Best of our wild blogs: 7 Sep 16

Second stretch of Rail Corridor to be closed on 19 September
The Long and Winding Road

John West, sustainable tuna fishing and how sustainable is the canned tuna from your local supermarket in Singapore
[PART 1] and [PART 2] by Gone Adventurin

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Singapore's national flower was artificially cross-bred

Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times AsiaOne 7 Sep 16;

A debate over the origins of Singapore's national flower seems to have been resolved at long last.

For more than 30 years, there has been no consensus on whether the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid hybrid was a product of nature or whether it was artificially cross-bred by the late Agnes Joaquim, an Armenian horticulturist who was born in Singapore.

But two key relevant government bodies, the National Parks Board (NParks) and the National Heritage Board (NHB), are amending their official records, to clearly credit the human hand behind this bloom.

They now acknowledge the role of Miss Joaquim in cross-pollinating the Vanda hookeriana and Vanda teres to create the plant.

In contrast, over the past few decades, some have speculated that Miss Joaquim had merely stumbled upon the plant in her garden, and did not directly credit her for cross-breeding the hybrid.

For instance, the current version of the Singapore Botanic Gardens' website merely states that its first scientific director, Sir Henry Ridley, had named the plant after Miss Joaquim, "in whose garden the hybrid originated".

The National Library-operated Infopedia page on the flower does not offer an official account of its origins but notes the controversy and the two contradicting perspectives.

The page states: "One argument is that the plant is a natural hybrid and was discovered by Agnes Joaquim, who spotted it in her garden at 2 Narcis Street, Tanjong Pagar, in 1893."

The move to update official records was started by Miss Joaquim's great-great-grand niece, Singaporean Linda Locke, 63, in March.

She contacted the authorities with a large body of research that she had dug up over the past six months to refute naysayers, some of whom have argued that the hybrid could have occurred naturally, such as a result of being pollinated by carpenter bees.

Ms Locke wanted public agencies here to present consistent accounts of her ancestor's achievement and reduce confusion among Singaporeans over the history of their own national flower.

She noted the plant was officially recorded with the Singapore Botanic Gardens on a specimen sheet dated April 1893 where it was described as an artificial hybrid.

She also cited Sir Ridley's announcement of her ancestor's discovery and work in the June 24, 1893 issue of The Gardeners' Chronicle, a former British horticulture periodical.

He had written: "A few years ago Miss Joaquim, a lady residing in Singapore, well-known for her success as a horticulturist, succeeded in crossing Vanda Hookeriana, Rchb.f., and V.teres."

A spokesman said the changes were made to "better reflect Miss Agnes Joaquim's contributions, as stated in H.N. Ridley's account".

Nigel Taylor, group director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, said NParks adopts the account by Sir Ridley.

Dr Taylor added that NParks will now be "presenting this position more clearly by incorporating Ridley's account from The Gardeners' Chronicle in our interpretive boards and webpages".

Miss Joaquim died at 45 from cancer in 1899.

Ms Locke and her relatives hope her achievement in creating the flower will be recognised "across all relevant government bodies and their media portals".

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'Small' impact on Singapore economy from Zika: MAS’ Ravi Menon

Patrick John Lim Channel NewsAsia 6 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: The outbreak of the Zika virus is unlikely to have a significant impact on the Singapore economy, the managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Ravi Menon, said on Tuesday (Sep 6).

Speaking at a lunch hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Association, Mr Menon said that it is too early to tell what the impact might be. “I would say early indications are that there is some small impact but not likely to be significant for the overall economic outcome, but really it's still early days," he said.

As of Monday, 258 cases of locally transmitted Zika have been confirmed in Singapore.

Travel advisories to Singapore have been issued by several major economies, including the United States and Australia.

Mr Menon also spoke about the unit launched by MAS in August to fight money laundering. He said that the newly created surveillance unit as well as the use of data tracking would enable Singapore to step up the fight against money laundering, but that financial institutions must also play their part.

"Boards and senior management in particular must send a clear signal that profits do not come before values and ethics, and compensation structures must motivate not only high performance but also right conduct," he said.

He declined to specifically address the 1MDB scandal in neighbouring Malaysia which has involved banks based in Singapore.

1MDB, or 1Malaysia Development Berhad, was launched by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009 and closely overseen by him.

Allegations of a vast international scheme of embezzlement and money-laundering involving billions of dollars of 1MDB money began to emerge two years ago.

Singapore is the first country to take legal action against bankers linked to the scandal.

"We will make more robust risk assessments of financial institutions' business activities, client profiles , geographical connections, transaction volumes and quality of controls," Mr Menon said.

He added that technology that can process huge amounts of data and find tell-tale patterns will be used to monitor illicit fund flows and transactions.

- CNA/AFP/dt/nc

Zika may bite S’pore economy: MAS head
LEE YEN NEE Today Online 6 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — There are early indications that the Zika outbreak in the Republic could have a small impact on the economy, said Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) managing director Ravi Menon, after countries including the United States and the United Kingdom issued travel advisories warning pregnant women and those planning to conceive to avoid the city-state for now.

“It’s too early to tell. I would say early indications are that there could be some small impact, but not likely to be significant for the overall economic outcome. But really, it’s still early days,” Mr Menon said at a luncheon organised by the Foreign Correspondents Association (Singapore) on Tuesday (Sept 6) in response to a question on the possible economic impact of Zika.

Mr Menon did not dive into details but analysts at OCBC Investment Research said on Tuesday the recent outbreak and rapid local transmission could have “near-term anticipated effects on visitor arrivals and possibly even domestic consumption” in September.

Besides the US and the UK, Australia, South Korea and Taiwan have also issued travel advisories against pregnant women travelling to Singapore, while Malaysia has installed thermal screening at some of its checkpoints. Leading local travel agency Chan Brothers was quoted by Reuters on Tuesday as saying that there had been no cancellations of inbound tours but that new bookings may slow down.

On Singapore’s overall economic outlook, the central bank chief said there are no clear signs that recession risks have risen. While global growth has been below par, the US economy continues to do moderately well, China has avoided a hard landing and the immediate aftermath of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union did not turn out to be as disastrous as many had expected.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry last month lowered the country’s growth forecast for 2016 from 1 to 3 per cent to between 1 and 2 per cent. “The revised growth figures remain our main baseline forecast… As long as the global economy continues to chart along this modest, moderate pace, I think the Singapore economy should steer clear of recession. Clearly there are risks on the horizon. Tail risks, if they materialise, can make a difference,” Mr Menon said.

But even under a dire scenario, the banking system here will be able to withstand these pressures, he added. He was referring to a recent MAS stress tests on the banking system that included assumptions of major global economies slipping into recession, a sharp depreciation of regional currencies, Singapore’s resident unemployment rate spiking to 6 per cent and another 50 per cent plunge in property prices.

“Under these rather dire conditions, the banks’ NPLs (non-performing loans) could rise to 8 to 10 per cent by the end of 2018. That should not be surprising. What’s important is the banking system will be able to absorb these losses, the banks will continue to meet the Basel minimum capital requirement comfortably and they will have sufficient liquidity to meet their cash flows,” he said.

This resilience did not come about by accident, but from prudence and sound financial management in the industry, Mr Menon added. And Singapore must maintain these attributes to remain a relevant and trusted financial centre.

He also said the central bank is closely watching trends of banks cutting headcount globally, but the number of those affected in Singapore has been “much smaller” compared to other jurisdictions. Among the latest with such plans is Barclays Bank, who was reported on Monday to be cutting another 100 jobs from its IT operations in Singapore and moving some of these positions to India.

“When cost structures change, business activities do respond and what’s happened is lower value added activities that depend on cheap factors of production tend to shift out and hollow out over time, and new activities come in to replace them,” said Mr Menon, who named the new innovation labs, foreign exchange desks, expansion in derivatives trading as among new activities that have sprung up.

“I think we have to look at what’s coming in and what’s going out and seeing overall whether it makes sense, whether the financial sector as a whole is gaining in value added.”

Zika could impact slowing economy, Singapore bank chief says
Marius Zaharia and Anshuman Daga Reuters 6 Sep 16;
A Zika outbreak in Singapore could have a small impact on the almost $300 billion economy, the central bank chief said on Tuesday, as the mosquito-borne virus spreads across the global financial and transit hub.

Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, did not give further details, but the outbreak coincides with a dip in overall exports and growth in the trade-dependent economy. Growth is also slowing in China, Singapore's main overseas market.

"It's too early to tell. I would say early indications are there could be some small impact, but it's not likely to be significant from an overall economy outcome," Menon told reporters when asked about the impact of Zika.

"But really, it's still early days," he said at an event hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Association in Singapore.

Small, tropical Singapore reported its first locally infected Zika patient on Aug. 27 and since then, the number of reported infections has reached 275, with 17 more cases reported on Tuesday.

Health officials say the figure will rise, as the Aedes mosquitoes that carry the virus are all over the island, and hospitals have stopped isolating patients.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was quoted on the Channel News Asia website as calling at a regional summit in Laos for the 10 Southeast Asian countries to "join hands" to fight Zika, while keeping the region open for business and trade.

"It is imperative for us to work together to combat Zika, but we should put Zika in the proper context," Lee said. "Given the presence of the Aedes mosquito, Zika may become endemic in our region, just like dengue."

"We should prepare ourselves for a possibly extended campaign against Zika but ensure that the region remains open and connected for business and trade."

Last month, Singapore narrowed its economic growth forecast for the year to 1-2 percent from 1-3 percent growth previously expected, citing concerns over Brexit and weak global demand.

Economists said tourism and retail would be the areas most affected by Zika, which could in turn hold back growth. Tourism arrivals in the first six months of the year have increased 12.5 percent from a year ago, official statistics show.

"Tourism is about voluntary trips and this is going to have a dent," said Trinh Nguyen, senior economist for emerging-market Asia at French investment bank Natixis SA in Hong Kong.

"Zika will impact sentiment and people's already low propensity to consume."


Retail sales excluding motor vehicles fell year-on-year in June for the fifth straight month, as worries about the sluggish global economy drove Singaporeans to cut spending.

Singapore is due to host a Formula One motor-racing Grand Prix next week. Promoters of the race say preparations are going on as usual. The Tourism Board says Singapore remains a safe destination.

Chan Brothers Travel, one of Singapore's biggest travel agencies, told Reuters there had been no cancellations but new bookings may slow down.

While most people experience mild symptoms, Zika infections in pregnant women have been shown to cause microcephaly, a severe birth defect in which the head and brain are undersized. In adults, it can cause a rare neurological syndrome called Guillain-Barre.

Zika is also affecting large parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, with Brazil the hardest hit. In Southeast Asia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand have also reported Zika infections.

Regional health experts said a lack of adequate testing meant the spread of Zika was likely significantly under-reported.

(Additional reporting by Masayuki Kitano, Fathin Ungku and Saeed Azhar; Editing by Miral Fahmy, Robert Birsel)

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Singapore Zika cases hit 275; new potential cluster at Bishan found

Channel NewsAsia 6 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: 17 new cases of locally transmitted Zika were confirmed on Tuesday (Sep 6), bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Singapore to 275. Authorities added that there is a potential new cluster at Bishan Street 12, involving a previously reported case and a new case today.

In a joint statement, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) added that, of the 17 new cases, 10 are linked to the Aljunied Crescent / Sims Drive / Kallang Way / Paya Lebar Way cluster.

Apart from the Bishan Street 12 case, the other six cases have no known links to any existing cluster.

NEA said it will be carrying out vector control operations and outreach efforts at the new potential cluster at Bishan Street 12.

The agency added that it has been continuing with vector control operations and outreach efforts in Aljunied Crescent, Sims Drive, Paya Lebar Way and Kallang Way, and that it has expanded operations and outreach efforts at the periphery of this cluster at Circuit Road, Geylang East Central, Geylang East Avenue 1.

As of Sep 5, 65 breeding habitats – comprising 38 in homes and 27 in common areas or other premises – have been detected and destroyed, it said.

The agency added that it is continuing with vector control operations and outreach efforts in Bedok North Avenue. As of Sep 5, 67 breeding habitats – comprising 56 in homes and 11 in common areas and other premises – have been detected and destroyed. Mosquito control measures are ongoing.
NEA said vector control operations and outreach efforts at Joo Seng Road are ongoing. As of Sep 5, two instances of breeding in common areas or other premises have been detected and destroyed.

The agency added that it would continue to work with stakeholders and the community to reduce mosquito breeding, as vector control is key to reducing the transmission of Zika in the community.

Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told ASEAN leaders at the group's summit in Laos that, given the presence of the Aedes mosquito, Zika may become endemic in the region, like dengue, and called for the 10-member grouping to join hands in fighting a possibly extended campaign against the virus.

- CNA/dt

NTUC Fairprice brings in more anti-mosquito products as demand surges by over 10 times
Today Online 6 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — Urging customers not to hoard anti-mosquito products and to “buy only what they need for personal use”, NTUC Fairprice announced on Tuesday (Sept 6) that it has placed an additional order for 175,000 packs/bottles/cans/tubes of various types of insect repellents and insecticides.

This quantity is equivalent to about 10 times the normal weekly sales of such items before Zika cases were reported, said NTUC Fairprice.

Delivery of these products will commence in batches from Tuesday till the end of the week, and prices of the products will remain unchanged, it added.

This comes after the discovery of locally-transmitted Zika virus infections in the Republic, which led to an increased demand in anti-mosquito products.

NTUC Fairprice noted a more than ten-fold increase in demand of such products over the past weekend compared to the month before. From Sept 1 to 4, more than 115,000 anti-mosquito products were purchased.

NTUC FairPrice chief executive officer Seah Kian Peng said: “We want to assure the community that additional stocks of anti-mosquito products are being sent to our stores and we will keep prices stable.

“There is no need to stock up as we will continue to bring in more supplies and we urge customers to only buy what they need so that as many households may have access to these products for their personal use.”

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Low chance of haze in next few days: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 6 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) for the next 24 hours is forecast to stay in the Moderate range, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Tuesday (Sep 6).

As of 6pm, the 24-hour PSI was 52-58, in the Moderate range, and the 1-hour PM2.5 concentration reading fell within the Normal range across Singapore. No hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Tuesday as well, due to a partial satellite pass and cloud cover, NEA said.

NEA said thundery showers are expected in Singapore on Wednesday morning, adding that prevailing winds are forecast to blow from the south or southwest. The 1-hour PM2.5 concentration reading is expected to stay in the Normal band.

NEA added that given the air quality forecast for the next day, everyone can continue with normal activities, while those who do not feel well - especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lunch conditions - should seek medical attention.

"For the next few days, the prevailing winds are forecast to gradually shift to blow from the south or southeast. Showers are still expected over parts of central and southern Sumatra. The likelihood of Singapore being affected by transboundary haze is low," NEA said.

- CNA/dl

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ASEAN should prepare for possibly extended campaign against Zika: PM Lee

Justin Ong Channel NewsAsia 6 Sep 16;

VIENTIANE, Laos: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Sep 6) urged the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) to join hands in fighting a possibly extended campaign against the Zika virus.

Speaking at the 28th ASEAN Summit plenary in Laos, Mr Lee said that Singapore has immediately stepped up measures since the number of locally transmitted cases jumped in just over a week to 258 as of Sep 5.

"It is imperative for us to work together to combat Zika, but we should put Zika in the proper context," said Mr Lee. "Given the presence of the Aedes mosquito, Zika may become endemic in our region, just like dengue."

"We should prepare ourselves for a possibly extended campaign against Zika but ensure that the region remains open and connected for business and trade."

He added that Singapore will work with ASEAN and the international community to combat the disease.


At the plenary Mr Lee also touched on the transboundary haze issue - stating that with all 10 ASEAN member states having ratified a joint agreement on haze pollution, as well as adopted a roadmap towards a "Haze‐Free ASEAN" by 2020, the next moves would be to fully operationalise both the ASEAN Haze Monitoring System and ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control.

"This will send a strong signal to the errant companies that have been causing the haze pollution," said Mr Lee.

He also spoke on the need to review, update and streamline ASEAN's processes - including for meetings and summits. Said Mr Lee: "I'm happy that Laos is holding the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits back‐to‐back in September this year.

"It has freed up the capacity for ASEAN to have two very good standalone Summits with the US and Russia," he added. "We should task our officials to follow through with concrete recommendations expeditiously."

Mr Lee also acknowledged that the Philippines - which will hold the ASEAN chairmanship in 2017 - had proposed a review of the ASEAN Charter. "It is a good idea, but we should be very careful in going about it," he stated.


At the opening of his speech Mr Lee also spoke on the importance of working on strengthening ASEAN "unity and centrality". Reiterating a point he made at Singapore's National Day Rally last month, he said: "As individual countries, our voice carries limited weight but collectively, with more than 600 million people speaking as one, we will have a louder voice and stronger bargaining power."

"It can be difficult for ASEAN to speak with one voice on issues where we have different positions but we must not let such differences divide us," he added. "If we are divided, we will lose our relevance and value to our partners."

Mr Lee concluded: "The ASEAN community will always be a work in progress but if we stay united and work together, we can overcome our challenges and prosper together."

- CNA/dt

PM Lee warns region to prepare for extended campaign against Zika
ALBERT WAI Today Online 6 Sep 16;

VIENTIANE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (Sept 6) that South-east Asia should prepare for a “possibly extended campaign” against Zika, while taking steps to ensure that the regional economy is not affected.

“The Aedes mosquito is endemic in our region and Zika may also be endemic in our region, just like dengue,” said Mr Lee during the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) Summit plenary session in Vientiane.

“We should prepare ourselves for a possibly extended campaign against Zika but ensure that the region remains open and connected for business and trade.”

He said Singapore will work with countries in the region, as well as the international community, to combat the disease, which has affected some 275 people in the Republic.

Mr Lee noted that 72 countries and territories have reported evidence of mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission since 2007, including some in South-east Asia.

“Since the recent detection of locally transmitted cases in Singapore, we have undertaken necessary immediate measures, for example, stepping up testing, intensifying mosquito control, expanding public education, and advising on extra precautions for pregnant woman,” said Mr Lee, adding that the Republic’s efforts have been affirmed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO had stated that Zika transmission is present in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Malaysia has also announced Zika cases, including a man from Sabah who died over the weekend because of health complications.

In Thailand, the public health authorities have stepped up surveillance on the virus after reporting nearly 120 cases so far this year, compared with less than 10 annually previously.

Regional health experts believe Zika is significantly under-reported in South-east Asia as the authorities fail to conduct adequate screening and because of its usually mild symptoms.

A senior Indonesian official said this week that it cannot afford to thoroughly check for a possible Zika outbreak as it must focus on fighting dengue.

“At the moment, we cannot go out there and test everybody or every suspected case for Zika because it is too costly,” said Mr Muhamad Subuh, director-general for disease prevention and control at Indonesia’s Health Ministry. “There are other priorities, like dengue fever, which is more prevalent and more dangerous, and we have to allocate our resources accordingly.”

Mr Subuh said the ministry was actively monitoring for Zika, but experts said the authorities would struggle to identify patients as few hospitals offered Zika testing, and those that did expected patients to pay more than US$150 (S$203) for a test, putting it out of reach of many ordinary Indonesians.

“The biggest challenge right now is that we may miss Zika-infected patients because of the lack of facilities and testing,” said Dr Tedjo Sasmono, a scientist at Jakarta’s Eijkman Institute, one of only two facilities in Indonesia capable of diagnosing Zika. WITH AGENCIES

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Programme to detect infectious diseases like Zika set up as early as 2 years ago: Gan

Channel NewsAsia 6 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: Authorities in Singapore have been working with general practitioners to detect infectious diseases like Zika under a surveillance programme that was set up two years ago, revealed Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia on Monday (Sep 5).

The interview is reproduced below:

Q: MOH has been monitoring for Zika for more than a year now as part of the sentinel monitoring programme. Could you tell us a little bit more about this programme and what it aims to do?

A: As we have always expected Zika to come to Singapore sooner or later, it’s not a matter of whether it would come, but when it would come. Therefore, we have put in place a monitoring system about two years ago together with 200 GP clinics. We have also made Zika a reportable disease under the Infectious Diseases Act, so that even GPs who are not our partner GPs, they are also on the lookout for potential Zika cases, especially those with travel history to Zika-infected areas.

So over the last two years, these partner GPs of ours collected some 1,600 samples from those patients who have been to those affected areas, as well as those who have not been to these affected areas but have dengue-like symptoms, and they were tested not to have dengue and therefore we test them for Zika. And so far, all 1,600 cases were tested negative.

In addition to this system, we’ve also been working with all the GPs and all the clinics in Singapore to be on the lookout for unusual infections or unexplained trends, so that we are alerted to potential problems, including Zika. And this was actually how the first case of locally transmitted Zika was confirmed.

Q: When the local cases surfaced last week, there was some confusion over timelines and back-tracing among the general public. How did we go from one confirmed case to 41 confirmed cases the next day? Can you explain a little about how that actually works and what the point of back-tracing is?

A: Actually, this requires some explanation. It’s important to also clarify some of the misconception about the timeline of the emergence of these cases. The first case was a lady, a 47-year-old lady. She fell ill and approached the doctor on Aug 26 and we took her blood, tested it and it was confirmed on Aug 27 to be a positive case.

That was the first confirmed case of locally transmitted Zika. And on the night of Aug 27 itself, we made the announcement.

At the same time, we also had three other cases, suspect cases, results were still pending confirmation. We also made the announcement that they were preliminarily tested positive, pending confirmation.

But before that, before the first confirmed case, we had been alerted to unusual trend of infections, which they could not explain, and the GP alerted us and we have been discussing with the GP. That was on Aug 22 and once this first case of Zika case was confirmed, we decided to look back in time at the cases that emerged from this GP and to investigate further to see whether there were other cases of Zika transmission in the community.

That’s why we began to look back and we went back to the GP, took the data, contacted the patients, and we also noticed that many of the patients were construction workers. That’s why we went back to the construction site in the area, looked for the patients who were ill several weeks ago and tested them for Zika. And this all happened on Aug 27, 28 and we were able to confirm several cases of Zika - 36 of them.

And among these positive cases, we found that the first case, the earliest case that showed symptoms was Jul 31. So it did not mean that we knew about the Jul 31 case on Jul 31 and did not announce it. But because of the backward-looking test, we found that the first case started to have symptoms on Jul 31.

But the case was only confirmed on Aug 27. And that’s when we announced it the following day.

Q: Let’s come back to the sentinel programme. Could we say that the reason why the sentinel programme didn’t pick up more of these cases even before we first got to know about them, because the locations of the clinics – 200 of them – were not near where some of these clusters were developing?

A: I think one important factor that we have to bear in mind is that a lot of the Zika cases were actually asymptomatic. That means that they had no symptoms, which means that it is difficult to detect them. And those with symptoms also tend to be very mild and they also may not have travel history. So in addition to the Sentinel programme surveillance where we work with 200 GPs, we have also been working with all the other GPs, as I have mentioned, to be on the lookout for unusual trends of infection so that we can investigate further. So it is a multi-pronged approach in the surveillance system to look out for Zika as well as other emerging infectious diseases.

Q: You mentioned that a lot of these cases are actually quite mild. Do we expect more severe cases? Are there different strains of Zika we might see emerging? What should pregnant women do in the current situation? Who can they reach out to?

A: Zika is generally a very mild disease. Most of the symptoms are very mild; many of them do not have symptoms. This was the case in other countries which have Zika, and this has also been our experience so far.

Our main concern really is for pregnant women. A small number of pregnant women who infected with Zika, they may have developmental problems with their foetus, and therefore we are paying particular attention to these women who are infected by Zika.

Those pregnant women who are infected, we encourage them to discuss with their doctors, and our public hospitals will also refer them to a maternal foetal medicine specialist, so that they can provide appropriate advice.

We also have to bear in mind that not all infected patients of pregnant women will develop developmental problems with their foetus. Therefore it is important that we do counselling and support on a case-by-case basis, on an individual basis. So I would encourage these ladies to speak to their specialists, so that they can receive the appropriate counselling and support.

Q: Are you surprised that there doesn't appear to be a high number of Zika cases in neighbouring countries?

A: It’s difficult for me to comment on what happens in other countries. I would say that every country’s situation is different, the landscape is different. It is better for us to focus on Singapore, on what we can do and what we would like to do.

I think Zika is a disease that we need to come together as a people, as a government, as a society. So it’s a whole-of-government effort and a whole-of-society approach to tackling Zika. And the most effective way is to focus on vector control, where you and I can do our part in ensuring that we do not breed mosquitoes.

We eradicate all the potential breeding sites, so as to reduce the mosquito population and make transmission less easy.

Q: The idea of sequencing. Do you think sequencing work will help us in our fight of the disease?

A: I think the sequencing will allow us to have a better understanding of the disease – how it spreads and how it is transmitted and its behaviour. I think scientific knowledge is important for us to determine how best we can fight this disease. But I think it is still in early stage. There is still a lot of scientific work that needs to be done for us to better understand the virus and the disease.


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Buildings have to disclose energy use in ‘coming years’: BCA

KENNETH CHENG Today Online 7 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — To spur building owners to come up with innovative and cost-effective solutions to reduce their energy consumption, all buildings will be required to disclose their energy use in the future. In the run-up to that, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) will release such data in anonymised form from Wednesday (Sept 7).

At the opening of the Singapore Green Building Week 2016 on Wednesday, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong announced the release of anonymised energy performance data of buildings, an expansion of the annual building energy benchmarking report, and a revamped Green Mark scheme for residential buildings. These initiatives are part of BCA’s efforts to propel the greening of Singapore’s built environment and to improve user experience in green buildings.

Owners of commercial buildings are currently required to submit data on their energy use to BCA, and only the 10 most energy efficient commercial buildings in each category, such as hotels and retail buildings, are named with owners’ consent in the BCA’s annual building energy benchmarking report.

But in the “coming years”, the BCA will make such disclosures mandatory, although it did not reveal exactly when this will take place. Starting Wednesday, anonymised energy performance data for all commercial buildings will be released through channels such as the data portal,

BCA has been taking a “phased approach” towards mandatory disclosure, starting with mandatory submission of energy use data by commercial buildings in 2013. Last year, it has expanded to include data from healthcare and educational institutions. From next year, owners of sports and recreational facilities, civic and community institutions, and places of worship will also have to submit their data.

In the lead-up to moving away from anonymised data, the BCA will also invite commercial-building owners to voluntarily have their names published as part of the data disclosure. The first set of such data will be released next September.

In the latest energy benchmarking report, commercial buildings continued to fare well on the energy front, registering a 7-per-cent decrease in energy-use intensity — the yearly total energy consumed per unit floor area — between 2008 and last year. And commercial buildings under BCA’s Green Mark scheme — which rates buildings’ environmental sustainability — fared 9 per cent to 13 per cent better than non-Green Mark ones in energy-use intensity.

Educational institutions and healthcare facilities, however, consumed more energy. Tertiary and private educational institutions saw its energy-use intensity rise by about 7 per cent over the same period, while healthcare facilities recorded a 4-per-cent increase.

A revamped Green Mark scheme for residential buildings, to be piloted for a year, was also announced on Wednesday.

The new scheme targets buildings still in their design phase, and is geared towards a greater focus on “good passive design, facade performance, and effective natural ventilation”. It aims to encourage designers to consider features that promote “a more sustainable lifestyle to reduce the building’s impact on the environment”.

The BCA is in discussion with the Housing Board and private developers, such as Lend Lease, to explore and identify suitable projects. In the next few weeks, it will engage other developers, including CapitaLand, to confirm their participation. Currently, about one-third of the Republic’s built area is Green Mark-certified. BCA’s eventual goal is to have 80 per cent of all buildings certified by 2030.

Separately, the authority will join hands with the Rwanda Housing Authority on capacity-building and knowledge exchange with a memorandum of understanding (MOU). It will also lend its expertise to help raise the African country’s green building standards and the two agencies will share best practices.

This MOU will also herald business opportunities for Singapore’s green building players to take part in Rwanda’s development.

Finally, the BCA will also partner Microsoft to develop a new portal that will track the performance of chiller plants and offer insights to enable energy savings. The two-year Chiller Efficiency Smart Portal pilot initiative will mine chiller-plant performance data, including power and temperature, and detect deviations that could result in energy waste.

Irregularities will be fed back to building managers and owners via email or SMS, and reports generated by the system will help them act to optimise performance and save energy.

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Malaysia: Petronas expects $27 bln Pengerang complex to start operations early 2019

* Pengerang refining and chemicals project nearly 50 pct complete
* Downstream operations have become crucial -Petronas executive
* Plans aggressive expansion of lubricants business in Europe
* Expects new floating LNG plant to be running by early 2017
Giancarlo Navach and Stephen Jewkes Reuters 6 Sep 16;

MILAN, Sept 6 Malaysia's state-owned oil and gas company Petronas is on track to get its $27 billion refining and petrochemical complex in the south of the country up and running in 2019, the head of the group's downstream operations told Reuters.

Petronas has earmarked heavy spending cuts to contend with low oil prices that have sent profit tumbling, but the company remains committed to the Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID) project it aims to turn into a regional oil and gas hub by 2035.

"By the end of the year we should have completed more than 50 percent of the complex and we're on track to start operations in the first quarter of 2019," said Md Arif Mahmood, Petronas downstream CEO and group executive vice-president.

The project, launched in 2012 at Pengerang in the southern state of Johor, will consist of a 300,000 barrel per day refinery and petrochemical complex with combined annual chemical output capacity of 7.7 million metric tonnes.

Other facilities include a liquefied natural gas (LNG) regasification terminal.

"There are 4 billion people in southern Asia and future growth will be there as the number of middle-class income makers grows," Mahmood said.


Like other energy companies, Petronas has cut costs, laid off workers and deferred investments to offset the slide in crude prices.

It has earmarked more than 10 billion euros ($11.2 billion) of capital expenditure cuts over the next three to four years and is looking to maximise other revenue streams outside upstream exploration.

"With the new norm for crude at $40 to $50 a barrel, downstream has become a critical component, it flies the flag of the company," Mahmood said.

In Italy to attend the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Monza (Petronas is sponsor of the Mercedes F1 team), Mahmood said that the company's growth in Europe would be focused on expansion of its lubricants business.

"We have an aggressive plan to grow in Germany, the UK, Ireland and Italy," he said.

Europe is one of the company's main lubricant markets, generating 28 percent of the group's total volumes. Italy is the biggest market, accounting for 48 percent of European sales.

In chemicals, Mahmood said the group would maximise benefits from its partnership with Germany's BASF, though a planned joint venture in synthetic rubber with Italian oil major Eni's Versalis has been abandoned.

"We've both decided not to go ahead because of market conditions," Mahmood said.


Besides the RAPID project, Petronas has ambitious plans in LNG and Mahmood said it hopes to gain long-awaited environmental clearance for a $35 billion LNG export terminal in western Canada by the end of the year.

Petronas has been waiting more than three years for a permit to start building the Pacific NorthWest terminal and some analysts have said that LNG oversupply and lower oil and gas prices now threaten to make the project unattractive.

"We are committed at the moment, but first we need to see what the conditions of approval are," Mahmood said.

The company, which is one of the world's largest LNG producers, is also on track with construction of a $12 billion offshore LNG plant that it touts as the world's first floating liquefaction facility.

"You'll see production at the end this year or early next," Mahmood said, adding that commissioning is also under way for a ninth production line at the group's Bintulu LNG complex in Malaysia. ($1 = 0.8970 euro)

(Editing by David Goodman)

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Malaysia: Hornbills put on IUCN's 'Red List'

FERNANDO FONG New Straits Times 6 Sep 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: HELMETED hornbills (Rhinoplax vigil) have been added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

According to a Facebook posting by Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) technical specialist on conservation Yeap Chin Aik, MNS’s proposed motion to conserve the helmeted hornbills had been approved by IUCN, with minor amendment after members voted to support it in an e-voting process early last month.

“Big thanks to my co-architect, Vina, of this motion from the Nature Society Singapore (NSS) and several BirdLife partner organisations and allies that supported the tabling of this motion.

To all who voted YES, a big thank you, too,” he wrote while in Hawaii to attend the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

He said since it was now an international agenda, countries with helmeted hornbills must drive its conservation and protection.

According to IUCN, the hornbill has been uplisted from “near threatened” to “critically endangered”, with decreasing population trend owing to severe hunting for its casque and habitat loss from logging and agricultural conversion.

The helmeted hornbills are described as mostly dark brown and white, with long central tail feathers and a distinctive high red casque that is yellow at the front.

The species is listed as being confined to the Sundaic lowlands, from south Tenasserim in Myanmar; Thailand; Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia; Singapore; Kalimantan and Sumatra in Indonesia; and, Brunei.

Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia chief executive officer Andrew J. Sebastian said that hornbills had been hunted for a long time, not only in Malaysia, but in other countries as well, notably in Thailand and Cambodia.

“Hornbill poaching had always been there. It’s just under the radar.”

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Toxic Algae Blooms Threaten People and Waterways in More Than 20 States in the U.S.

Jax Jacobsen EcoWatch Yahoo News 7 Sep 16;

More than 20 states have seen occurrences of toxic algae blooms this summer, which have had far-reaching environmental and human health impacts across the country. The algae blooms can also be found around the world, in all climates from Greenland to Oman.

Utah swimmers have been sickened by the toxins, while beaches in Florida have been closed to protect beachgoers. In California, complete ecosystems are under threat due to the toxic blooms, NPR reported.

Some beaches in South Florida have been covered by a toxic algae sludge for months prompting Florida Gov. Rick Scott to declare local states of emergency in St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach and Lee counties in June.

California has reported the blooms in at least 30 lakes and reservoirs, California Water Resources Control Board scientist Bev Anderson told NPR.

"There's no question that we are seeing more harmful blooms in more places, that they are lasting longer and we're seeing new species in different areas," University of Maryland researcher Pat Glibert told the National Geographic earlier this month. "These trends are real."

A similar trend happened last year, when algae blooms practically covered the West Coast. In summer 2014, an outbreak in Lake Erie forced Toledo, Ohio to cut off city water to almost half a million residents.

The levels of toxins in the toxic blooms are what's most concerning, Anderson said. Twenty micrograms per liter would cause concern, but these blooms are reporting readings as high as 15,000 micrograms per liter.

Though the quality of drinking water is unlikely to be impacted due to screening in water plants, bathers and boaters can be sickened by the toxins.

One boater in California has noticed the change this summer.

"We've been here since 2002," kayaker Dave Holmes said. "It is by far the worst we've ever seen."

Local resident Wade Hensley had to be hospitalized because of the toxins, after his body became numb from the waist down after he dove into Discovery Bay in the middle of July. He still hasn't recovered feeling in half his body.

"It was about three days of swimming," he said. "Not constant, but in and out. And they can't pinpoint exactly what it is," Hensley said.

The increase in algae and the change in its composition is likely due to warming temperatures, Anderson said.

"We're getting higher temperatures than we've seen ever in the past," she said. "California had an unprecedented drought for the last five years which [has left] the water levels very low in a lot of areas."

Toxins are unusual in algae blooms, she noted.

"Some areas have been monitoring and seeing blooms for decades, but they've never had toxins," she said.

Blooms are also appearing in places that are unusual­, including streams and mountain lakes.

Scientists are grappling with how to understand the impact of the blooms on local ecospheres.

"What emerged from last year's event is just how little we know about what these things can do," University of California-Santa Cruz toxic algae expert Raphael Kudela said.

Algae can have a variety of effects on nearby organisms, National Geographic noted. Some algae can alter the color of the waters around it and cause local air to be dangerous for humans to inhale. Other algae forms can cause fish and shellfish to die, and with them the humans that consume these fish and shellfish.

Other blooms can be so large that they deplete the local area of oxygen and force the death of other organisms.

"We expect to see conditions that are conducive for harmful algal blooms to happen more and more often," University of Maine's Mark Wells said. "We've got some pretty good ideas about what will happen, but there will be surprises, and those surprises can be quite radical."

Joaquim Goes, a researcher at Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, thinks an increased use of fertilizers and substantial population growth are creating the conditions for these toxic algae blooms. But rapid glacial melt in the Himalayas, and the ensuing changes to monsoon patterns, are also causing problems.

It's also unclear how long toxic algal blooms have been a problem, especially in sparsely populated regions such as the Arctic, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center scientist Kathi Lefebvre said.

"It's a weird thing," she said. "We saw domoic acid in every species we looked at, so they are all being exposed to it. It's pretty clear that if you change temperature, light availability and nutrients, that can absolutely damage an ecosystem. But is it just starting? Is it getting worse? Is it the same as always? I have no idea."

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Arctic Ocean shipping routes 'to open for months'

Jonathan Amos BBC 7 Sep 16;

Shipping routes across the Arctic are going to open up significantly this century even with a best-case reduction in CO2 emissions, a new study suggests.

University of Reading, UK, researchers have investigated how the decline in sea-ice, driven by warmer temperatures, will make the region more accessible.

They find that by 2050, opportunities to transit the Arctic will double for non ice-strengthened vessels.

These open-water ships will even be going right over the top at times.

And if CO2 emissions are not curtailed - if the aspirations of the Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise "well below two degrees" are not implemented - then moderately ice-strengthened vessels could be routinely ploughing across the Arctic by late century for perhaps 10-12 months of the year.

"The reduction in summer sea-ice, perhaps the most striking sign of climate change, may also provide economic opportunities," commented Reading's Dr Nathanael Melia.

"There is renewed interest in trans-Arctic shipping because of potentially reduced costs and journey times between Asia and the Atlantic. So far only a few commercial vessels have utilised these routes as they are not currently reliably open."

Arctic scenarios

The two maps above look at the possibilities come mid-century
Pink routes are those taken by moderately ice-strengthened vessels
Blue transits are those available to non-specialised shipping
By 2050, these open-water vessels are taking more central routes

Sea-ice is in a committed, long-term decline as the polar north warms.

The traditional September minimum extent is about to be set in the coming days, and this year looks on course to be the second lowest in the satellite record.

Researchers do not see this trend being reversed anytime soon.

"If we experience a 2-degree increase in global temperatures, we will get close to an Arctic that is effectively ice-free for part of the year; that's less than a million sq km of ice cover," said Reading's Dr Ed Hawkins.

"So, even if future emissions are consistent with the Paris agreement, it will of course mean shipping routes will be more open. Not every year, but more regularly than they are now."

"Open water vessels won't be hugging the Russian coast quite so much, and ice-strengthened ships will be going right over the pole," he told BBC News.

Saving time

The incentives are clear: if vessels can transit the Arctic, they will shave many days off their journey times between the Pacific and North Atlantic ports, and save fuel.

In addition, by plotting a more central course, they can avoid the fees they would otherwise be charged for going through Siberian waters.

The team has been looking at how the opportunities might evolve in the decades ahead.

The group used five prominent climate computer models and essentially trained them to better reflect the distribution of Arctic sea-ice as seen in current observations.

They then ran those models forward through the century under different emissions scenarios, to gauge where and how frequently shipping routes would become navigable.

For European shipping companies currently moving cargo through the Suez canal to and from East Asia to Rotterdam, say, the average journey time tends to take a minimum of about 30 days.

But under a Paris-style future, an Arctic shortcut could shave this to 23 days by mid-century and 22 days by late century for non specialised vessels.

And under a high emissions scenario, these transit times come down further to 20 days by 2050 and 17 days by 2100.

The gains are not so great for North Atlantic ports, such as New York, because a route through the fabled North West Passage is not so much shorter than using the Panama Canal - but the Reading team still finds several days' advantage in going by way of the Arctic.

Another key finding from the research is the way the shipping season in the far north will extend as the period of low-ice conditions grows.

The team says that, for a high emissions scenario, trans-Arctic shipping could be potentially commonplace by late century, with navigable routes available even to open water vessels for perhaps 4-8 months a year.

For a low emissions scenario, where global temperatures are stabilised at less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the frequency with which open-water vessels can make the transits is much wider than today at 2-4 months.

The Reading scientists stress there will always be some sea-ice, especially in winter, and that year-to-year the conditions could be highly variable.

Shipping companies, they say, will weigh several factors before picking a route (e.g. fuel costs, weather, insurance, draft restrictions, cargo type, etc), and may well conclude on occasions that the time saved by going across the Arctic is still not worth it.

This will be especially so if they think there is a possibility of unprotected vessels running into free, fast-moving ice floes.

It is a point picked up by Rachel Tilling, who studies sea-ice using the Cryosat spacecraft. This European Space Agency mission produces quick-turn-around maps of floe thickness.

"Now there's evidence that Arctic shipping routes are opening, those wishing to use them will need to know how thick the ice is on a day-to-day basis. We provide this information through our near-real-time data service, which we launched to aid science and maritime activities in the Arctic," the University College of London researcher said.

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Beyond sushi wrap: Experts warn booming seaweed industry

Expanding number of valuable uses drives astonishing growth of seaweed farming
United Nations University Science Daily 4 Sep 16;

Reseachers have publish policy advice to the multi-billion dollar seaweed farming industry, warning that the rapidly growing industry could easily and needlessly drop into pitfalls previously experienced in both agriculture and fish farming. Seaweed farms now produce more than 25 million metric tons annually valued at US$6.4 billion (2014), exceeding the value of world lemon and lime crops.

A rising number of valuable uses being found for seaweed -- from food and fertilizer to pharmaceuticals and industrial gels -- is driving the rapid growth of an industry that could easily and needlessly drop into some of the same pitfalls previously experienced in both agriculture and fish farming.

Drawing on the expertise of 21 institutions worldwide, UN University's Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health, and the Scottish Association for Marine Science, a UNU associate institute, today published policy advice to the burgeoning, multi-billion dollar industry to help it avoid expensive mistakes and pursue best practices, backed by relevant case studies involving crops like bananas and shrimp.

The authors note that seaweed farms now produce more than 25 million metric tonnes annually. The global value of the crop, US$6.4 billion (2014), exceeds that of the world's lemons and limes.

Seaweed farming has grown from the late 1950s into an industry offering sustainable employment in developing and emerging economies, notably China (which produces over half of the global total of seaweed -- 12.8 million tonnes) and Indonesia (27% of global production -- 6.5 million tonnes). Other major producers include the Republic of Korea and the Philippines.

Among the industry's many wide-ranging benefits:

With fisheries stagnating, cultivating seaweed helps fill a gap and "is widely perceived as one of the most environmentally benign types of aquaculture activity, as it does not require additional feed or fertilisers," the authors say. Consequently, it has been actively promoted by government initiatives, particularly in many developing countries where communities have reduced access to alternative livelihoods or are involved in destructive fishing methods like dynamite fishing.

Increasingly, seaweed cultivation is also being integrated with intensive fish farming to provide nursery grounds for juvenile commercial fish and crustaceans, and to filter undesired nutrients, improve the marine environment and reduce eutrophication.

Indirectly, seaweed farming has reduced over-fishing in many regions, providing coastal communities with an alternative livelihood. In some places, women have become economically active for the first time.
Most of the seaweed produced is used for human consumption with much of the remainder used largely as a nutritious additive to animal feed or as a fertiliser.

In the last decade, seaweed cultivation has been rapidly expanding thanks to growing demand for its use in pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and antimicrobial products, as well as biotechnological applications.

Seaweed today is used in some toothpastes, skin care products and cosmetics, paints and several industrial products, including adhesives, dyes and gels. Seaweed is also used in landscaping or to combat beach erosion.

Problems of rapid expansion

"The rapid expansion of any industry, however, can result in unforeseen ecological and societal consequences," according to the authors.

Communities that come to depend on a single crop for their livelihood become highly vulnerable to a disease outbreak, as happened in the Philippines between 2011 and 2013 when a bacteria that whitens the branches of a valuable seaweed species caused a devastating loss to the communities involved, estimated at over US$ 310 million.

The authors say the industry needs to guard against non-indigenous pests and pathogens, to promote genetic diversity of seaweed stocks and to raise awareness of mistakes in farm management practices (such as placing the cultivation nets too close together, making the crop more vulnerable to disease transfer and natural disasters).

"In addition, the illegal use of algicides / pesticides, with unknown but likely detrimental consequences for the wider marine environment, user conflicts for valuable coastal resources and rising dissatisfaction over the low gate prices for the crop can all result in negative impacts on the industry."

The experts note that increasing demands being placed on the marine environment and competition for maritime space (renewable energy, aquaculture, fisheries, et cetera) necessitates coordination and co-operation between different users, an ecosystem-wide management approach and marine spatial planning (MSP) for aquaculture, alongside regulation to protect the wider marine environment.

In a nutshell, the key points for the seaweed industry come down to:

Biosecurity -- preventing the introduction of disease and non-indigenous pests and pathogens
Investing in risk assessment and early disease detection
Building know-how and capacity within the sector
Cooperative planning to anticipate and resolve conflicts between competing interests in finite coastal marine resources, and
Establishing management policies and institutions at both national and international levels

Cottier-Cook, E.J., Nagabhatla, N., Badis, Y., Campbell, M., Chopin, T, Dai, W, Fang, J., He, P, Hewitt, C, Kim, G. H., Huo, Y, Jiang, Z, Kema, G, Li, X, Liu, F, Liu, H, Liu, Y, Lu, Q, Luo, Q, Mao, Y, Msuya, F. E, Rebours, C, Shen, H., Stentiford, G. D., Yarish, C, Wu, H, Yang, X, Zhang, J, Zhou, Y, Gachon, C. M. M. (2016). Safeguarding the future of the global seaweed aquaculture industry. United Nations University and Scottish Association for Marine Science Policy Brief. ISBN 978-92-808-6080-1. 12pp.

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