I started writing this newsletter thinking, “I don’t know what to put in this week, it doesn’t seem like much has happened!” and then ended up writing a long-ish one. 😅
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COVID-19 and vaccines
Vaccinations are being rolled out in Singapore, beginning with frontline workers. About 27,000 shore-based personnel in the marine sector have also been tested for the coronavirus early this year, and vaccinations began earlier this week. As of Wednesday, about 6,200 people have been vaccinated in Singapore. The vaccination programme will next be rolled out to senior citizens by the end of this month. There are already two operational vaccination centres, with two more expected to be open next week. The government has said that another four centres will open next month.
So far, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for use in Singapore. Following the release of data from trials in Brazil that showed the Sinovac vaccine was only about 50.4% effective, Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong has assured Singaporeans that they’ll be scrutinising the data and going through all the regulatory processes before evaluating if it’s suitable for Singapore.
There’s been some apprehension about vaccines. As expected, it seems like there’s plenty of anti-vaxxer stuff circulating on WhatsApp and WeChat; I’ve heard from a number of friends that they’ve been receiving such content from parents or other older relatives. 😫 Not all healthcare workers are convinced, either — some told TODAYonline that they’re worried about how the long-term effects of COVID-19 vaccines aren’t known yet.
More on contact-tracing data and privacy
Posters saying “TRACETOGETHER REQUIRED” have been popping up all over the place, although I’ve found that you usually can still use a QR scanner or the SingPass app to do the SafeEntry check-in. On Thursday evening, I encountered my first TraceTogether-only SafeEntry barrier while trying to eat some late-night dim sum:
When we told the restaurant staff that TraceTogether isn’t mandatory yet, they shrugged and said they were just told that this was required. They aren’t the only ones to be mistaken/confused: the government is now telling retailers who have started putting up TraceTogether-only SafeEntry to hold off for now.
While TraceTogether was originally set to become mandatory by the end of 2020, the government has had to delay it due to the overwhelming demand of TraceTogether tokens. Some constituencies have run out of tokens to distribute, and they can’t make TT mandatory until everyone’s had a chance to collect one. (If you’re waiting to collect one, you can check if your constituency is distributing them by going to this website.)
Things seem to have quietened down a little bit now that the government is promising new legislation, but there are still many questions that haven’t been answered. In this blog post, Jason Chee says that GovTech had told him back in November that contact-tracing data could be obtained by the police under the Criminal Procedure Code — their email specifically mentions SafeEntry, but if they know that about SafeEntry, how could they have overlooked TraceTogether? It’s quite disingenuous to talk about TraceTogether as separate from SafeEntry when we all know that the two systems are going to be combined.
Over the past week, I wrote for MIT Technology Review about contact-tracing data and public trust.
A survey done by AWARE and Ipsos found that two in five workers have been sexually harassed in the workplace in the past five years. Seven out of 10 of these workers, though, chose not to report what had happened to them. “Those who did not [report harassment] often cited a desire to forget about the incidents, a belief that what they experienced was not severe enough, or a perceived lack of evidence,” said AWARE in its statement.
(Speaking of AWARE, have you listened to their podcast series on the 2009 AWARE saga yet?)
On Singapore’s justice system
“Judges are not infallible,” Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said when making his first public comments about the Parti Liyani case that attracted so much attention and criticism last year. He urged the public not to jump to conclusions of bad faith or impropriety even though judges might sometimes get things wrong.
As far as I can see, he didn’t comment on how the law minister himself had appeared to cast doubt on the High Court judge’s ruling that fully acquitted Parti Liyani.
(Also, since we’re all clear that judges aren’t infallible, can we please abolish the death penalty?!)
Attorney-General Lucien Wong also commented on the case. As reported by Channel News Asia:
Mr Wong said charging decisions are made only after AGC is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable prospect of conviction and that it is in the public interest to prosecute.
"Every prosecution is commenced in the genuine belief that a crime has been committed and needs to be answered for," said Mr Wong.
However, if new facts and circumstances come to light showing that prosecution is no longer tenable or desirable after a person is charged in court, AGC will review the matter and withdraw charges.
I can’t come up with a better response than Dr Stephanie Chok (who has followed Parti’s case extremely closely), so here’s what she said.
Dying of heat stroke after delayed medical attention
This was a horrible read: details of how the supervising officer overseeing the 8km fast march that Dave Lee — a national serviceman who died of heat stroke in 2018 — had rejected suggestions to evacuate Lee immediately have emerged with the opening of the coroner’s inquiry. Captain Tan Baoshu thought that Lee had been suffering from physical exertion rather than heat stroke, decided not to give him an IV drip and repeatedly rejected advice to evacuate Lee, asking them to wait instead. In the end, it took 40 minutes to evacuate Lee.
Tan had been charged in 2018 for causing Lee’s death by a rash act not amounting to culpable homicide, but was later given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal in February last year on account of him having been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. He died that same month.
As mentioned last week, I’ll be moderating the discussion at the launch of Raffles Renounced: Towards a Merdeka History. I’m reading it at the moment and learning so much, so I’m excited for this conversation! You can pre-order the book here. For the launch event, I’ll be talking to Alfian Sa’at and Faris Joraimi, who edited the book along with Sai Siew Min. Details for the event here.
Kokila Annamalai is back with another workshop: this time its on nurturing equitable relationships with communities. Here’s what the workshop will cover:
1) How different stakeholders, including community-based practitioners, can form more equitable and reciprocal relationships with communities.
2) How community-based practitioners can disrupt unequal power dynamics between marginalised communities and these diverse stakeholders, and encourage relationships that centre the voice of the community, and are in service of the community's self-determination.
3) How community-based practitioners can facilitate relationships between different communities on the margins, so as to bridge social capital and strengthen solidarity across struggles.
There’s a participant fee of $25 — sign up here!
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