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Politics

Singapore GE2020: Community job fairs rolled out to help workers find jobs near them, says PAP's Ng Chee Meng

SINGAPORE – Community job fairs are among measures rolled out by the Government to help Singaporeans tide through challenges thrown up by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Such fairs have been held in Punggol, Sengkang, Hougang, Jurong and West Coast since this month to allow workers to browse for job opportunities that are as close as 3km from where they live, said labour chief Ng Chee Meng on Wednesday (July 8).

Mr Ng was speaking during a press conference held at the People’s Action Party (PAP) headquarters, which was also attended by Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee. Mr Chan gave an overview of the outlook for Singapore’s economy, while Mr Ng talked about jobs and Mr Lee outlined plans to help the vulnerable.

Mr Chan noted that the International Monetary Fund estimates that all major economies will be in “a recessionary mode” this year.

Mr Ng, the secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), said workers are aware of the headwinds ahead. The impact on workers across different ages and industries is quite extensive, he said, adding that further retrenchments can be expected even in more resilient industries.

“We are looking at how to position the workers in the best possible way so that they can either hold on to their jobs, or when they are displaced, to be matched to a new job.”

Giving an update on the 100,000 jobs, traineeships and skills training opportunities under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package unveiled in May, Mr Ng said 12,000 job placements have been matched under the initiative so far. Almost 70 per cent of these placements were in the public sector, including areas related to Covid-10 such as healthcare.

Mr Ng said that 16,000 opportunities were available at a job fair at the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) last Friday. These opportunities comprised 7,000 job vacancies, 3,000 traineeship positions, and 6,000 training opportunities.

“Even in the… hustings, we were working hard to take care for the workers,” said Mr Ng, who is leading a PAP team to contest Sengkang GRC in the election.

The Ministry of Education, SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore are working with e2i to provide courses for workers who are willing to improve themselves, he said.

He noted that the Government has provided up to $1,500 in SkillsFuture credits for those aged 40 and above. Under the NTUC’s Enhanced Union Training Assistance Programme, union members aged 40 and above will get increased funding support for course fees, from $250 to $500 till the end of 2022.

Mr Ng said: “For the workers who may be anxious, do step forward to seek this assistance and we will give you the best welfare we know of, and that is a job.”

“We don’t make empty promises, we don’t sweet-talk you, but also give you the realities (and) the accompanying support to make sure you’re taken care of,” he added.

Singapore GE2020: Get full election coverage on our dedicated site here.

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World News

Upside for Indian rupee seen limited despite multiple positives

MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s rupee has the backing of a healthier trade account, steady foreign investment inflows and a return in global risk appetite, but its gains are being limited by a central bank keen to prevent wild swings and build dollar reserves.

The Reserve Bank of India’s stated foreign exchange policy has been to only curb extreme volatility but recent actions suggest it is not letting the local unit appreciate despite its relative underperformance versus peers.

Traders suspect the RBI bought dollars in May and June as the return in risk appetite and overseas investments by a dozen firms, including Facebook, into the digital arm of telecommunications firm Reliance Jio brought in billions of dollars into the country.

Graphic: India foreign portfolio flows in 2020 here

Reliance is scheduled to get a total of $15.8 billion, part of which has already come in. India’s external account has also improved owing to the sharp fall in global crude oil prices and a collapse in imports in an economy weakened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies have raised $2.49 billion through external commercial borrowings in April and May.

The flows coming in are only temporary and cannot be taken for granted as a recovery in growth would push up imports and widen the current account deficit eventually, said Suyash Choudhury, head of fixed income at IDFC AMC.

“It is also in this context that we see RBI’s more aggressive stance in accumulating forex reserves lately. It is prudent to shore up external defenses given the long haul ahead.”

Graphic: India’s foreign exchange reserves here

The rupee INR=IN was at 74.98 to the dollar on Wednesday and is down 4.74% so far this year, making it the worst performing Asian currency.

The RBI’s foreign exchange reserves have climbed to a record above $500 billion and are now adequate to cover around 13 months of imports, far higher than the average over the last 5 years.

Graphic: India’s foreign exchange reserves here

The rupees released by the RBI’s dollar buying intervention are adding to the cash circulating in the banking system. There is, however, little evidence the RBI has mopped up that excess cash, and clearing house data shows state-run banks are ploughing more money into government bonds.

The RBI is, however, expected to purchase government bonds either directly or via open market bond purchases to help tame market yields and ensure the government is able to meet its record borrowing needs.

Graphic: India 10-year bond yield and repo rate here

Rahul Gupta, head of currency research at Emkay Global Financial Services, sees the range around 74.20-74.30 becoming a floor for the dollar-rupee pair, and expects it to head towards 76.20 or 77.00 within a couple of months.

“The government’s stimulus also needs to be financed from somewhere, imports also will start rising as the economy recovers and we will again start seeing pressure on the currency,” he said.

Graphic: Indian rupee over last 18 months here

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Business

As insurers face hefty pandemic losses, newcomers see chance to step in

LONDON (Reuters) – Commercial insurers are facing hefty claims from the coronavirus crisis but are also seeing a steep rise in premiums – tempting companies and industry veterans to raise capital, launch new businesses or expand into new lines.

New insurance ventures sprang up after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The industry is hoping to replicate that process as premiums increase because of the fallout from pandemic.

Convex, a Bermuda and London-based insurer, for example, is launching cover for one of the areas worst hit by the current crisis – event cancellation.

A lot of firms are reducing the amounts of business they do in certain types of insurance, creating space for new entrants, said Convex deputy chief executive Paul Brand.

John Cavanagh, former head of broker Willis Re and a founder of insurance venture capital firm Beat Capital, is seeking to raise funds in the “low hundreds of millions of pounds” from long-term investors for new insurance projects.

“We think the market is presenting sufficient opportunity for us to go out and raise capital – we might have a good five-year run,” he said.

Cavanagh, who has worked in the industry for 45 years, said 2020 was only the fifth “hard market” he had seen, referring to a market in which premiums are rising sharply, rather than staying steady or falling.

Investors’ appetite for higher returns when central banks are putting in trillions of dollars in stimulus is attracting them to insurance.

Broker Hyperion estimates around $16 billion in capital has already been raised by insurers this year, compared with $9 billion over the same period last year.

While some of it is defensive, designed to replace lost capital as a result of claims, insurers are also banking on rising prices to recoup some coronavirus-related losses.

U.S. property reinsurance rates rose by as much as 30% at during renewals in June and July, Willis Re said.

Lloyd’s of London insurers Beazley BEZG.L, Hiscox (HSX.L) and Lancashire (LRE.L) are among those to raise equity.

Industry veterans Ed Noonan and Jeff Consolino were drafted in to run insurer StarStone U.S. in a restructuring by parent Enstar (ESGR.O) which includes $610 million in investment from SkyKnight Capital, Dragoneer and Aquiline.

Other veterans are working with private equity firms to raise capital for new insurance ventures, finance industry sources said. One banker estimated the amount to be raised by insurance companies old and new at $20-25 billion.

Insurance rates have often have started to rise before a big crisis, which has then accelerated the trend, industry sources said.

For an interactive graphic on index of property catastrophe reinsurances rates (Copy) Index of property catastrophe reinsurances rates , click here

In 2020, steep losses in 2017 and 2018 due to hurricanes and rising litigation awards in recent years had boosted property and casualty insurance rates even before the pandemic struck.

Tatsuhiko Hoshina, the founder and former CEO of Tokio Millennium Re, which launched in 2000, said 2020 was “probably the greatest opportunity” for investors in insurance since the period after the 9/11 attacks.

Insurers who specialize in taking over policies closed to new customers and managing them more efficiently also see opportunities.

Tom Booth, chief executive of legacy insurer Darag, highlighted event cancellation, directors’ and officers’ insurance and business interruption as among the hard-hit sectors which insurers might look to offload.

Insurance hubs Bermuda and London are tipped to attract most of the new businesses. But Brian Schneider, senior director at Fitch Ratings, said new insurers could struggle to get their licenses fast enough to compete with the old hands.

The fact that the pandemic is still unfolding also makes it difficult to judge the losses, with some investors likely awaiting “greater clarity”, said Michael Butt, chairman of Axis Capital.

The influx of new businesses could also soften the hard market, making it challenging for newcomers to survive.

Out of eight insurers launched in 1993 after Hurricane Andrew, six have since been bought by bigger companies.

“These companies need to be fleet-footed. Risk is protean, it changes all the time,” said Michael Millette, managing partner of insurance asset manager Hudson Structured Capital Management.

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Fitness

Coronavirus: Possible side effects of mRNA vaccines is still unclear

In the race for so-called mRNA-vaccines against the Coronavirus, there is currently little information about possible side effects.

Since there is still no licensed mRNA vaccine for humans, the question side effects one of the most important, which will now be clarified with the ongoing clinical trials, it was said by the Paul-Ehrlich-Institute (PEI), which is, among other things, for the authorization of medicinal products are responsible.

That people may experience after vaccination transient side effects, was in General normal, said the Director of research of the Association of research-based pharmaceutical companies (VFA), Siegfried Throm. “Vaccines train the body, marriage a real pathogen penetration.”

This would be injected in the conventional vaccines, small quantities of pathogen in the best interests or attenuated virus, or oral polio vaccine administered.

The body attempts to repel the invaders. For many people, the actually desired immune response caused the symptoms.

Impfkomplikationen occur, these are reported to the PEI. The most recently collected data from the year 2018, according to 3570 suspected. In 1070, it was serious complications.

The VFA expected in 2018, with approximately 50 million vaccines in total. According to this information, a serious side effect would be to nearly 50 000 vaccinations.

Everyone’s body reacts to the Vaccination otherwise

Among the more than 11 000 PEI reported adverse reactions the most common adverse event was a local reaction, followed fever and headache followed.

The number exceeds the number of suspected cases, because there are several adverse reactions/symptoms can be reported to a case.

A so-called Phase 1 study with mRNA vaccine is currently carried out approximately at the tübingen-based company Curevac. mRNA is a type of messenger molecule, in which the Instructions for the production of proteins is.

For your vaccine Curevac have provided researchers mRNA with the Instruction for a Protein of the envelope of the Coronavirus.

After a vaccination, the human cells produce this Protein. The body recognizes it as foreign and begins to make antibodies as well as antibodies against it.

On mRNA, the developers at Corona, because not, as is otherwise the viruses for the preparation of the vaccine are needed, but only their genetic Information. To allow the vaccines in unprecedented speed.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa)

*The article “Coronavirus: Possible side effects of mRNA vaccines is still unclear,” published by FitForFun. Contact with the executives here.

Categories
World News

Huawei latest: Top Army general in warning on China ‘Authoritarian political warfare’

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But General Sir Nick Carter did warn that China, Russia, Iran and North Korea all operate in an era of “constant conflict”. His intervention came as Tory MPs yesterday ramped up pressure on Boris Johnson to ban Huawei from Britain’s 5G network. Beijing was yesterday accused of trying to influence top UK figures in politics, business and academia. A dossier, compiled by former spy Christopher Steele, also claimed China was using Huawei to “undermine the Five Eyes intelligence alliance” – with the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Sir Nick, Chief of the Defence Staff, told the Commons Defence Select Committee yesterday that our adversaries ramped up their cyber weapons, missile systems and submarine capabilities as we fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said: “At the moment it is premature to describe it as a threat, it is a challenge.

“We see a more assertive Russian threat and we see the challenge of China very vividly. Then there are others, such as Iran or North Korea, who cause us to challenge what is happening. The threat from radical extremism isn’t going anywhere.

“In fact, in some parts of the world, it is growing.

“Our opponents practise what I would call ‘authoritarian political warfare’. For them, the strategic landscape is characterised by continuous and neverending struggle that encompasses everything from what we would call peace to nuclear war. Hence, this era of constant competition, and perhaps arguably, constant conflict.”

Tory MP Alicia Kearns, of the China Research Group, said: “When I speak to my colleagues, none of us want to enter into an era of frozen relations with China.” But fellow Tory MP Neil O’Brien, also a member of the group, said: “I think we shouldn’t kid ourselves about the abilities of the Chinese government.

“It’s incredibly able to conduct industrial espionage and find out things it wants. It’s managed to steal industrial secrets, even in very sensitive areas like defence technology.”

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei called the claims against the company “unfounded” and said they were part of a “long-running US campaign”.

Comment by Conservative MP Bob Seely

The idea of a China at peace with the world is sadly fading.

In Britain, we are looking again at Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant that wants a role in our 5G network.

Huawei is a high-risk vendor. There are many reasons why we should not allow it. The Chinese ambassador threatens us if we do not comply.

We need a new and realistic policy towards China. Fortunately, this Government is determined to take the idea of Global Britain seriously and has committed to a review of our foreign policy. So, what should we do?

We need to respect China’s role as the world’s second superpower but that doesn’t mean betray our values or interests. We should welcome Chinese visitors and students but not the surveillance states that accompanythem. We need to build up trade in most areas but not all.

Britain must take a strong line to stop Chinese state takeovers of firms in sensitive areas: defence, super-computing, facial recognition. We need a tougher line on intellectual property theft and cyber-attacks.

It is also vital that we find common positions with our allies throughout the world so that we can stand together to push back against this new and aggressive Chinese stance.

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World News

Donald Trump ‘abused’ as a child – creating narcissist bullying president, claims niece

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man is a new book claiming to reveal Mr Trump’s “family secrets”. Written by the President’s niece Mary Trump the tell-all book is the latest to reveal secrets about the controversial US President, with former national security advisor John Bolton releasing another exposé last month.

Mary Trump suggests that President Trump’s personality has been shaped by the parenting of the President’s dad Fred.

Ms Trump said: “Child abuse is, in some sense, the expectation of ‘too much’ or ‘not enough’.

“Donald directly experienced the ‘not enough’ in the loss of connection to his mother at a crucial development stage.”

The president’s mother, also called Mary, who suffered from health issues from an emergency hysterectomy.

The book, which was quickly rubbished by the White House, suggests this made Fred Trump the sole provider in the family, with Donald and his siblings dependent on him.

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Ms Trump added: “Having been abandoned by his mother for at least a year, and having his father fail not only to meet his needs but to make him feel safe or loved, valued or mirrored, Donald suffered deprivations that would scar him for life.

“The personality traits that resulted – displays of narcissism, bullying, grandiosity – finally made my grandfather take notice but not in a way that ameliorated any of the horror that had come before.”

Ms Trump also accuses Donald’s father of being a “high-functioning sociopath”, as well as racist and sexist.

The president has been accused of racism and sexism throughout his time in office, which Ms Trump suggests is a parallel.

Another major accusation levelled at Fred Sr is that his emotional abuse scarred all of his children.

Ms Trump’s father, Fred Jr., died from an alcoholism induced sickness in 1981.

She writes that her uncles character was formed by trauma from his brother’s treatment.

As a result, Ms Trump suggests Donald became ruthless and self-centred.

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Staff from Trump’s administration have rubbished Mary’s book.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said President Trump has “no response, other than it’s a book of falsehoods … ridiculous, absurd allegations that have absolutely no bearing in truth”.

Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews went further in tearing into the book, and said: “The President describes the relationship he had with his father as warm and said his father was very good to him.

“He said his father was loving and not at all hard on him as a child.”

The book also tackled Donald’s relationship with women, and refers to when Mary’s uncle once commented on her body in the 1990’s

When Donald saw his niece in a swimsuit in Mar-a-Lago, Ms Trump claimed he said: “Holy s***, Mary.

“You’re stacked.”

She continued: “I was 29 and not easily embarrassed, but my face reddened and I suddenly felt self-conscious.

“I pulled my towel around my shoulders.”

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World News

Free hospital parking for NHS staff set to be scrapped once pandemic eases

Free hospital parking for NHS staff will end once the coronavirus pandemic begins to ease, the Government has confirmed.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on March 25 that the Government would cover the costs of car parking for NHS staff who he said were ‘going above and beyond every day’ at hospitals in England. That came after more than 400,000 people signed a petition calling for the charges to be scrapped during the crisis.

But the Department of Health has now said the scheme will continue only for ‘key patient groups and NHS staff in certain circumstances’ as the pandemic eases, although no further timeline has been given.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has said to reintroduce charges while the virus is still being fought would be ‘a rebuff to the immense efforts of staff across the country and the sacrifices they have made to keep others safe’.

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Last week, health minister Edward Argar said the support to make free parking available ‘cannot continue indefinitely’ and added that the Government was looking at how long it would ‘need’ to go on.

Responding on Friday to a written question from Labour’s Rachael Maskell, he said: ‘The provision of free parking for National Health Service staff by NHS Trusts has not ended and nothing has changed since the announcement on 25 March.

‘However, free parking for staff has only been made possible by support from local authorities and independent providers and this support cannot continue indefinitely.’

For all the latest news and updates on Coronavirus, click here.

Mr Argar said the Government wanted to be able to make good on its promise of free hospital parking for the disabled, frequent outpatient attendees, parents of sick children who are staying overnight and nightshift workers.

He said: ‘Implementation of this commitment has been on hold whilst the NHS has been managing the Covid-19 pandemic and devoting its hospital parking capacity to staff and other facilities necessary for managing the pandemic.’

In response to another question from Labour’s Zarah Sultana, also answered on Friday, Mr Argar said the Government was ‘considering how long free parking for National Health Service staff will need to continue, recognising that this has only been made possible by external support from local authorities and independent sector providers’.

He added: ‘The Government’s focus remains on ensuring the commitment of free parking for the groups identified in their announcement of 27 December 2019 is implemented once the pandemic abates.’

Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Layla Moran said NHS workers must not be ‘saddled with extortionate parking charges’ and said removing charges for staff had been ‘the right move’.

She said: ‘Our healthcare workers deserved to have certainty that they could get to work without extra charges or hassle.

‘Now the Government must provide clarity and ensure our workers are not saddled with extortionate parking charges.’

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: ‘The BMA has always believed that it is unacceptable for staff who serve in our health service to be required to pay significant amounts of money to park their car in hospital grounds. This is even more salient as the nation recognises the immeasurable contribution of healthcare workers in fighting this pandemic.

‘The Government’s decision to waive parking charges during Covid-19 was a welcome announcement, but to reinforce them, before we’ve even won the fight against this virus, is a rebuff to the immense efforts of staff across the country and the sacrifices they have made to keep others safe.’

A spokeswoman for the department said: ‘We want to make sure NHS staff can travel safely to work during the pandemic, which is why we requested that the NHS make parking free for staff, and that local authorities do the same with their car parks.

‘When the pandemic begins to ease, the NHS will continue to provide free hospital car parking to key patient groups and NHS staff in certain circumstances. We will provide further updates on this in due course.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected]

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Politics

Rishi Sunak unveils new measures to avoid youth unemployment disaster

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In a mini-budget at Westminster, the Chancellor is to announce a £2billion “Kickstart” scheme designed to save hundreds of thousands of youngsters from the scourge of unemployment. He is also expected to trigger an immediate stamp duty holiday for most property sales to rejuvenate the housing market as well as unleashing a “New Deal” surge in construction and green renovation projects. Ahead of today’s Commons statement, the Chancellor insisted that protecting younger workers from unemployment will be his top priority as the economy emerges from the coronavirus lockdown.

He said: “Young people bear the brunt of most economic crises, but they are at particular risk this time because they work in the sectors disproportionately hit by the pandemic.

“We also know that youth unemployment has a long-term impact on jobs and wages and we don’t want to see that happen to this generation.

“So we’ve got a bold plan to protect, support and create jobs – a Plan for Jobs.”

Mr Sunak will promise a “young jobs revolution” designed to save the country from the soaring levels of youth unemployment last seen during the 1980s.

Under his £2billion Kickstart Scheme, the Government will pay employers to provide hundreds of thousands of “high quality” six-month work placements for workers aged between 18 and 24.

Youngsters claiming Universal Credit who are currently at risk of long-term unemployment will be eligible for the scheme.

The Treasury will fund 100 percent of the National Minimum Wage for workers on the scheme for 25 hours a week. Employers will be able to top up the wages further.

Mr Sunak believes the six-month placements will give youngsters the chance to learn skills and gain vital experience to improve their chances of going on to find long-term jobs.

Treasury data suggests younger workers are far more likely to have been “furloughed” during the lockdown than their older counterparts.

At the same time, the number of people aged under 25 claiming jobless benefits has increased by a quarter since the lockdown began in March.

Ministers also fear that many youngsters leaving full-time education this summer will face an extremely difficult jobs market.

Mr Sunak will also announce a £111million investment to triple the number of traineeships in the current financial year and a further £17million to triple the number of work academy placements in 2020-21.

His three-point Plan for Jobs will include measures designed to protect existing jobs, support firms through the coming months and create new jobs for the future.

Other key measures to be announced tomorrow include a £5billion package of infrastructure spending on roads, hospitals and schools to trigger a construction boom.

And a further £3billion package designed to make Britain’s economy “greener” will also be unveiled. It will include grants of up to £5,000 to make hundreds of thousands of homes more environmentally friendly.

Homeowners will be able to spend the cash on loft, wall and floor insulation, eco-friendly boilers, heat pumps, double or triple-glazed windows, low-energy lighting and energy-efficient doors.

The Green Homes Grant scheme is designed to provide extra work for plumbers, builders and other tradesmen to get the economy motoring.

Treasury officials have also been studying at a temporary six-month increase in the stamp duty threshold from the current level of £125,000 to an amount between £300,000 and £500,000 to stimulate the housing market, seen as a key driver of economic growth.

At Treasury questions in the Commons yesterday, the Chancellor insisted he was “proud” of the measures the Government has taken to support the economy through the lockdown.

He said: “I am proud of what this Government have put in place and the speed at which we have done so.

“The jobs of nine million people have been protected through our furlough scheme; 2.7 million self-employed people have had their income supported; and millions of companies have received access to loans, grants, tax deferrals.

“In sum, this represents £130 billion of support—one of the most comprehensive and generous support packages available of any country anywhere in the world.”

He added: “The Government has taken unprecedented steps to keep as many people as possible in their existing jobs, support viable businesses to stay afloat and protect the incomes of the most vulnerable.

“We are now carefully and safely reopening our economy.”

The Federation of Small Businesses last night called for a “jobs first” mini-budget after a survey showed one in ten small firms are cutting jobs as the economy emerges from the lockdown.

Mike Cherry, chairman of the federation, said: “The Chancellor needs to take a jobs first approach. Bringing down employment costs and increasing opportunities will be central to recovering from this recession.

“After the financial crash, nine in ten people who left unemployment to re-join the workforce did so through a small business or self-employment, so it’s clear where support should be targeted.”

Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said: “Labour has repeatedly called on the Government to match the ambitions of Labour’s Future Jobs Fund, to rise to the youth unemployment challenge. To the extent that the ‘Kickstart’ programme is based on the Future Jobs Fund model, it should help many young people to access work.

“However, the Government is yet to rise to the scale of the unemployment crisis. The urgent priority right now is to prevent additional unnecessary unemployment in the first place by abandoning the Government’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the removal of the Job Retention and Self-Employed schemes. In addition, older people who become unemployed, and those living in particularly hard-hit areas, will also need tailored support.

“The Government also urgently needs to get test, track and isolate right, as ultimately the biggest drag on our economy has been the slow public health response, which threatens additional localised lockdowns and which has reduced consumer confidence.”

Claire Walker, of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The Kickstart Scheme will help firms create and support thousands of opportunities for young people, maintaining their access to the job market and driving the UK’s economic recovery.

“The Chancellor has responded to our calls to prioritise work experience and job opportunities for those entering the world of work at a particularly challenging time. The Chamber network stands ready to work with the Government on the detail of the scheme to ensure it is successfully delivered on the ground.

“This announcement must form part of a wider plan to boost business confidence and protect livelihoods as we restart, rebuild and renew the UK economy.”

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World News

Demonstrators storm Serbian parliament over coronavirus lockdown

Demonstrators demand President Aleksandar Vucic resign after he issued lockdown order due to surge in COVID-19 cases.

A group of opposition supporters stormed the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade on Tuesday night in a protest against a lockdown planned for the capital this weekend to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Tuesday evening that stricter measures including the lockdown of Belgrade over the weekend would be introduced because of the rising number of coronavirus infections.

Opponents blame the increase on the government and say people should not have to pay the price for another lockdown.

After Vucic’s statement, several thousand people began gathering in front of the parliament in Belgrade’s central square.

About two hours before midnight local time, a small group of protesters pushed past a police cordon, broke through a door and entered the parliament building. But police later pushed them back.

The crowd demanded Vucic’s resignation and shouted: “Serbia has risen.”

Protesters also clashed with police in front of the state TV building. The broadcaster is accused by the opposition of being biased towards the government.

A number of police vehicles were set on fire.

Overwhelmed hospitals

Serbian police director Vladimir Rebic told state television that a number of demonstrators had been detained and police officers injured, but did not specify how many. He said smaller protests were also held in other Serbian cities.

“I appeal to the citizens … to help ease the tensions,” Rebic said. “I’m certain police will respond adequately and prevent any form of hooligan behaviour.”

A Reuters cameraman said the police threw tear gas, pushing the crowd away from the parliament building. Police reinforcements later arrived.

“People gathered spontaneously. Discontent can be felt in the air,” Radomir Lazovic of the Do Not Let Belgrade Drown opposition group told N1 television.

Serbia, a country of seven million people, has reported 16,168 coronavirus infections and 330 deaths. But the numbers are spiking and 299 cases and 13 deaths were reported on Tuesday alone.

Epidemiologists and doctors warned that hospitals were running at full capacity and that medical workers were tired.

In early March, Serbia introduced a lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

But in late May, the Balkan country was among the first to open up and set elections for June 21. During the campaign, Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) organised rallies at which people did not wear masks.

Top party officials, including the president’s adviser, were infected after celebrating their election victory in a small room while not wearing face masks.

Opposition parties, many of which boycotted the election, criticise Vucic for using the lockdowns to strengthen what they call his autocratic rule.

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World News

Gay rights: the taboo subject in Singapore's election

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Among a record eleven parties set to contest Singapore’s election on Friday, there has been virtual silence on one of the conservative city-state’s most controversial issues, gay rights.

Advocacy groups have stepped up awareness campaigns with scorecards for politicians and online rallies in recent weeks over what they see as everyday discrimination that stems from a rarely-used, colonial-era law banning sex between men.

But for some gay Singaporeans, casting their vote in the mandatory July 10 ballot will serve as a reminder that they have few political allies on one of the issues that matters most to them.

“It’s a non-topic with the parties, the choices we have,” said Victor Ong, a 44-year-old Singaporean who lives with his British husband Harry, whom he married four years ago in London, and their amber-coloured cat Whisky.

“As much as I want to make my decision based on their stance on that, there isn’t any material to work with.”

Ong’s marriage is not recognised in Singapore, meaning the couple are not eligible for some benefits like housing and tax. They also say they avoid public displays of affection due to worries about social norms shaped by the 377A law which effectively criminalises them.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has previously called the law an “uneasy compromise” as society “is not that liberal on these matters”.

There is no mention of gay rights or 377A in the manifesto of his People’s Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965 and is widely-expected to be returned to power, or that of any other party in the election.

Of the four main parties contesting, only the new Progress Singapore Party responded to a request for comment. A spokesman said it did not object to removing criminal punishment for homosexuals but the debate over 377A was a “proxy combat zone” for other issues like family structures and marriage.

Political analyst Loke Hoe Yeong said the issue was considered “political suicide” for parties who feel they will be punished by either conservative or liberal voters.

Yet advocacy groups do sense a growing awareness around the issue, especially after India repealed a similar law in 2018.

“That tacit acceptance of the status quo is giving way to a sense of frustration amongst the younger voters,” said Clement Tan of Pink Dot SG, which hosted an online rally last month for Singapore’s LGBT community.

An ally has also emerged in Lee Hsien Yang, the prime minister’s estranged brother and son of the city-state’s modern day founder Lee Kuan Yew, who has become an increasingly vocal critic of the government in the run up to the vote.

“The tidal wave against discrimination on sexual orientation has swept across the world,” Lee, whose son is gay and married overseas, told Reuters.

“The British, from whom we ‘inherited’ 377A, have repealed it decades ago. A repeal merely decriminalises and ends this discrimination.”

Nearly 70 countries around the world criminalise gay sex, mainly in Africa and the Middle East.

Another rights group Sayoni changed tack ahead of this election. With parties mum on the issue, they decided to score individual politicians on their LGBT stance by reviewing public comments they had made and ranking them from A to F.

Ong says he will vote on Friday based on “basic needs” but he hopes that the future will bring change from a younger generation more supportive of gay rights.

“We are sons and daughters of Singapore, whether we are gay or straight, and to vote, I think it should be accounted for.”

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