to a change in wind direction.

The country’s meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency (BMKG) said in a statement on its website on Tuesday (Aug 30) that the fires are concentrated in a wide area in the western part of the province on Sumatra island.

“Forest fires in the West Sumatra region will be monitored closely, particularly over the next five days as the situation is delicate,” it said, adding that as the winds turn and blow eastwards, the smoke might head towards Malaysia and Singapore.

The agency said it will keep a close watch on other high-risk areas in Aceh, Bengkulu, Jambi, and part of South Sumatra, and also warned ththere could be more fires in Central and West Kalimantan in the next few days due to adverse weather conditions there.

Riau is one of several provinces which has declared a state of emergency, and the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said this has allowed the agency to respond more quickly to forest fires than last year.

An official at the BNPB operations centre in Jakarta told TODAY that measures taken to fight the fires in these provinces — which include Jambi in Central Sumatra and Central, West and South Kalimantan — include water bombing with air-tractors, helicopters as well as cloud seeding to induce rain.

“BNPB is still carrying out these actions to stop the forest fires from spreading. 45 per cent of the fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan are in peatland areas,” he said, adding that the fires were caused by a combination of dry weather conditions, sporadic rain and illegal use of fire to clear lands.

According to the official, ground units comprising police officers, army personnel, firefighters, volunteers and workers have also been activated to help snuff out forest fires at affected areas.

He added that in Sumatra, more than 50 hectares of land is still burning and producing thick smoke.

BMKG forecaster Andersen Panjaitan told TODAY that the latest imagery from the Himawari satellite shows that the situation in Sumatra has improved in recent days due to rain over the past two days.

“Based on our observation the smoke is less intense today due to heavy rain in the province,” Mr Panjaitan added.

Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Thailand suffered the worst haze outbreak in years from September to November last year. The crisis affected tens of millions of people, forcing school closures and caused thousands to fall sick across the region.

Singapore’s air quality hit the “unhealthy” range on the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) last Friday but on Indonesia’s BNPB on Monday said it was confident the country’s forest fires and haze of toxic smoke are unlikely to reach levels seen in 2015 because of favourable weather conditions and a quicker emergency response.

“We are certain this year things will be better,” agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho told reporters on Monday, referring to a 61 per cent reduction in hotspots seen in 2016 compared with a year ago. AGENCIES

Better air quality expected following rain in Sumatra: NEA
Channel NewsAsia 30 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The air quality on Tuesday (Aug 30) has been in the Good to Moderate range, and the overall 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) is forecast to be in the Moderate range, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The 1-hr PM2.5 concentration over the next 24 hours is expected to remain in Band I (Normal), it added.

Many parts in Singapore had rain in the late morning and afternoon on Tuesday, and the air quality has been in the Good to Moderate range, and for the rest of the day, partly cloudy conditions are expected, the agency said in its advisory.

As at 5pm, the 24-hr PSI was 44-56, in the Good to Moderate range, and the 1-hr PM2.5 concentration readings was 5-15 µg/m3, in Band I (Normal).

In Indonesia, NEA said there were four hotspots detected in Sumatra and there was no visible haze there. "Showers have been affecting parts of Sumatra today," NEA said.

Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, people can continue with normal activities. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention, the agency said.

- CNA/kk

Haze: PSI for next 24 hours forecast to be in moderate range
Today Online 30 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — Air quality over the next 24 hours is expected to be in the moderate range, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in a haze update at about 5.45pm on Tuesday (Aug 30).

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading is between 51 and 100 in the moderate range. The one-hour PM2.5 concentration over the next 24 hours is also expected to remain in Band I (Normal), which is between 0µg/m3 to 55µg/m3.

On Wednesday, prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the south-east or south and thundery showers expected in the late morning and afternoon.

On Tuesday, air quality remained in the good to moderate range. There were thundery showers over many parts of Singapore in the late morning and afternoon.

“Four hotspots were detected in Sumatra, and there was no visible haze there,” said the NEA.

Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, the NEA said “everyone can continue with normal activities. Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention”.

Singapore Passes Law to Prosecute Indonesians Responsible for Haze
Bayu Adha & Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 30 Aug 16;

Jakarta. National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian said Singapore has passed a law that will allow it to prosecute Indonesian citizens involved in the burning of peatlands and forests.

"This is a serious problem for the people of Riau, and also for the reputation of Indonesians," Tito said in Pekanbaru, Riau, on Tuesday (30/08), as reported by Antara news agency.

Last week, both Malaysia and Singapore offered assistance to handle the wildfires in Indonesia.

According to the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), this year's peatland and forest fire handling is much better than last year due to collaborative efforts by the central and regional governments in preventing and mitigating wildfires in eight provinces.

Read more!

Port authority rolls out new measures for safety at sea

They include safety videos for mariners and ferry passengers, and exchange of best practices
Olivia Ho Straits Times 31 Aug 16;

New initiatives to improve safety at sea were announced yesterday, including safety videos for mariners and ferry passengers and regulations for power-driven craft.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan gave details of the measures in the opening speech at the inaugural Safety@Sea conference.

More than 350 participants from the shipping industry are expected to attend the two-day event at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel.

Mr Khaw noted that earlier safety campaigns have produced results, with the incident rate falling 75 per cent from 2014 to just one incident last year. "But we are not where we want to be yet," he said. "We have to continue to spare no effort to improve safety at sea."

He cited recent marine incidents, such as an accident earlier this month in which a tanker collided with a container vessel in Singapore waters.

Last November, Indonesia-registered ferry Sea Prince hit a floating object after leaving Batam. A total of 97 people, including 51 Singaporeans, had to be rescued.

Mr Khaw said the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has developed a safety video together with Indonesian and Malaysian maritime authorities to help mariners navigate the Singapore Strait and the Port of Singapore.

Another safety video that the MPA is producing is meant to educate ferry passengers on general safety procedures in an emergency. It will be shown at ferry terminals while people are waiting to board ferries. The MPA is also stepping up regulations for smaller vessels, said Mr Khaw.

It is now mandatory that all power-driven harbour and pleasure craft in Singapore waters are fitted with transponders and electronic chart systems compliant with International Maritime Organisation (IMO) standards.

With this, ocean-going vessels will be able to track even small craft in their vicinity on their electronic charts and vice versa.

Mr Khaw also announced that the MPA plans to set up a community of practice, through which international maritime administrations and non-governmental organisations, such as shipping classification societies, can share best practices.

It will commence in August next year and convene biennially.

MPA chief executive Andrew Tan said: "Safety is everyone's responsibility. You can't just look at the shipping community, at the port organisers, or at international maritime organisations...

"One incident is one incident too many, whether a marine collision or a ferry mishap. We cannot have any such incidents within our very busy, congested port waters."

Singapore will spare no effort to improve maritime safety: Khaw
Channel NewsAsia 30 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: Singapore is sparing no effort to improve safety at sea, said Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister of Transport Khaw Boon Wan.

Speaking at the inaugural International Safety@Sea Conference on Tuesday (Aug 30), he announced several new initiatives that the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) is working on to make the waterways safer.

These include the development of safety videos with maritime authorities of Indonesia and Malaysia.

The video will form part of a training resource package to equip those unfamiliar with navigating the Singapore Straits and the Port of Singapore with navigational information.

The MPA has also worked to improve the servicing and maintenance of safety equipment on board passenger ferries and the frequency of inspection for regional passenger ferries, in light of the Sea Prince passenger ferry incident in 2015.

A total of 97 people had to be rescued, including 51 Singaporeans when the vessel hit a floating object after leaving the Nongsapura ferry terminal in Batam.

MPA will also be establishing a collaborative platform for international Maritime administrations and other non-governmental organisations to come together to share knowledge and best practices.

This Community of Practice will complement existing forums such as the Co-operative Mechanism and Tripartite Technical Experts Group in "adopting an integrated and multi-stakeholder approach to ensuring safe, efficient and secure navigation", Mr Khaw said.

Mr Khaw added that the efforts of the MPA to build a strong safety culture have yielded results, with only one incident occurring in 2015. This is a 75 per cent fall in incident rate compared to 2014.

"Singapore has always placed strong emphasis on safety at sea. Although we have been doing relatively well, we want to do better," said Mr Khaw.

- CNA/am

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Malaysia: China hotel chain to start ops in Johor's Forest City

YEE XIANG YUN The Star 30 Aug 16;

GELANG PATAH: A four-star chain hotel from China will start operating in Forest City here by October.

Hotel Phoenix, which has 50 establishments throughout China, would have two towers with construction currently 60% completed.

Country Garden Pacific View Sdn Bhd (CGPV) executive director Datuk Md Othman Yusof said the first phase of the 280-room hotel, located behind the Forest City sales gallery, would be launched.

The target was to open 80 rooms by the end of September.

He said there woulf be job opportunities for locals and the inking of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with KPJ Education Group (KPYPJ) was to address such demand. The signing ceremony was witnessed by Johor Education, Information, Entrepreneur and Cooperatives Development executive committee chairman Md Jais Sarday and state Human Resources and Unity executive committee chairman R. Vidyanathan.

The agreement was signed yesterday to provide internship, scholarship and recruitment for 293 KPYPJ students by 2020, giving them job opportunities.

“It is also Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar’s wish for us to give priority and vacancies that will benefit locals and this MoU is in line with that,” said Md Othman.

The agreement would also provide scholarships as well as enable both parties to also exchange expertise in terms of knowledge and experience to fulfil the needs of the hospitality and other related fields.

Read more!

Malaysia: Johor Sultan says ‘biggest mistake’ for state to privatise its water

Malay Mail 30 Aug 16;

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 30 — Johor made a huge “mistake” in privatising its state water utility, which has since resulting in problems in the supply of water statewide, its Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar has said.

He admitted in an interview with The New Straits Times published today that the southern state’s current water supply crisis has been an ongoing problem since Syarikat Air Johor was privatised in 1999.

“The biggest mistake Johor ever made was to privatise Syarikat Air Johor,” Sultan Ibrahim was quoted saying.

He added that the state government was even forced to take some of the water for export to neighbouring Singapore as a temporary measure to ensure potable water for its people, after a drought earlier this year.

As such, he has suffered “sleepless nights”, and is now “cracking his head” together with his state mentri besar to come up with ways to improve Johor’s water supply management.

But the state monarch also candidly admitted that Johor only needed to look across the Causeway and learn from Singapore how to better manage its water supply system, and suggested the government consider recycling water meant for industrial use.

Sultan Ibrahim said that currently, there are industries in Johor’s Pasir Gudang district that is consuming water worth RM4 million, causing the taps in the nearby residential areas to run dry.

The state monarch also urged the federal authorities to consider Johor’s situation before inking any future water agreements with Singapore, to protect the interest of Malaysians in the state.

“When you make deals with Singapore and don’t refer to us when we share the same resources, our people are affected.”

Last month, Singapore announced that it is providing Johor with an additional six million gallons of treated water per day after the state’s water regulatory body made an urgent request.

Bangsa Johor concept now more relevant than ever, says Johor ruler
A. JALIL HAMID New Straits Times 30 Aug 16;

FAST on the heels of opposing comments by the Sultan of Johor and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad last week, the former graced us with an interview at his home in Istana Pasir Pelangi late on Saturday afternoon.
In the one-hour interview, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar spoke frankly on various subjects, including one that touched a raw nerve: Dr Mahathir’s public disapproval of the Bangsa Johor concept, which has long been cherished by Johor folk.

The sultan also touched on plans to set up the Bank of Johor, his initiatives to set up the Rumah Johor public housing scheme with zero profit, and the development of Maglev bullet trains, linking Pasir Gudang and Iskandar Puteri.

The following is the full interview.

Q: How did the concept of Bangsa Johor come about?

A: The concept of Bangsa Johor came about in 1920, when my great-grandfather, Sultan Sir Ibrahim, felt the need to give thanks and unite the various races who had come together to open up Johor.

The Chinese, Indians and Javanese had all been invited to join the Malays, in the 1800s, by his father, Sultan Sir Abu Bakar, and his grandfather, Temenggung Daeng Ibrahim, to seek their fortunes in Johor. They worked hard to clear the land and build Johor from when it was just a jungle with a very small population.

More than ever, the concept of Bangsa Johor is relevant today, especially looking at the issues of racial polarisation that keep coming up.

Bangsa Johor means everybody is responsible for developing Johor while respecting everyone else’s culture and religion because we want everybody to live in peace and prosperity. Concord is a blessing.

Other states can look to Johor as an example of how to foster racial unity. Because our intention is noble, so many have come to express their desire to live in and be part of Johor.

Q: Doesn’t it make Johor look parochial?

A: No. While I am proud to say I am Bangsa Johor, I am still Malaysian. When I am overseas, if anyone asks me where I am from, I proudly say, “Malaysia”.

I don’t say I am Bangsa Johor because some may not know that Johor is part of Malaysia.

We don’t have any bad motive or hidden agenda. Our intention is still for the greater good of Malaysia.

If I am given the opportunity to unite Malaysians, I will do it. I will go around the country because I know how to do it.

Q: Why does Johor need an identifier?

A: Every state is unique in her special way. Each has her own history, culture and even food. And, Johor has her own long list of customs and traditions to boast of, like laksa Johor, baju Melayu Teluk Belanga, zapin and ghazal.

I think every state should come up with their own identifiers. We should celebrate our differences. That is what makes Malaysia so special.

Q: Why did you come out so hard against Dr Mahathir?

A: Anyone who does not know the history or background of a subject should not speak with authority (on the matter).

As I mentioned earlier, Bangsa Johor is not a new creation, and its objective has always been to unite, not divide. The idea has been proven to work, again and again.

Q: If the concept is not new, how do we translate it for the Johor of today?

A: The spirit of Bangsa Johor is not just a saying. You have to care for Johor. And, to care for Johor means to be personally responsible in developing Johor. If you look at all the projects that I am personally involved in, they are all with the people of Johor in mind.

For example, affordable homes today are not really affordable for the people. So, we came up with the Rumah Johor housing scheme. That is one project under the Sultan Ibrahim Foundation, which will be run by Datuk Syed Mohamed Syed Ibrahim. The foundation will be a zero-profit organisation.

We already have the support of banks. This will ensure the people get the best housing at the cheapest price.

To make them cheap and affordable, the houses must have a few designs that are pre-cast. With pre-cast houses, they can be ready in one month. But, they must last 100 years. And, they must look nice.

Be more patient, rakyat Johor. I want my projects to be well planned and thought out, and these projects will be rolled out soon, very soon.

Q: What sort of prices are you looking at? Will it be landed property?

A: I will make sure that these homes are the cheapest, with the best quality, and can be (built) with zero profit. Where able, I will ask consultants, suppliers and contractors to do it with the least profit possible. I am a very good negotiator, you know.
For a comfortably sized home with three bedrooms in a mixed development, my target is below RM100,000.

Coupled with a financing scheme that will provide 100 per cent end financing to first-time and qualified house buyers, this will make owning a home within the reach of those who really need it.

I will personally ensure that the units are fairly distributed to those who are really in need.

Q: How is progress in the Bank of Johor project? Is it linked to the Rumah Johor housing scheme?

A: Yes, it is. We plan for the Bank of Johor to be a commercial bank modelled after the cooperative bank, Bank Rakyat. The bank will focus on providing loans to those in the low-income group.

We have a team of foreign and local banking consultants from Bank Negara Malaysia advising us right now.
The bank will be run professionally by the best talent, regardless of race, religion or creed, and based on meritocracy. Results are what matter to me.

Both these projects are my way of making sure that none of my subjects is left out of progress and development. These projects are aimed at my subjects who the markets have left out.

I have used my financial strength and the expertise of those drawn to Johor for the benefit of my subjects.

Q: Is the Maglev train project on track?

A: Again, whenever investors, local and foreign, come to invest in Johor, I immediately think of how I can direct them to projects that benefit Johor and assist my subjects. A company is studying the possibility of Johor setting up the Maglev project for the state.

It has nothing to do with the High-Speed Rail. It will link Johor Baru, Pasir Gudang, Kempas, Iskandar Puteri and other areas.

We are also looking at the Maglev entering Singapore, in view of the massive traffic jam at the Causeway every day.

Q: Is water still a big issue for Johor?

A: Yes, it is a very big issue. We are not managing our water. A few years ago, I had cautioned my government about an impending water crisis. The biggest mistake Johor ever made was to privatise Syarikat Air Johor.

Don’t blame my menteri besar; he came later. Now, me and my MB are cracking our heads to solve this problem. It is an issue that causes me sleepless nights.

The record of rainfall this year is half that of last year’s. You can ride a bicycle in the Congok Dam in Mersing.
The two dams there have dried up. There is no rain. There is even water rationing in Mersing town.

So, we had to take a bit of water that was meant for Singapore. We don’t have to look further than Singapore to learn how to manage water. Don’t be shy! Why must we look to faraway countries to learn? It would be a waste of government money. We must have recycled water for industrial use.

There are industries in Pasir Gudang that consume a lot of water, amounting to nearly RM4 million of water a month. They get water, but the housing estate next door has no water! How do the people feel (about this)?

You can’t simply transfer water from one river to another. While we want development, we must take care of nature to ensure that future generations are not affected.

In this respect, I have asked companies, which have the capability, to work with the state, to come up with solutions to overcome the water issues affecting Johor immediately!

There are instances where we have taken industries that Singapore had rejected.

My advice to the authorities is to be selective and choose industries properly, and not make life difficult for the people.
I want the authorities to choose industries that are green and safe. I want them to make sure that another Bhopal does not occur in Johor.

This is where I always say, whatever decisions you make in Kuala Lumpur, please understand the Johor sentiment. It’s very important to understand the Johor sentiment.

When you make deals with Singapore and don’t refer to us when we share the same geography and resources, our people are affected.

Q: Will the new political party by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin further split the Malays?
A: I am above politics. I don’t get myself involved in politics. I am here to unite ALL Bangsa Johor. Not otherwise. That is all I have to say.

Sultan Ibrahim: Bangsa Johor for greater good of Malaysia
The Star 30 Aug 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The 'Bangsa Johor' concept is for the greater good of Malaysia and it does not make Johor look parochial, said the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar.

"While I am proud to say I am Bangsa Johor, I am still Malaysian. When I am overseas, if anyone asks me where I am from, I proudly say Malaysia.

"We don't have any bad motive or hidden agenda. Our intention is still for the greater good of Malaysia.

"If I am given the opportunity to unite Malaysians, I will do it. I will go around the country because I know how to do it," Sultan Ibrahim said in an interview with a daily.

Sultan Ibrahim said like Johor, other states should come up with their own identifiers, so that Malaysians could celebrate the differences.

To a question on his stern rebuke against former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's criticism on 'Bangsa Johor', Sultan Ibrahim said that anyone who did not know the history or background of a subject should not speak with authority (on the matter).

Recently, Dr Mahathir when responding to a question from the audience on 'Bangsa Johor' during an event, had criticised it, saying the trend towards stressing "state citizenship" could break up the unity of Malaysians.

Sultan Ibrahim explained that the history of the 'Bangsa Johor' concept came about in 1920, when his great grandfather, Sultan Sir Ibrahim, felt the need to give thanks and unite the various races who had come together to open up Johor.

"The Chinese, Indians and Javanese had all been invited to join the Malays, in the 1800s, by his father, Sultan Sir Abu Bakar, and his grandfather, Temenggung Daeng Ibrahim, to seek their fortunes in Johor.

“They worked hard to clear the land and build Johor from when it was just a jungle with a very small population," he said.

Sultan Ibrahim also spoke on the idea of developing Johor through the Rumah Johor housing scheme, the Bank of Johor project, Maglev train project, and the water issue which he descrbed as a "very big issue".

On Rumah Johor, the Sultan said the scheme under the Sultan Ibrahim Foundation, a zero-profit organisation, would offer the cheapest and best-quality houses to the people.

While saying that the Bank of Johor project would be linked to the Rumah Johor housing scheme, Sultan Ibrahim revealed that the plan was for it to be a commercial bank modelled after the cooperative bank, Bank Rakyat, and it would be focusing on providing loans to the low-income group.

In view of the massive traffic jam at the Causeway every day, Sultan Ibrahim said he was looking at Maglev entering Singapore.

(Maglev (derived from magnetic levitation) is a transport method that uses magnetic levitation to move vehicles without touching the ground. With maglev, a vehicle travels along a guideway using magnets to create both lift and propulsion, thereby reducing friction by a great extent and allowing very high speeds.)

On the water issue, Sultan Ibrahim said Malaysia should learn from Singapore on how to manage water.

"Don't be shy! Why must we look to faraway countries to learn? It would be a waste of government money. We must have recycled water for industrial use," he said.

Asked whether the new political party by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin would further split the Malays, Sultan Ibrahim was quick to reply:

"I am above politics. I don't get myself involved in politics. I am here to unit all 'Bangsa Johor'. Not otherwise. That is all I have to say." – Bernama

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Malaysia Johor: Hit by water shortage, Kluang starts water rationing

HALIM SAID New Straits Times 30 Aug 16;

JOHOR BARU: After Mersing, now Kluang was hit by water supply shortage.

The district has kickstarted a month-long water rationing exercise which started in mid-August, affecting 56,000 account holders or 280,000 residents in the Sembrong subdistrict.

Water utility company, SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd, which manages the Sembrong Timur water treatment plant in Kluang, recently detected a gradual drop in the water level at Sungai Sembrong Kiri.

Its chief executive officer Abdul Wahab Abdul Hamid said checks showed Sungai Sembrong Kiri's level had depleted to 0.2m on Aug 15, surpassing its warning level of 0.7m.

The water treatment plant obtains its raw water supply from Sungai Sembrong Kiri. "Due to that, our Sembrong Timur water treatment plant is operating at minimal production, forcing for a water rationing exercise to be carried out for a whole one month until mid September," he said.

He said the water level rose to 1.7m following a downpour yesterday, but SAJ would continue its rationing exercise until the plant could reach its normal output of 34 million litres of treated water per day.

Abdul Wahab said the current water rationing exercise would see two days of no water supply and a 24-hour period of water flow on the third day.

Plan for new dam near Sg Mersing
MOHD FARHAAN SHAH The Star 31 Aug 16;

JOHOR BARU: The Government plans to build a new dam along Sungai Mersing to reduce the dependence on the Congok dam which has been recording low water levels.

SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Abdul Wahab Abdul Hamid (pic) said the project was provided for under the 11th Malaysian Plan.

“The Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry is conducting feasibility studies on the proposed new dam in the area,” he said yesterday.

Abdul Wahab said there was no water source for the Congok dam except from the rain.

And for the past three years, there has been less rainfall causing the water level at the dam, which supplies water to 11,000 account holders, to decrease at an alarming rate.

“Normally, we are able to get about 1.8m to 2m of rainfall within a year but due to the El Nino effect, we received about one third of rain water causing the situation to wor­sen,” he added.

He also pointed out that the Congok dam was not big and that the authorities were taking proactive measures to solve the water woes by deepening it to double its storage capabilities.

He said the state government, through the Johor Water Regulating Body, hoped to conduct water transfer from Sungai Leng­gor to Congok dam.

He said a consultant had been appointed to oversee the project where a 27km-long pipeline would be installed to channel the water.

On the water woes in Kluang, Abdul Wahab said that SAJ had been given permission by the National Water Services Com­mission to carry out scheduled water supply until Sept 14 to about 56,000 account holders.

The water level at Sungai Sembrong Kiri has decreased causing treatment plants at Sembrong Timur and Sembrong Barat to be affected.

Heavy rainfalls that occurred in the past several days had increased the water level at the river slightly and the situation was still being monitored, he said, adding that the RM100mil Kahang dam was expected to be completed next year.

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Malaysia Haze: Slight improvement, only two areas with unhealthy API reading

AMIN MOKHTAR New Straits Times 30 Aug 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The haze situation in Malaysia today is showing a slight improvement, with two areas recording unhealthy Air Pollution Index (API) readings, according to information released by the Department of Environment (DOE).

As of 11am, Nilai continues to record the unhealthiest Air Pollutant Index (API) reading at 112, followed closely by Shah Alam (103).

On the other hand, Banting and Putrajaya, which earlier recorded unhealthy API readings, have moved to moderate levels.

Two hours earlier, Nilai's API reading was at 118, followed by Banting (101), Shah Alam (105) and Putrajaya (102).

The API readings, which were hourly updated by the DOE, showed moderate readings elsewhere around the nation, with most of the states still registering manageable API numbers.

The reading of 0 to 50 is categorised as good (blue), 51 to 100 is moderate (green), 101 to 200 is unhealthy (yellow), 201 to 300 is very unhealthy (orange) and 300 upwards is considered dangerous (red).

For more updates, public can logon to the DOE’s website at

Air quality improves after downpour in Klang Valley
P. DIVAKARAN The Star 30 Aug 16;

PETALING JAYA: The Air Pollutant Index (API) levels in several areas in the Klang Valley have improved following a downpour on Tuesday morning.

As of 11am, the API readings in Cheras (92), Batu Muda (95), Putrajaya and Banting (99) recorded moderate levels.

The API readings in two areas, namely Nilai (112) and Shah Alam (103), remain at unhealthy levels.

But this marks a slight improvement in air quality where at 8am, four areas Nilai (120), Banting (102), Putrajaya (103), and Shah Alam (105) had reached unhealthy levels.

Earlier, downpours in several areas in the Klang Valley, which lasted more than two hours, had caused massive traffic delays, resulting in flash floods in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

According to the Department of Environment website, an API reading of below 50 is considered good, between 51-100 moderate, a reading of 101-200 is unhealthy, 201-300 very unhealthy and more than 300 is considered hazardous.

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Indonesia declares emergency due to forest fires

The Star 30 Aug 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesian Minister of Forestry and Environment Siti Nurbaya has announced the country has been placed under emergency state due to forecasts on blazes and impacts of smoke from forest and land fires.

Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reports that the announcement came during the ministers visit to Tanah Laut in South Kalimantan on Sunday.

The minister affirmed that forest and land fires situation will be monitored closely.

According to her, effective monitoring and prompt response helped to significantly reduce the number of fires in Jambi and West Kalimantan provinces by 70-90 per cent in the early months of the year. However, the number of hot spots increased during July and August, especially in Riau and West Kalimantan.

According to Indonesia’s Meteorology, Geophysics and Climatology Agency (BMKG), the number of hot spots has increased due to the dry season and drought in Sumatra and vicinities. The agency also anticipated that this year, dry season will last until mid-September. - Bernama

BNPB Deploys More Water-Bombing Helicopters as Riau Hotspots Extinguished
Whisnu Bagus Prasetyo & Eko Prasetyo Jakarta Globe 30 Aug 16;

Jakarta. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency, or BNPB, has deployed two more water-bombing helicopters to tackle hotspots in Riau and assist the existing three helicopters and three aircraft in the region.

There are two MI-171 helicopters, one MI-8, one Sikorsky S61 and a Bolcow 105, with two Air Tractor firefighting planes and an Indonesian Air Force CASA aircraft.

"Generally, the fires [in the hotspots] have been extinguished. From visual observations, thin smoke is still emanating from the land area, mixed with vapor. The air is generally clean," BNPB chief Willem Rampangilei said during an operation in Riau on Tuesday (30/08).

He said the intensive efforts have provided a significant result. The forests and peatland fires, which raged in Tanah Putih and Pujud in Rokan Hilir district, have been extinguished.

"The land surface was black after the fire, and it was wide," Willem said.

His statement was corroborated by footage from NASA's Modis surveillance satellite, which only detected one hotspot in Riau at around 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday.

The air quality has been categorized as good to medium, unlike the condition during the massive fires last year.

In an effort to encourage raincloud formation, the BNPB has seeded the skies with 800 kilograms of salt at a height of 9,500 feet above Pelalawan, Siak and Pekanbaru City.

"In total, 40 tons of salt have been used to create artificial rain in Riau, and there are still 9.5 tons of salt in stock for this purpose," Willem said.

A land task force consisting of members of the Indonesian Military, National Police, Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency, as well as several other related institutions, has been operating nonstop to put out the fires.

Two companies from the military, consisting of between 200 and 300 personnel, have also been deployed to assist the task force. They are further tasked with safeguarding the areas from possible intentional burnings.

"I have instructed [our personnel] to remain alert. The task force should be focused on patrols and observation or fire extinguishing activities. The regions that burned should be protected from more fire," Willem said. "We will still be using water-bombing helicopters to hunt for any remaining smoky areas. The current weather is totally conducive for such activities."

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Australia: Sydney Harbour reefs showing 'signs of recovery' following coral bleaching event, researcher says

Liv Casben ABC News 30 Aug 16;

Marine scientists say coral that was damaged by a bleaching event in Sydney Harbour earlier this year are "starting to show good signs of recovery".

For the past 12 months a team of marine scientists has been examining the little known coral reefs of Sydney to try and understand more about coral survival.

The research project is a collaboration between the University of Technology Sydney, Macquarie University and the Sea Life Trust.

Marine scientist and PHD student Samantha Goyen, who is leading the research, said the coral they have examined over two sites had made a remarkable turnaround after the recent bleaching event, which followed hotter than normal water temperatures.

"This is the first time, to our knowledge, there has been such an event in Sydney Harbour, so we monitored that and now we are at the point the corals are starting to show good signs of recovery," Ms Goyen said.

She said the research could "teach us a lot about coral resilience and coral survival into the future with a changing climate".

Ms Goyen is hoping the information could help to inform scientists about other reefs elsewhere, as they work to understand what enabled the reef to recover.

"Back in April, we found up to 45 per cent of corals at the sites had bleached, now all the tagged colonies that we are permanently monitoring are showing signs of recovery," she said.

Sydney's coral might hold vital information for reefs elsewhere

Coral scientist Dr Alicia Lloyd, from the Sea Life Trust, said the results could be far-reaching.

"The results of this results should be applicable on a broad scale to corals on the Great Barrier Reef and their thermal tolerance and their ability to survive in extreme environments which may be the future to the reef up there," she said.

Dr Lloyd also warned that this year's coral bleaching was a significant environmental event.

"The corals in Sydney have never bleached before that we've known about so this is a warning sign that they're close to their tipping point," she said.

"They've recovered which is great news, good for us, good for the corals, but what's going to happen in the future if temperatures keep rising?"

The research will continue over the next year as scientists try and unlock more of the reefs' secrets.

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Shark fins and meat contain high levels of neurotoxins linked to Alzheimer's disease

University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science ScienceDaily 29 Aug 16;

Scientists found high concentrations of toxins linked to neurodegenerative diseases in the fins and muscles of 10 species of sharks. The research team suggests that restricting consumption of sharks can have positive health benefits for consumers and for shark conservation, since several of the sharks analyzed in the study are threatened with extinction due to overfishing.

In a new study, University of Miami (UM) scientists found high concentrations of toxins linked to neurodegenerative diseases in the fins and muscles of 10 species of sharks. The research team suggests that restricting consumption of sharks can have positive health benefits for consumers and for shark conservation, since several of the sharks analyzed in the study are threatened with extinction due to overfishing.

Fins and muscle tissue samples were collected from 10 shark species found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for concentrations of two toxins -- mercury and β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA). "Recent studies have linked BMAA to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)," said Deborah Mash, Professor of Neurology and senior author of the study.

Researchers at the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and UM Miller School of Medicine detected concentrations of mercury and BMAA in the fins and muscles of all shark species at levels that may pose a threat to human health. While both mercury and BMAA by themselves pose a health risk, together they may also have synergistic toxic impacts.

"Since sharks are predators, living higher up in the food web, their tissues tend to accumulate and concentrate toxins, which may not only pose a threat to shark health, but also put human consumers of shark parts at a health risk," said the study's lead author Neil Hammerschlag, a research assistant professor at the UM Rosenstiel School and UM Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy.

Shark products including shark fins, cartilage and meat are widely consumed in Asia and globally in Asian communities, as a delicacy and as a source of traditional Chinese medicine. In addition, dietary supplements containing shark cartilage are consumed globally.

Recently scientists have found BMAA in shark fins and shark cartilage supplements. The neurotoxic methyl mercury has been known to bioaccumulate in sharks over their long lifespans.

About 16 percent of the world's shark species are threatened with extinction. The shark species sampled in this study range in threat status from least concern (bonnethead shark) to endangered (great hammerhead) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

"Our results suggest that humans who consume shark parts may be at a risk for developing neurological diseases." said Mash.

"People should be aware and consider restricting consumption of shark parts. Limiting the consumption of shark parts will have positive health benefits for consumers and positive conservation outcomes for sharks, many of which are threatened with extinction due in part to the growing high demand for shark fin soup and, to a lesser extent, for shark meat and cartilage products." said Hammerschlag.

Journal Reference:

Neil Hammerschlag, David Davis, Kiyo Mondo, Matthew Seely, Susan Murch, William Glover, Timothy Divoll, David Evers, Deborah Mash. Cyanobacterial Neurotoxin BMAA and Mercury in Sharks. Toxins, 2016; 8 (8): 238 DOI: 10.3390/toxins8080238

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Suspected Vietnam poachers probed over 9 dead primates

Channel NewsAsia 30 Aug 16;

HANOI: Vietnamese police are investigating the killing of nine endangered primates whose body parts were to be used for traditional medicine, officials said Tuesday (Aug 30).

The black-shanked doucs - monkeys with grey-blue faces and long tails - are among many rare species under threat in the communist nation where wildlife trafficking is rife.

Police are probing three men between the ages of 19 and 35 suspected of poaching the animals, investigator Mai Hong Quang told AFP.

"They were caught carrying the dried animals on their bikes in July. We have now banned them from leaving their residence, pending investigation," Quang said.

"The men told us they wanted to sell the dried primates they had shot dead in deep forest for use in traditional medicine," Quang said.

If charged with killing an endangered species, the men could face up to seven years in jail and a fine of 100 million dong (US$4,480).

Vietnam is home to some of world's most endangered species, including the mountainous antelope Saola, the Red River giant soft-shell turtle and the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey.

Though legislation on wildlife protection is in place, critics say the laws are not always effectively enforced and poaching of rare or endangered species continues.

Black-shanked doucs (Pygathrix Nigripes) are related to the red-shanked and grey-shanked douc langur, all found in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The red-shanked and black-shanked douc langur are both endangered and populations of the three species had dropped by 50 to 80 percent over the last three decades, WWF said on its website.

In Vietnam, the main threat to the douc is habitat loss and hunting, after which the animals are used for medicine, meat or sold as pets.

The news comes days after researchers in northern Vietnam said they spotted a new group of 40 Delacour's langurs, a critically endangered primate that only lives in Vietnam that is also under threat from poaching and habitat loss.

- AFP/hs

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15 more cases of locally transmitted Zika detected in Singapore

Channel NewsAsia 29 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed 15 more cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection in Singapore as of noon on Monday (Aug 29).

Two cases work at the construction site at 60 Sims Drive and have recovered. 13 cases live or work in the broader Sims Drive/ Aljunied Crescent area, MOH and the National Environment Agency (NEA) said.

The two cases at the Sims Drive construction site were detected as a result of MOH’s look-back and testing of potentially infected persons. As of Monday, MOH said it completed testing of all workers at the construction site who had symptoms of fever and rash previously. It is also screening workers staying at the dormitories located in the areas of concern.


MOH said it will continue to work with GPs in the area to offer testing for patients who had fever and rash previously. The look-back exercise will likely uncover more previously undiagnosed cases of Zika, it added.

As of Monday, NEA has inspected about 3,600 premises out of an estimated 6,000 premises in the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster to check for mosquito breeding, and also conducted ground checks in the vicinity. 36 breeding habitats – comprising 22 in homes and 14 in common areas/other premises - have been detected and destroyed. NEA has also inspected the on-site workers quarters at the construction site at Sims Drive.

NEA officers and grassroots volunteers have completed the first round of outreach efforts in the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster, to distribute Zika information leaflets, and will be continuing with outreach to raise general awareness of Zika, the agency said.

NEA has also commenced vector control operations in areas of concern where cases from the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster work or live. There is currently no evidence of local transmission in these areas of concern, MOH and NEA said.

The environment agency has also commenced inspections at the dormitories/residences at Kranji Road, Senoko South Road, Lor 101 Changi, Toh Guan Road East and Joo Chiat Place. One breeding has been detected and destroyed at the dormitory at Kranji. NEA said it has inspected more than 900 premises at Sembawang Drive, and detected and destroyed one breeding in a residence in that area. Thermal fogging, misting and indoor spraying of insecticides have been carried out at the inspected premises.


Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources and Health Amy Khor said in a Facebook post on Monday evening that aside from NEA's efforts, she hoped that residents would give their fullest cooperation to the more than 200 NEA officers carrying out inspections since the first local Zika case was detected.

"This is extremely critical and fundamental to our efforts to reduce the risk of further spread of the Zika virus," she wrote.

"It is also important that all of us, and not just those living or working in the affected areas, remain vigilant and take action to prevent mosquito breeding in our homes ... Let us all take care of ourselves, and watch out for one another."


Information on Zika cases released as soon as possible: Tan Chuan-Jin
Channel NewsAsia 29 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) put out information on the 41 confirmed cases of locally transmitted Zika infection in Singapore as soon as it was ready, said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin on Monday (Aug 29).

"I know that some quarters have been trying to perhaps cast different aspersions about information being not forthcoming, but I think in this particular instance what is quite clear to me is that MOH is quite particular that once information is ready, then it’s pushed out immediately – which has been the case," he said.

The Member of Parliament for Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency was visiting houses along Lorong 101 Changi and Joo Chiat Place, which have been flagged as areas of concern for the spread of the virus as some of the Zika patients reside or work in these locations.

Mr Tan stressed that there were no initial indications that the symptoms observed by doctors pointed to Zika, and that MOH had interviewed medical practitioners as soon as they flagged concerns. He also reiterated the timeline of events referred to by Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat to explain the jump in the number of Zika cases from one to 41 over the course of a day.

A clinic in the Aljunied area, Sims Drive Medical Clinic, informed MOH of an unusual increase in mild cases with fever, rash and joint pains on Aug 22. Health officials went down the next day, and the ministry announced the 41 locally transmitted cases on Aug 28 in a joint press briefing with the National Environment Agency (NEA).

“Once it was confirmed that it was Zika, the information was put out. It’s very important in times like this that the information put out be accurate, be factual," Mr Tan added.

“I can understand the anxiety that people may have, principally I think pregnant women … (But) I think it’s very important for us to stay focused on the facts, to stay focused on what actions we need to take."


Mr Tan said that efforts to manage the spread of Zika in his constituency would be similar to those already in place for dengue as the two diseases share the same carriers - aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

"Singapore is often regarded by many countries as a very good example of how we’ve managed (dengue) – we’ve not eradicated dengue, I’m not sure whether we will ever be able to do so … but I think we’ve managed to manage its outbreaks and the same effort needs to be done for Zika."

The minister said the area sees dengue outbreaks "from time to time", and authorities have therefore been constantly vigilant against the disease. "NEA has been very active here, and along with the grassroots we’ve been constantly visiting residents, reminding them of what they need to do, so we’re basically carrying on with what we’ve been doing in our efforts to deal with dengue. These are exactly the same efforts in terms of dealing with Zika."

He also urged the public to monitor information released by MOH and NEA about the disease and preventive measures that could be taken.

"The sort of response that we need to take as a society and as a community is very important," Mr Tan said.

- CNA/mz

Information on Zika cases released as soon as possible: Tan Chuan-Jin
TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 30 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — While some people have sought to “cast aspersions” on why the Health Ministry (MOH) did not announce the outbreak of Zika cases earlier, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said that it is important to stay focused on the facts and the actions to be taken, stressing that MOH has been releasing information as soon as it was ready.

His comments came after the Workers’ Party (WP) and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) called for the Government to clarify the timing of the events that led to the public notification of the 41 locally transmitted Zika cases. The two opposition parties said that prompt alerts are important so that the public could take the necessary precautions.

Mr Tan, who was visiting private houses and condominiums near Sims Avenue, where there are cases of Zika infection, told reporters on Monday (Aug 29): “I know that there are some quarters that have been trying to, perhaps, cast aspersions on information not being forthcoming, but it’s quite clear to me that MOH is quite particular that once information is ready, it is pushed out immediately, which has been the case.” He stressed that it was important during such times that information put out is accurate and factual.

“We can make a lot of different speculations, but given the circumstances, even the doctors who noticed it in the first place didn’t immediately think of Zika. Going forward, this is (an area where) we want to be vigilant,” he added.

The MOH has come under scrutiny since it confirmed on Sunday that there were 41 locally transmitted cases.

Mr Leon Perera, WP’s Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, said in a statement on the party’s website: “Prompt public notification of Zika cases is important so that members of the public in the affected areas can take the necessary precautions and so that stakeholders can take vector control measures.”

SDP said that the public should be kept informed even if the matter was still developing. “Medical professionals do not withhold information from their patients even when illnesses are only suspected but need further testing for confirmation,” the party said in its online statement.

In a Facebook post late on Sunday, Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat said that attempts to cover up the cases were “certainly not true”. He added that staff members at the laboratory were working “way past midnight” to complete the tests, so that the results may be announced in a “timely manner”. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VALERIE KOH

Southeast Asia needs to up its game to combat Zika: Experts
Channel NewsAsia 29 Aug 16;

BANGKOK/KUALA LUMPUR: The spread of the Zika virus across tropical Southeast Asia is likely to be significantly under-reported as local health authorities fail to conduct adequate screening, regional experts said on Monday (Aug 29).

International travel hub Singapore confirmed 41 locally transmitted cases of the mosquito-borne virus on Sunday and said it anticipated more, raising fears about how quickly it could disperse throughout the region.

Other parts of Southeast Asia have reported dozens of cases of Zika, which in Brazil has been linked to thousands of suspected cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect, but there are fears the true numbers are masked.

"Zika is under-reported and under-diagnosed," Khin Myint, head of the emerging virus research unit at Indonesia's government-funded Eijkman Institute, told Reuters. "We find many cases are not presented in hospitals because it's a relatively mild disease with mild symptoms and people are not going to doctors."

The World Health Organization (WHO) lists Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam as countries with "possible endemic transmission or evidence of local mosquito-borne Zika infections in 2016."

But the Jakarta-based Eijkman Institute, the main body testing for Zika in Indonesia, said it tested only 1,000 people in the past year - a tiny number in Southeast Asia's most populous country. It found just one positive case, despite reports that Zika is prevalent in the country.

Thailand has recorded the highest number of cases in the region at almost 100 infected people across 10 provinces this year.

"Thailand's surveys have not been thorough enough," said Kriengsak Limkittikul, assistant professor at the Department of Tropical Medicine at Mahidol University in Bangkok, noting that people without symptoms are often not tested. "Screening is inadequate in other countries in the region, too, where health authorities are ill-equipped to test," he said.

Vietnam has recorded three cases of Zika infection, all locally-transmitted, while Cambodia has reported seven cases.

Hong Kong confirmed its first case of Zika on Friday, in a woman who had travelled to the Caribbean.

A major difficulty is that while Zika can cause mild fever, a rash and red eyes, an estimated 80 percent of people infected have no symptoms.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which is a close cousin of dengue and chikungunya and is transmitted by mosquito. There have also been a small number of cases of sexual transmission reported in the United States and elsewhere.


Some countries in the region began ramping up protective measures following the outbreak in Singapore.

Muhamad Subuh, a senior Indonesian health ministry official, said authorities are "in the process of stepping up health checks at main airports and ports, including in Batam," the island closest to Singapore.

Indonesia introduced thermal scanners at airports targeting arrivals from Singapore over the weekend, and plans to roll them out to ports. Authorities are also handing out printed warnings to all incoming passengers, noting Zika has an incubation period of around 10 days before presenting any symptoms.

Malaysian Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said travellers who enter Johor Bahru, where up to 200,000 people commute daily to and from Singapore, will go through thermal screening at border checkpoints. People crossing in private vehicles will not be scanned but handed a pamphlet detailing the symptoms and asking them to report to authorities if they develop those.

Malaysia is also stepping up vector control mechanisms including fogging and larvicidal spraying in Johor Bharu.

"What we can do as a country comes down to how well we control our vectors, and at this point of time, dengue is still a bigger problem than Zika because people can die from dengue," Subramaniam said.

Other countries were not responding so quickly.

In Thailand, the Department of Disease Control said it was screening athletes returning from the Olympic Games in Brazil, but otherwise not changing its prevention methods. Vietnam and Cambodia made no immediate changes to their border controls.

"Different countries have different economic and political situations and it's not that they don't want to screen the virus, but they don't have the resources and capacity to do it at this stage," said Jasper Fuk-Woo Chan, a clinical assistant professor at the Carol Yu Centre for Infection at the University of Hong Kong.

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, with additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor in JAKARTA, My Pham in HANOI, Prak Chan Thul in PHNOM PENH, A. Ananthalakshmi and Joseph Sipalan in KUALA LUMPUR and Zoe Cooney in SYDNEY; Editing by Jane Wardell and Ian Geoghegan)

- Reuters/dt

MOH tightens checks as 15 more Zika cases confirmed

SINGAPORE — As the number of confirmed Zika cases continues to climb, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has tightened reporting protocol for general practitioners (GPs) by requiring suspected cases of infections to be sent by ambulance to the Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC) for further tests.

Adding to the 41 cases made public over the weekend, the MOH said that as of noon on Monday (Aug 29), 15 more cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection have been confirmed. The figure is expected to rise further: At least two patients contacted by TODAY said they tested positive for the Zika virus later in the day.

Among the new confirmed cases reported by the MOH on Monday, two were workers at a construction site at 60 Sims Drive — identified as one of the hotspots — who have since recovered. The remaining 13 either live or work in the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive area, said the ministry.

GPs around the island received a circular from the MOH on Saturday afternoon — a few hours before the first locally transmitted case was announced by the ministry in the evening — stating that suspected cases be sent to the CDC for blood and urine tests via ambulances dispatched by the MOH. The circular described suspected cases as patients who have fever, skin rash, joint and muscle pains, headaches or red eyes, and had been in the vicinity of the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive area.

On Monday, five patients were sent in two ambulances from Sims Drive Medical Clinic, where the first locally-transmitted case was discovered. Of these, two are women, aged 18 and 54, and three are men who work at a construction site in the clinic’s vicinity. Across the road from the clinic, TJ Medical Clinic & Surgery’s Dr Tan Thai Keng told TODAY that he had written referral letters for four patients to undergo further tests and directed them to the CDC immediately. These patients — three women aged 24, 26 and 32, and a 44-year-old man — were not sent by ambulance, he said.

One of the patients who told TODAY they had tested positive for Zika virus was a 54-year-old woman who wanted to be known only as Madam Ho. She said she was shocked to wake up on Monday with red spots all over her body and face. Mdm Ho was speaking to reporters outside Sims Drive Medical Clinic in the morning. Her face and arms were visibly swollen, while her eyes were red-rimmed. After she had received her test results in the evening, she told TODAY: “I feel very tired… I am only worried that I may have spread it to my family members because I don’t know when I was bitten.” Madam Ho, who lives with her two children and son-in-law, said she has advised them to go for health checks.

Aljunied Crescent resident Amalina Yusoff was also diagnosed as a Zika patient on Monday. The 18-year-old student said she had recovered from fever on Sunday but started developing rashes all over her body.

Over the weekend, the MOH and the National Environment Agency (NEA) had warned that more cases could emerge. Beyond Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive, other areas of concern include Khatib Camp, Sembawang Drive, Kranji Road, Joo Chiat Place, Senoko South Road, Toh Guan Road East and Lorong 101 Changi. On Monday, the MOH reiterated that “more previously undiagnosed” Zika cases would likely be uncovered, as it continues to work with GPs in the Sims Drive-Aljunied Crescent area to offer testing for patients who had fever and rash previously.

GPs and doctors said they are seeing women patients, including those who are pregnant, who are concerned about the outbreak.

Dr Beh Suan Tiong, who specialises in obstetrics and gynaecology at Thomson Medical Centre, said that some of his pregnant patients have requested to be tested. “We conduct tests based on necessity…If they do not exhibit the symptoms and have not travelled to Zika-affected countries or live in the Aljunied area, there are currently no guidelines for them to be tested,” said Dr Beh.

Members of Parliament (MPs) for the areas flagged by MOH said they are taking precautions to manage the situation. MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling said her grassroots volunteers had visited households in Aljunied Crescent over the weekend. They have also compiled a list of seven pregnant residents whom they will check on regularly, said Ms Tin.

Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency (GRC) MP Tan Chuan-Jin, who is also the Minister for Social and Family Development, was out and about on Monday at Joo Chiat Place, visting residents and giving out brochures and mosquito repellents.

Jurong-Clementi town council chairman Ang Wei Neng and Sembawang town council chairman Lim Wee Kiak said that their grassroots volunteers will step up efforts to alert residents and dormitory operators about the outbreak. Dr Lim said: “We’ve done this before, when we had a dengue cluster... (Times like these are) a good reminder to residents and grassroots organisations (to) look out for one another.”

As of Sunday, the NEA has inspected about 3,600 out of 6,000 premises in the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive cluster for mosquito breeding. Thirty-six breeding habitats in homes and other common areas have been detected and destroyed. It has also commenced vector control operations in areas where cases from the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive cluster work or live. There is currently no evidence of local transmission in these areas, the NEA said.

Meanwhile, pharmacies islandwide are stocking up on mosquito repellent products following a surge in demand.

Unity Pharmacies said sales for mosquito repellent sprays and patches have gone up by about half in its 59 outlets across the island. A Guardian spokesperson said that compared to last week, sales of such products have, on average, doubled islandwide, with sales at its five stores in Aljunied increasing by more than four times.

Australia, Taiwan issue alerts on travel to Singapore after Zika outbreak
Today Online 30 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Both Australia and Taiwan have issued travel alerts for Singapore following 56 locally transmitted Zika virus infection cases.

The Australian government has urged pregnant women to avoid non-essential travel to Singapore and to adopt additional measures against mosquito bites if planning a trip here.

“This included deferring non-essential travel if pregnant and avoiding pregnancy for two months following a return. Australians should exercise normal safety precautions in Singapore,” the Australian government said in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC) raised the travel notice for Singapore to Level 2 and advised pregnant women not to travel to the country.

“Pregnant women and women intending to become pregnant are advised to take particular caution and travellers to the country must take precautionary measures against mosquitoes,” the statement said.

Under the CDC’s three-tier system, a Level 1 travel warning urges vigilance and health precautions, while Level 2 calls for a high degree of caution and strong protective measures, and Level 3 advises against travel to or from a specified destination.

The CDC now has a Level 2 travel alert in place for 58 countries and regions where Zika virus infections have been reported, including Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, countries with a heavy flow of people to and from Taiwan.

United Kingdom has also advised those who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to discuss their travel plans to Singapore with their healthcare provider.

Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) announced over the weekend 41 locally transmitted Zika cases and 15 more cases were confirmed on Monday.

The first case, which came to light on Saturday, involved a Malaysian woman living at Block 102 Aljunied Crescent. The other 40 cases, announced on Sunday, either lived or worked in the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive area.

How Zika got here could remain a mystery, say experts
TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 30 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Exactly how the Zika virus found its way to Singapore and triggered a local outbreak could remain a mystery, experts say, given that existing tests are unreliable for infections that are more than two weeks old.

Nonetheless, the infectious diseases experts whom TODAY spoke to believe that Patient Zero — or the source of the outbreak — was likely to have been infected with the virus overseas and brought it back to the country — specifically to the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive area where a cluster has emerged.

A mosquito could have bitten the person, got infected, and then transmitted the virus to other people. While transmission is possible through sexual intercourse, it is a less common means of infection.

Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, programme leader of the antimicrobial resistance programme at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said: “If a compatible mosquito bites someone who has the virus in his or her blood, the mosquito becomes infected. After about a week, the virus can be detected in the mosquito’s saliva, and the mosquito can then infect all the other people that it bites.”

“If these other infected people are bitten by other mosquitoes during the days when the virus is circulating in their blood (which is usually three to 12 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito), the virus will be passed to these mosquitoes, and the cycle of infection will continue,” he said.

On the sexual transmission of Zika, Prof Hsu noted that based on reported cases, the virus can remain in semen for more than six weeks. “Almost all cases of Zika sexual transmission — with one exception — have been from men to women,” he said.

Prior to the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) announcement over the weekend that Singapore has discovered dozens of cases of locally transmitted Zika infection, a 48-year-old man who travelled to Brazil was diagnosed in May as the Republic’s first Zika patient. The Singapore permanent resident made a full recovery and tested negative for Zika before he was discharged. His family members also had not reported any symptoms of the mosquito-borne disease.

Infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam, who diagnosed the first Zika case at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said: “This is a very mild disease. The infected person might not even see a doctor, and if he didn’t raise the alarm, he could become a source of infection. He might have thought that the travel made him unwell, had some rest and probably recovered after a couple of days. Meanwhile, he got bitten by a mosquito while he was ill, and the whole cycle started.”

By now, Patient Zero would be very hard to track down, said Dr Wong Sin Yew, an infectious diseases physician at Gleneagles Medical Centre. Tracing of cases would need to be done and a transmission link has to be established. “At present, we don’t have a good, reliable test for infections that are beyond two weeks,” he said.

Dr Wong said that based on MOH’s recommendation, blood and urine tests are carried out within the first week of infection. If it is beyond the first week, a urine test is used, because the virus tends to stay in the urine for a longer period of time.

Results of the urine and blood tests can be obtained at a laboratory within three or four hours, said the experts. But Dr Wong noted that test results could take days, if there is a huge number of cases.

While some have questioned the delay in the discovery and announcement of the Zika cases, Dr Leong stressed that the focus is on protecting Singaporeans and “not (playing) the blame game”. “The gatekeepers, who are now the family physicians, must be aware that Zika is mild and we must investigate (the suspected cases), especially (those) in a cluster,” he said.

The experts urged people to protect themselves from mosquito bites by using repellent or wearing more clothing, and not travel to Zika-infected countries. Pregnant women in their first trimester should take extra precautions as the risk to the foetus is highest, Prof Hsu said.

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