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‘My friend the hero who was gunned down’

The killing of Ethiopian protest singer and revered musician Hachalu Hundessa led to days of unrest in the country, and the deaths of at least 80 people during protests.

Hachalu mostly sang about love and unity, but his songs also addressed issues of marginalisation felt by his Oromo ethnic group.

BBC camera operator Amensisa Ifa, who was a friend of the musician’s and had filmed an award-winning video with him, looks back on the days since he died.

Sometimes when I think about Hachalu’s death, I think that I would rather have died if that meant that he could live.

He was a hero to many, and had so much to offer his people.

He always fought for them – and during those times when many artists, activists and politicians fled the country, Hachalu stayed back raising issues that many would not dare to raise.

‘Hachalu is in hospital’

I started getting calls and text messages after 22:00 (19:00 GMT) on Monday from friends who were all asking me about what had happened to Hachalu.

No-one at the point was saying that he was dead, but it was clear that something had happened.

I tried calling our other friends, but no-one was picking up. Then I got a text message to say that Hachalu was in hospital.

I decided to drive there and, on my way, managed to reach one of our friends on the phone and he told me, sobbing, that he was standing next to Hachalu’s body.

Hachalu had been shot dead.

When I got to the hospital there was a lot of noise inside the room where the body was.

Someone uncovered it and I saw what looked to me like a gunshot wound to his chest.

The police were there, as well as a lot of friends.

I was calling his name and crying. Everybody was shouting, everybody was crying.

“Don’t tell me this is real,” we kept on screaming.

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Hachalu’s body was then taken to another hospital so the doctors could do further investigations, and we followed the ambulance.

We stayed through the night. At about 04:00 we went outside and the whole area in front of the hospital was full of people as the news had spread about Hachalu’s death.

Everybody was crying, calling his name.

Then after sunrise, we tried to take the body out of the capital, Addis Ababa, to Hachalu’s home town of Ambo – about 100km (60 miles) west of Addis Ababa.

‘Hachalu is our hero’

As we drove out of the city in a convoy, I could see that there had been a lot of trouble. I could hear gunshots and the police launching tear gas.

We got as far as Burayu, about 15km, where we met thousands of people who had been travelling into Addis Ababa on foot, on lorries and buses; many of them in shock and grief, and wanting to pay their respects.

These were people from different parts of Oromia who had been travelling overnight after hearing of Hachalu’s death. Many were asking for the funeral to take place in the capital.

Sitting in my car, I heard people saying: “Hachalu is our nation’s hero. He deserves a heroic funeral in Addis.”

Our convoy stopped there for a while, and then we started the journey back to Addis Ababa.

We later found out that the government insisted that Hachalu should be laid to rest in Ambo, as it was what the family had wanted. As a result his body was flown by helicopter to the town.

But I couldn’t go to Ambo for the funeral on Thursday as the roads had been blocked.

Instead I had to follow the ceremony on television, and that was the toughest moment for me.

I wanted to be with him to say goodbye properly. I could see that not many people had been allowed to attend, and in our culture you cannot bury even an ordinary person with just a few people around, let alone a big hero like Hachalu.

As I was watching, I was sobbing.

I called my mother in tears and told her: “I want to die today.” She was also crying and I’ve been crying ever since, every time someone asks me how I’m feeling.

I’m still confused about Hachalu’s death.

Even on Thursday, when I heard that something had happened to a friend of his, I instinctively started dialling Hachalu’s number to talk to him about it.

I had talked to him a week before he was shot and he told me that he had a new song that he wanted to play me called “Eessa Jirta?” meaning Where Are You?

Hachalu’s art was not limited to politics. He sang about culture, identity, unity, human rights and love among other things.

I also wanted to chat about a television interview he had just given where he was telling people that he would not turn his back on his political views.

He was talking about the rights of the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group who have long complained of political and economic marginalisation.

People had been accusing him of accepting money from the country’s new governing party – the Prosperity Party – but he said: “No-one can buy me.”

He always knew that people disagreed with him, and there were incidents in which he had rows with some people in Addis Ababa.

But he never worried for his life. He often said someone who dies for his people is a hero.

“I’m no different to anyone else,” he told me once, “I may die one day, but I am not afraid of dying.”

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The puzzle of Japan’s low virus death rate

Why haven’t more people in Japan died from Covid-19? It is a macabre question that has spawned dozens of theories, from Japanese manners to claims that the Japanese have superior immunity.

Japan does not have the lowest death rate for Covid-19 – in the region, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Vietnam can all boast lower morbidity.

But in the early part of 2020, Japan saw fewer deaths than average. This is despite the fact that in April, Tokyo saw about 1,000 “excess deaths’ – perhaps due to Covid. Yet, for the year as a whole, it is possible that overall deaths will be down on 2019.

This is particularly striking because Japan has many of the conditions that make it vulnerable to Covid-19, but it never adopted the energetic approach to tackling the virus that some of its neighbours did.

What happened in Japan?

At the height of the outbreak in Wuhan in February, when the city’s hospitals were overwhelmed and the world put up walls to Chinese travellers, Japan kept borders open.

As the virus spread, it quickly became clear that Covid is a disease that primarily kills the elderly and is massively amplified by crowds or prolonged close contact. Per capita, Japan has more elderly than any other country. Japan’s population is also densely packed into huge cities.

Greater Tokyo has a mind-boggling 37 million people and for most of them, the only way to get around is on the city’s notoriously packed trains.

Then there is Japan’s refusal to heed the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) to “test, test, test”. Even now, total PCR tests stand at just 348,000, or 0.27% of Japan’s population.

Nor has Japan had a lockdown on the scale or severity of Europe. In early April, the government ordered a state of emergency. But the stay-at-home request was voluntary. Non-essential businesses were asked to close, but there was no legal penalty for refusing.

Many paragons of Covid strategy, such as New Zealand and Vietnam, used tough measures including closing borders, tight lockdowns, large-scale testing and strict quarantines – but Japan did none of that.

Yet, five months after the first Covid case was reported here, Japan has fewer than 20,000 confirmed cases and fewer than 1,000 deaths. The state of emergency has been lifted, and life is rapidly returning to normal.

There is also growing scientific evidence that Japan really has contained the spread of the disease – so far.

Telecom giant Softbank carried out antibody testing on 40,000 employees, which showed that just 0.24% had been exposed to the virus. Randomised testing of 8,000 people in Tokyo and two other prefectures has shown even lower levels of exposure. In Tokyo just 0.1% came back positive.

As he announced the lifting of the state of emergency late last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke proudly of the “Japan Model”, intimating that other countries should learn from Japan.

Is there something special about Japan?

If you were to listen to Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, it is down to the “superior quality” of Japanese people. In a now notorious comment, Mr Aso said he had been asked by leaders of other countries to explain Japan’s success.

“I told these people: ‘Between your country and our country, mindo (the level of people) is different.’ And that made them speechless and quiet.”

Literally translated, mindo means “people’s level”, although some have translated it as meaning “cultural level”.

It is a concept dating back to Japan’s imperial era and denotes a sense of racial superiority and cultural chauvinism. Mr Aso has been roundly condemned for using it.

But there is no doubt that many Japanese, and some scientists, think there is something about Japan that is different – a so called “Factor X” that is protecting the population from Covid-19.

It is possibly relevant that some aspects of Japanese mores – few hugs and kisses on greeting – have in-built social distancing, but nobody thinks that is the answer.

Does Japan have special immunity?

Tokyo University professor Tatsuhiko Kodama – who studies how Japanese patients react to the virus – believes Japan may have had Covid before. Not Covid-19, but something similar that could have left behind “historical immunity”.

This is how he explains it: When a virus enters the human body, the immune system produces antibodies that attack the invading pathogen.

There are two types of antibody – IGM and IGG. How they respond can show whether someone has been exposed to the virus before, or something similar.

“In a primary (novel) viral infection the IGM response usually comes first,” he tells me. “Then the IGG response appears later. But in secondary cases (previous exposure) the lymphocyte already has memory, and so only the IGG response increases rapidly.”

So, what happened with his patients?

“When we looked at the tests we were astonished… in all patients the IGG response came quickly, and the IGM response was later and weak. It looked like they had been previously exposed to a very similar virus.”

He thinks it is possible a Sars-like virus has circulated in the region before, which may account for the low death rate, not just in Japan, but in much of China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South East Asia.

This has been met with some scepticism.

“I am not sure how such a virus could be restricted to Asia,” says Professor Kenji Shibuya, director of Public Health at Kings College, London and a former senior adviser to the government.

Professor Shibuya does not discount the possibility of regional differences in immunity or genetic susceptibility to Covid. But he is suspicious of the idea of a “Factor X” that explains the mortality differences.

He thinks countries that have done well in the fight against Covid, have done so for the same reason – they succeeded in dramatically reducing transmission.

Japanese people began wearing face masks more than 100 years ago during the 1919 flu pandemic and they’ve never really stopped. If you get a cough or a cold here it is expected, that you will don a mask to protect those around you.

“I think it (a mask) acts as a physical barrier. But it also serves as a reminder to everybody to be mindful. That we still have to be careful around each other,” says Keiji Fukuda, an influenza specialist and director of the School of Public Health at Hong Kong University.

Japan’s track and trace system also goes back to the 1950s when it battled a wave of tuberculosis. The government set up a nationwide network of public health centres to identify new infections and report them to the health ministry.

If community transmission is suspected, a specialist team is dispatched to track the infections, relying on meticulous human contact tracing and isolation.

Japan discovered the Three Cs early

Japan also discovered two significant patterns early in the pandemic.

Dr Kazuaki Jindai, a medical researcher at Kyoto university and member of the cluster-suppression taskforce, said data showed over a third of infections originated in very similar places.

“Our figures… showed many infected people had visited music venues where there is screaming and singing… we knew that those were the places people needed to avoid.”

The team identified “heavy breathing in close proximity” including “singing at karaoke parlours, parties, cheering at clubs, conversations in bars and exercising in gyms” as the highest-risk activities.

Second, the team found that the infection’s spread was down to a small percentage of those carrying the virus.

An early study found around 80% of those with SARS Covi-2 did not infect others – while 20% were highly infectious.

These discoveries led to the government launching a nationwide campaign warning people to avoid the “Three Cs”.

“I think that probably worked better than just telling people to stay at home,” Dr Jindai says.

Although workplaces were left off the list, it was hoped the “Three Cs” campaign would slow spread enough to avoid lockdown – and fewer infections means fewer deaths.

For a while it did – but then in mid-March infections in Tokyo jumped and the city looked like it was on the path to exponential growth, like Milan, London and New York.

At this point Japan either got smart or got lucky. The jury is still out on which.

Timing, timing

Professor Kenji Shibuya thinks the lessons from Japan are not so different from elsewhere: “To me, it was a timing lesson.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered a – non-enforceable – state of emergency on 7 April, asking people to stay at home “if possible”.

“If such measures were delayed, we might have experienced a similar situation like New York or London. The death rate (in Japan) is low.

“But a recent study by Columbia University suggests that if New York had implemented lockdown measure two weeks earlier, it would have prevented tens of thousands of deaths,” Prof Shibuya notes.

A recent report by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found people with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes are six times more likely to be hospitalised if they get Covid-19 and 12 times more likely to die.

Japan has the lowest rates of coronary heart disease and obesity in the developed world. Still, scientists insist such vital signs do not explain everything.

“Those kinds of physical differences may have some effect but I think the other areas are more important. We’ve learned from Covid that there is no simple explanation for any of the phenomena that we’re seeing. It’s a lot of factors contributing to the final outcome,” says Prof Fukuda.

The government asked, people listened

To go back to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s boast of the “Japan Model” – is there a lesson to be learned?

Does the fact that Japan has, so far, succeeded in keeping infections and deaths low, without shutting down or ordering people to stay at home, show a way forward? The answer is yes and no.

There is no “Factor X” – like everywhere else it has depended on the same thing – breaking the chain of transmission. In Japan, though, the government can count on the public to comply.

Despite not ordering people to stay at home, on the whole, they did.

“It was lucky but also surprising,” Prof Shibuya says. “Japan’s mild lockdowns seems to have had a real lockdown effect. Japanese people complied despite the lack of draconian measures.”

“How do you reduce contact between infected and uninfected people…? You need a certain kind of response from the public, which I don’t think is going to be so easily replicated in other countries,” adds Prof Fukuda.

Japan asked people to take care, stay away from crowded places, wear masks and wash their hands – and by and large, that is exactly what most people have done.

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Trump election plot exposed: President to ‘manufacture’ global chaos in bid to beat Biden

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Speaking to, Professor of the University of New Haven Matthew Schmidt warned Donald Trump is expected to create an “October surprise” to change the US electoral landscape ahead of the November election against Democrat Joe Biden. The US foreign policy expert warned the US President could “manufacture an international crisis” by pushing North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un or Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Whilst he admitted “Biden’s in a much stronger position right now,” Professor Schmidt continued “barring some, as we say in the States, some sort of October surprise that changes the system.

“And then, and that’s something I firmly believe that Trump will try to create if he needs to.”

He added: “When we say October surprise we mean some sort of event that happens in the world that, you know, that changes the preceding electoral landscape.

“Usually this is some sort of international crisis.

“Then you know, the public then doesn’t want to change presidents in the middle of, you might see something like that.

“But for President Trump, I could see him trying to manufacture something like that.

“Trying to push North Korea or push Putin in some way to create an incident where then he can stand up and say ‘you need a strong president and I’m that guy’.”

The warning comes as the US point man for North Korea is due to visit South Korea next week as it pushes for a resumption of talks with the North ahead of the US election and despite few signs of any progress.

US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who led working-level negotiations with the North Koreans, will be among several State Department officials holding talks with South Korean counterparts on Tuesday, a government official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity as the trip has not been announced.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un should meet again before the U.S. election in November, and on Thursday, South Korea’s foreign minister said Seoul is pushing for a resumption of U.S.-North Korea talks.

Biegun has said there is time for both sides to re-engage and “make substantial progress”, but the coronavirus pandemic would make an in-person summit difficult before the November election.

Last month, North Korea abruptly raised tension with South Korea and blew up an inter-Korean liaison office, just on its side of the border, before just as suddenly announcing it would suspend plans for unspecified military actions against the South.

North Korea has repeatedly said it will not return to talks until the United States drops its “hostile policies”, including strict sanctions, and vowed not to provide Trump with another photo opportunity before the election without significant concessions.

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“It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the North Koreans would be compelled to come back to the table unless the U.S. ‘offer’ was drastically different than it’s been in the past,” said Jenny Town, of 38 North, a think-tank focusing on North Korea.

“And even then, how credible would that be that it would survive a potential change in administration in the U.S.? Trump and Kim met for the first time in 2018 in Singapore, raising hopes of an agreement to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme.”

But their second summit, in early 2019 in Vietnam, fell apart.

Trump and Kim met again at the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas in June 2019 and agreed to restart negotiations but working-level talks between the two sides in Sweden in October were broken off.

Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, told reporters in New York on Thursday that the president might seek another summit with Kim as an “October Surprise” ahead of the election.

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Petrobras considers LNG units for pre-salt's natural gas: executive

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazilian state-controlled oil company Petrobras is considering installing offshore units to liquefy the growing natural gas production from the so-called pre-salt area, the company’s emissions and climate change manager said during a webinar on Friday.

Liquefied natural gas units could be an alternative for the gas associated with oil produced at the deep-water exploratory region located more than 100 miles off the coast, said Viviana Coelho. It was unclear if a projected program has a timeframe.

Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as the firm is formally known, currently relies on offshore pipelines to bring natural gas produced offshore to the coast for processing.

Lack of infrastructure to ship offshore natural gas to the coast is seen as a possible limitation for rising oil production at the pre-salt, Petrobras has said.

The reservoirs, where oil is trapped beneath a thick layer of salt in the Atlantic seabed, have supplied more than 65% of Brazil’s production in just over a decade since their discovery. The rate is expected to keep rising.

A small portion of the gas is burned through flaring systems at the platforms.

Brazil has strict legislation to limit flaring, and Petrobras wants to reduce its routine flaring emissions to zero by 2030, Coelho said in the presentation.

Flaring releases methane, and Petrobras aims to reduce the company’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% to 50% by 2025, she said.

The Brazilian company used 97.6% of its natural gas in May, according to Brazil’s oil regulator. A significant portion is reinjected into the ground to control reservoir pressure and increase oil production, Petrobras said.

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'Tragedy foretold': Coronavirus ravages Brazil as cities reopen

Brazil is set to pass 1.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases as country remains divided on openings, protection.

Brazil was set to pass 1.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, as the virus continues to ravage Latin America’s largest country even as cities reopen bars, restaurants and gyms sparking fears infections will keep rising.

Brazil has the world’s second-largest outbreak after the United States and the virus has killed more than 60,000 people in the country.

In Rio de Janeiro, crowds gathered to drink on the sidewalk of an upscale beach-side neighbourhood on Thursday night, the first evening bars in the city were allowed to reopen.

Pictures of the revelry in Leblon, where few were wearing face masks and people were huddled close together, went viral on social media drawing condemnation and concern.

“A tragedy foretold,” David Miranda, a federal congressman for Rio, wrote on Twitter above a picture of the crowded sidewalk. He criticised the city’s Mayor Marcelo Crivella.

“Crivella’s decision to throw open the doors of business will come with a high cost,” he added.

Crivella’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In Rio alone, more than 6,600 people have died of COVID-19 in the past four months. Only 14 countries in the world have a death toll higher than the city. Intensive care units in public hospitals are at 70 percent capacity.

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest and worst-hit city, is expected to open bars and restaurants next week.

President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticised by health experts for downplaying the severity of the virus which he has dismissed as just “a little flu”. Bolsonaro has pressured governors and mayors for months to reverse lockdown measures and reopen the economy.

On Friday, Bolsonaro vetoed parts of a law that would have made wearing a face mask obligatory in enclosed spaces where large groups gather – such as churches and schools.

Bolsonaro has regularly flouted social distancing guidelines advised by most health experts, shaking hands and embracing supporters. He has said publicly that his past as an athlete makes him immune to the worst symptoms of the virus.

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OHS investigating workplace death of tree planter in northern Alberta

Occupational Health and Safety is investigating the death of a tree planter in northern Alberta on Thursday.

In a statement issued to Global News, Natasha McKenzie, a spokesperson for Alberta Labour, said OHS was notified of the incident on July 2.

RCMP said they were told about the tree planter’s death at 5 p.m. In a news release issued Friday, police said the incident unfolded “at a remote location 40 kilometres west of High Level along Highway 58.”

RCMP declined to provide details about what happened but noted their initial investigation determined “there is nothing to indicate the circumstances of the 23-year-old female’s death are suspicious at this time.”

An autopsy had yet to be completed as of Friday afternoon.

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Football: Morata double helps Atletico to 3-0 win over Mallorca

MADRID (REUTERS) – Atletico Madrid stayed firmly on course to secure Champions League football next season after two goals by Alvaro Morata and a late strike from Koke gave them a 3-0 home win over struggling Mallorca in La Liga on Friday (July 3).

The result left Atletico third on 62 points from 34 games, five ahead of fourth-placed Sevilla and eight in front of fifth-placed Villarreal who both have a game in hand.

Mallorca have a only slim chance of avoiding relegation as they remained third-bottom on 29 points from 34 games, five behind 17th-placed Celta Vigo who have played a game less.

Morata fired Atletico ahead in the 29th minute with a twice taken penalty after goalkeeper Manolo Reina was harshly adjudged to have come off his line when he saved the initial spot-kick.

Morata doubled the home side’s lead on the stroke of halftime when he tapped the ball in from close range after a fine cut-back by Marcos Llorente from the right flank.

Atletico dominated the game but Joao Felix wasted two good chances in the opening half and substitute Renan Lodi shaved the crossbar with a fine shot from a tight angle in the 73rd minute.

Midfielder Koke sealed the win in the 79th with a deflected shot from outside the penalty area, as his swerving volley left Reina stranded after it clipped substitute Juan Sastre’s heel.

Atletico next visit Celta on Tuesday, while Mallorca host 12th-placed Levante on Thursday.

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Singapore GE2020: As battle shifts online, so does election spending

Jothi Store and Flower Shop in Little India has supplied hundreds of flower garlands for political parties at every general election since Singapore’s Independence.

“Politicians trust us to do their garlands,” said its owner Rajakumar Chandra. “It is a privilege.”

The 61-year-old is intimately familiar with the preferences of politicians. “Some ministers can’t take the smell of jasmine, so we prepare orchid garlands for them.”

The July 10 General Election spells big business for suppliers like him, but with safe distancing measures, he does not foresee the usual orders. In past elections, he would get orders exceeding 400 garlands, each costing at least $20.

“That’s $8,000 to $10,000 of business gone,” he said. “But I don’t feel sad. There are more important issues that people have to deal with. Also, they would be more careful with their spending in this economic climate.”

Potentially, the business spin-offs from GE2020 could amount to more than $21 million, as 192 candidates go all out to win over 2.65 million voters in 31 constituencies with 93 seats. Under election rules, a candidate is allowed to spend a maximum of $4 per voter in the constituency they are contesting. Since the 2015 polls, the number of eligible voters has swelled by 7.8 per cent to about 2.65 million.

But the campaign spending of parties is shifting online. Traditional activities such as mass rallies – which can cost $10,000 or more for the elaborate stage set-ups and sound systems – and large-scale on-the-ground events are not allowed amid the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in less fanfare on the ground. Thank-you processions are also not allowed.

So, this time round, long-time vendors like Mr Rajakumar may not get the usual slice of the election pie. Stage vendors, sound crew and food caterers are also losing out to social media experts and production houses – hired to produce live-stream interviews and slick campaign videos – as parties turn to canvassing online and over the airwaves. And firms which design name cards and campaign material, like graphic design studio Sarah and Schooling, are also still needed.

In 2015, the People’s Action Party’s candidates spent $5.3 million on the 89 seats it contested, while the expenses of opposition candidates totalled $1.8 million, according to spending figures submitted to the Elections Department. On average, the PAP spent $2.16 per voter and the opposition parties 73 cents. Candidates in 2015 were also allowed to spend up to $4 a voter, up from $3.50 in 2011.

For the 2011 polls, the PAP spent $4.2 million contesting 82 out of 87 seats, compared with the opposition’s spending of $1.3 million.

On average, this is $1.90 per voter for the PAP and 61 cents for the opposition. At least one-third of the expenses went to publicity materials like banners and posters.

With the battle for votes intensifying in virtual space, will parties spend less in this election?

Observers gave mixed reactions.

Dr Felix Tan, associate lecturer at SIM Global Education, believes parties will cut back on spending, citing the restrictions on large-scale events. “Being frugal in times like these, especially in an economic recession, would certainly bode well for the party as it would reflect its ability to manage its funds effectively,” he said.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan differs, saying: “Where parties can afford it, I don’t expect them to cut back on their spending. Whatever funds that were allocated for big-ticket items like physical rallies can and will be channelled to other campaign activities such as e-rallies.”

Online campaigning is not necessarily more cost-effective, he added: “Parties may have to pay for services such as technical professionals, Internet subscription, server space and the like.”

Party activists interviewed said the savings from events that are disallowed this time would be directed to digital efforts, including social media advertising.

SMU’s Professor Tan added: “For most parties, we can expect online campaign activities to take up the bulk of their budgets, a reversal from previous elections.”

Still, all parties will continue to rely on traditional campaign tools such as posters and fliers to reach out to the less tech-savvy voters.

Most parties let their headquarters coordinate the procurement of campaign materials to take advantage of economies of scale.

Party funds come from donations, fund-raisers or the sale of party merchandise. In GE2015, candidates from a few parties had to each give a few thousand dollars to pay for party needs like posters.

In this election, with the ban on some physical events like mass rallies, where party paraphernalia are typically sold and donations sought, many opposition parties are likely to have a more modest war chest. As their candidates strive to stretch the campaign dollar, some parties will reuse items like plywood boards in good condition. Said an activist: “We work with those who offer more competitive prices and they do so because they support our cause.”

But one thing has not changed for most vendors – the pressure to deliver the goods fast and without slip-ups. Said Mr Henry Sim, who has supplied plywood pieces to PAP candidates: “Every election is a rush against time. So we try to stock up before that.”

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

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Job schemes aim to protect Singaporeans: Josephine Teo

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday defended the Government’s record on protecting Singaporeans’ jobs and livelihoods, noting how its policies on employing foreign workers have been tightened over the years.

Foreign workers, she said, also serve as a buffer in uncertain times, when they are the first that employers might choose to shed when business conditions worsen.

This is due to initiatives such as the Jobs Support Scheme, which subsidises the wages of local workers and not foreign ones. Foreign employment shrank by 60,000 from January to May this year, she added.

“The Jobs Support Scheme is fulfilling its objective of saving jobs and protecting livelihoods. And as a result, when companies have to make a decision on whether to continue with their local employees or to continue with their foreign employees, it is quite clear to them where the support from the Government is, and they will make their decisions accordingly,” said Mrs Teo.

“It is very clear that in (a time of) recession, foreign employment has served as a buffer. And… this is a result of the tremendous support that is being provided to companies for local employment.”

Mrs Teo also disclosed that 12,000 people had been placed in new jobs under the SGUnited Jobs initiative since March, even amid the uncertainty sparked by the Covid-19 outbreak.

She was speaking to the media after a visit to an SGUnited Jobs and Skills Fair at the Employment and Employability Institute in Jurong East, and responded to statements on immigration issues by opposition parties in their election campaigns in the lead-up to the polls on July 10.

On Thursday, the Progress Singapore Party raised the issue of how many professionals, managers, executives and technicians had their jobs displaced by foreigners, while Peoples Voice called for S Passes to be frozen and Employment Passes (EPs) to be reduced significantly.

Mrs Teo said EP policies have been consistently tightened, with the salary criteria raised in 2017 and this year. The quotas for S Passes have also been tightened for various sectors and the minimum salary criteria raised, she noted.

“It would be useful for all political parties that wish to comment on this issue to study the facts of what we have been doing with regard to EP policy, S Pass policy,” she said.

“I think the track record of the Government in this regard is crystal clear. And we welcome comments, we welcome people to put forward good proposals, but it has to be grounded on facts and an understanding of what has actually been happening.”

Meanwhile, as the pandemic threatens livelihoods, agencies in Singapore are focusing on matching people to jobs, finding them attachments with companies and helping them to acquire skills, said Mrs Teo.

But she noted that firms cannot be forced to hire.

The Government is trying to incentivise hiring through schemes such as professional conversion programmes and mid-career work attachments, she said.

Through company attachments, employers can assess trainees over time and hopefully offer them a position when business picks up.

“But right now, to insist that the companies offer a permanent position I think is not a very realistic approach, and I think reflects a certain lack of understanding of how the job markets work,” said Mrs Teo.

She added that the Government is looking at helping businesses transform and matching them with Singaporeans with specialist skills who can help the companies grow.

“This period of difficulty will not last forever. You can look at it as an opportunity, or you can look at it as a problem and choose not to do anything about it. We choose to look at it as an opportunity,” she said.

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Fox News anchor fired for sexual misconduct

LOS ANGELES • The latest public figure to come under fire for past sexual misconduct is Fox News’ anchor Ed Henry.

The America’s Newsroom anchor was fired from Fox News following the completion of a sexual misconduct investigation, the network announced on Wednesday.

He was put under scrutiny after the network received a complaint late last month from a former employee’s attorney regarding Henry’s “wilful sexual misconduct in the workplace years ago”.

The 48-year-old, who co-hosted the news show with broadcaster Sandra Smith, denies the allegations.

“Ed Henry denies the allegations referenced in Fox’s announcement this morning and is confident that he will be vindicated after a full hearing in an appropriate forum,” his lawyer Catherine Foti told USA Today in a statement.

In an e-mail that Fox News chief executive officer Suzanne Scott and president Jay Wallace wrote to their employees, America’s Newsroom will see “rotating anchors” filling in for Henry until a permanent replacement is decided.

“Fox News Media strictly prohibits all forms of sexual harassment, misconduct and discrimination,” the e-mail said.

“We will continue striving to maintain a safe and inclusive workplace for all employees.”

According to CNN, Henry joined Fox in 2011 after seven years at CNN. He covered the Barack Obama administration as Fox’s chief White House correspondent. He was later responsible for most of the network’s coverage of former United States first lady Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Before serving as co-anchor on America’s Newsroom, he filled in as a guest co-host of Fox & Friends, a morning news show.

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