Uber became the first ridesharing company in Sri Lanka to launch an on demand 24×7 ‘Tuk Rentals’ service which will allow riders to book their favourite mode of transport, a tuk and its driver for several hours with the liberty to make multiple stops along a journey, just as they would with their own personal vehicle.
With Tuks being the preferred mode of transport for tens of thousands of Sri Lankans, Uber hopes to enhance rider experience by offering mobility solutions that fit the needs of citizens as they resume travel in the new normal. Tuk Rentals will provide riders a personalised experience with greater flexibility and convenience in situations where they need to run many errands or make several stops without having to worry about booking multiple trips.
The service allows riders to do more by the hour at an affordable price point of LKR 399 for a one-hour/ ten km package with the option of selecting from multiple hourly packages that can be booked up to a maximum of 8-hours.
Commenting on the new service, Subodh Sangwan, General Manager, Sri Lanka and South & East India, Uber, said, “As our cities reopen, many riders have new use cases and different needs from Uber, one of which is to book a ride by the hour to help get all their errands done in one go. Our tuk service is extremely popular in the city and we want to provide riders added convenience and flexibility on their favourite mode. The safety and well-being of everyone who uses Uber is always our priority and all rides will conform to health guidelines along with providing the highest possible safety standards.”
To maintain the highest standards of safety and hygiene while travelling, Uber has launched a comprehensive set of safety measures, such as the Go Online Checklist, a mandatory mask policy for both riders and drivers, pre-trip mask verification selfies for drivers, and an updated cancellation policy allowing both riders and drivers to cancel trips if they don’t feel safe.
Additionally, Uber has invested 10 million LKR for purchasing cleaning supplies and protective equipment for drivers and delivery partners which includes masks, sanitisers and disinfectants. Just last month, Uber announced a partnership with Dettol to distribute disinfectants to drivers for sanitising cars and to display in-car education placards, with safety advisories for riders and drivers.
SINGAPORE – The Republic’s investment company Temasek has called out posts on social media targeting its Indian employees as a “divisive, racist campaign” aimed at stirring up hatred and intolerance.
In a statement posted online on Friday (Aug 14), the firm said it “has its roots in Singapore, where there is no place for xenophobia, racism, or hate speech”.
Temasek said of the “racist campaign”: “This makes us very angry at the false claims perpetuated. The Singaporeans among us are also ashamed at such hateful behaviour on the Singapore social media. We stand by our colleagues who have been dragged into this through no fault of their own.”
Some posts circulating on Facebook in recent days have highlighted the LinkedIn profiles of certain Temasek employees, and their academic qualifications, and questioned why top positions in the firm were filled by foreigners and not locals.
Employees of Standard Chartered and DBS Bank were also targeted in some of the posts.
Temasek said it has referred the posts to Facebook which it said are in clear breach of Facebook’s community guidelines on hate speech.
The investment firm said it will “continue to press them to be more active in stamping out such hate speech, wherever it occurs on their platforms”.
In its statement, Temasek said its hiring practices are based on values such as meritocracy, excellence and integrity.
The investment firm adopts an open policy in building its team that looks at values, passions, capability and willingness to learn, “regardless of the colour of our skin, or the colour of our passports”.
The company also underscored the diversity of its employees, which spans 32 nationalities across offices in eight countries.
“Among our 600 strong staff at our headquarters in Singapore, 90 per cent are Singapore citizens or permanent residents (PR). This is broadly the same among our senior leadership (managing directors and above),” it said.
Globally, the nationality mix of its employees is about 60 per cent Singaporeans and 40 per cent other nationals, of which around 10 per cent are Singapore PRs, the firm said.
Other than Singaporeans, the composition of its staff is from China (9%), the United States (7%), India (6%), United Kingdom (3%) and Malaysia (3%). It said that this mix will continue to change as it opens more offices in Asia, Europe and elsewhere.
Temasek also said it encouraged mobility as a way of developing its talent, which includes moving its Singaporean employees abroad as well as its local hires in overseas offices to its Singapore headquarters and other offices “to broaden their experiences and build their leadership capabilities globally”.
“As an active global investor, and a forward looking institution, it will be foolish of us not to tap on the global pool of talent,” it said.
“There is not only value in diversity, but the cross fertilisation of experiences and ideas across geographies, and the ability to connect the diverse dots, has become one of our key strengths.”
The investment firm said that while it is the prerogative of people to use social media to air different views, Temasek “stands against views that seek to perpetrate division and disrupt the social cohesion that has taken many years for us to achieve here in Singapore”.
It said: “We believe there is a role for constructive debate and fact-based opinions in our society, even on contentious or sensitive topics, and even on social media.
“That should be balanced with civility and respect for others. There is no place whatsoever for racism to feature in these debates. Insidious posts designed to stir hatred and intolerance have no place in our society, and we denounce them.”
The Straits Times contacted Facebook on Friday night, but the social media company did not respond by press time.
Some of the posts being shared on Facebook were screenshots of earlier posts, possibly to evade being flagged by the platform’s automated safeguards that detect hate speech.
The social media posts come in the wake of the Ministry of Manpower last week placing 47 employers on the Fair Consideration Framework watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices. Among the 47 firms, 30 were in the financial services and professional services sectors.
Firms on the watch list will have their Employment Pass applications closely scrutinised, and those who are recalcitrant or uncooperative will have their work pass privileges cut back.
On Wednesday (Aug 12), the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also urged financial institutions to groom local leaders and grow their Singaporean talent pool.
MAS said that financial institutions should continue to identify Singaporeans with high potential for leadership roles and expand the supply of talented locals.
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Malaysian economy to contract 3.5% to 5.5% this year, rebound in 2021
InternationalAug 15. 2020In a statement issued on Friday, it said the green shoots of economy recovery have already been seen in the current quarter after the severe contraction of 17.1% in the second quarter ended June 30.
By The Star/ANN
KUALA LUMPUR: Bank Negara Malaysia lowered its forecast for the economy this year due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and it expected negative growth of between 3.5% and 5.5% this year before rebounding 5.5% to 8% next year.
In a statement issued on Friday, it said the green shoots of economy recovery have already been seen in the current quarter after the severe contraction of 17.1% in the second quarter ended June 30. The 2Q contraction was the worst since the fourth quarter of 1998 during the Asian Financial Crisis.
“The Malaysian economy is expected to recover gradually in the second half of 2020 as the economy progressively re-opens and external demand improves, ” it said.
Bank Negara said economic activity has resumed since the economy began to reopen in early May 2020.
“Consequently, growth is expected to have troughed in the second quarter of 2020, with a gradual recovery in the second half. This outlook is underpinned by the rebound of key indicators such as wholesale and retail trade, industrial production, gross exports, and electricity generation, ” it said.
Bank Negara said this improvement in growth will also be supported by the recovery in global growth and continued domestic policy support.
“In particular, consumption and investment activity is projected to benefit from the wide-range of measures in the fiscal stimulus packages, continued financial measures and low interest environment.
“With the reopening of economic activities, a concurrent improvement in labour market conditions is expected.
“Overall, the Malaysian economy is therefore forecasted to grow within the range of -3.5% to -5.5% in 2020, before staging a rebound within a growth range of 5.5% to 8.0% in 2021, ” it said.
Bank Negara said average headline inflation in 2020 was likely to be negative, in line with the earlier projected range of -1.5% to 0.5%, primarily reflecting the substantially lower global oil prices.
It also pointed out the risks of a broad-based and persistent decline in prices are assessed to be limited as economic activity gradually resumes and demand conditions improve. Underlying inflation is expected to average within expectations for the year as a whole.
“For 2021, headline inflation is forecasted to average higher, between 1% to 3%, in line with the longer-term historical average, ” it said.
Bank Negara said this mainly reflects the expected recovery in global oil prices and improvement in domestic demand conditions.
However, the outlook will continue to be significantly affected by uncertainties surrounding global oil and commodity prices as well as the evolving Covid-19 developments.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un described his friendship with President Donald Trump as something out of a “fantasy film” in one of 25 letters they exchanged, American publishers Simon & Schuster said Wednesday, adding that the letters will be disclosed in an upcoming book by veteran journalist Bob Woodward.
The book titled “Rage,” due out next month, will reveal details of the Trump-Kim letters that have never been made public before, and offer insights into the Trump administration, including his “moves as he faces a global pandemic, economic disaster and racial unrest,” according to the publishing firm.
Trump and Kim exchanged letters, but exactly how many they wrote to each other is not clearly known. Trump once made public a letter Kim sent him on Twitter, a month after the Singapore summit held in June 2018.
Trump described the letter as “beautiful” and that he “fell in love” with Kim.
The Confucius Institute US Center (CIUS) said Thursday it disagrees with the US State Department labeling it a “foreign mission” of China, a designation that also drew fire from beneficiaries of Confucius Institute (CI) programs.
In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his agency designated the CIUS a Chinese foreign mission, calling it “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on US campuses and K-12 classrooms”.
The designation concerned the main Confucius Institute center in Washington and is “not going after Confucius Centersper se”, said Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell at a press briefing.
The State Department’s move came nearly two months after it designated the US operations of four Chinese media outlets as foreign missions. Prior to that, five Chinese media outlets had already been so designated.
“We disagree with the State Department’s designation and hope to clear up this fundamental misunderstanding,” the CIUS said in a statement Thursday.
While Stilwell said the CIUS is an “organization that actually manages, supports, and funds Confucius Centers in the US”, the CIUS replied: “We are not a headquarters for American Confucius Institutes.”
Instead, CIUS is devoted to global education services and intercultural opportunities for American communities, promoting the “simple ideal” of Americans learning the Chinese language, which is shared by many educators and students across the US, according to the statement.
It insists that CIUS, which is not connected to a college campus and is in no way involved in any CI curriculum, employment or funding, is being “targeted symbolically”.
“CIUS has no influence, let alone ‘malign’ influence, over how universities run and manage their own Confucius Institute language programs. We hope the State Department (will) visit those schools and see for themselves just as members of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) already have,” it said.
The GAO, a federal agency that conducted interviews with institute personnel and school officials at 10 schools with CIs, reported in February 2019 that officials from more than half of the case-study schools said that establishing a CI offered benefits that aligned with the school’s strategic plans to forge international connections and to expand the global reach of their campuses.
Officials at several case-study schools also said that the funding provided for the institutes was a small proportion of a larger budget related to Asian studies and Chinese-language programs, and, as a result, did not have the ability to exert undue influence, according to the GAO report.
The designation of CIUS as a foreign mission is expected to exacerbate the challengers for CI operations in the US.
Altogether, there are about 500 classrooms affiliated with the CI, and 65 institutes on US university campuses. Stilwell said Thursday that the US is not closing the CIs, but “would ask that universities, again, take a hard look at what those institutes are doing on their campuses”.
Twitter user R Mclean, a doctoral candidate in political economy at Northern Ireland’s Queen’s University Belfast, rebutted Pompeo’s tweet announcing the designation.
“In 2018, I attended a 2 week Mandarin language course run by the Confucius Institute,” the scholar tweeted. “Not once did the teacher (or any other members of staff) even mention politics, never-mind try to indoctrinate the class with ‘Beijing’s propaganda’… McCarthyism is alive and well in US”
Douglas McDonald, a CI student at Tufts University near Boston, said political rhetoric against China’s government has unfairly cast suspicion on cultural learning centers like the Confucius Institute.
In a recent op-ed piece in The Tennessean newspaper, McDonald, who calls himself Ma Degao, a typical Chinese name, recalled that he was 76 when he began a new journey into Chinese language and culture at the CI at University of Massachusetts, which is now closed.
“Not once, in a classroom setting, in personal conversation, or in a conference setting did the discussion turn to Chinese government policies or programs. But a world was opened in poetry, literature and culture that I had always hoped to understand,” he wrote.
“Unlike the stories so often portrayed in the news about CI programs, my education was about building bridges with language and not as a political tool,” McDonald noted.
As US-China relations have deteriorated in recent months, there has been a growing number of closures of CIs on US campus. Some of the cases were prompted by the pressures of lawmakers who lamented that the institutes “aren’t what they are cracked up to be” or otherwise lack transparency, though many schools that ran the programs reported otherwise.
Gao Qing, executive director of the CIUS, said at least 20 CIs had been closed over the past year and a half.
In Tennessee, for example, the CI at the University of Memphis was closed at the end of June after initial efforts to keep it open failed.
Another campus, Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), said early last month that it was “in the process of ending its affiliation with the Confucius Institute”.
“From the outset, MTSU’s partnership with the Confucius Institute has focused on cultural and social exchange opportunities rather than scientific research involving federal funds or sensitive areas of governmental interest,” the Murfreesboro Post quoted university spokesman Andrew Oppmann as saying.
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Malaysia’s economy shrinks most since 1998 Asia crisis
InternationalAug 14. 2020Shoppers use hand sanitizer as a vendor checks a customer’s temperature outside a store during a partial lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on May 20, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Ian Teh. Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
By Bloomberg · Anisah Shukry, Yantoultra Ngui
Malaysia’s economy contracted by the most since the Asian financial crisis more than two decades ago, with the central bank sharply downgrading its outlook for this year.
Gross domestic product shrank 17.1% in the second quarter compared to a year earlier, its worst showing since the fourth quarter of 1998, the central bank said Friday. That compared to the median forecast of a 10.9% contraction in a Bloomberg survey of economists.
The data show the severe knock the trade-reliant economy has taken during the Covid-19 outbreak. Exports plunged because of the disruption to supply chains, while consumer spending slumped amid an extended lockdown. The central bank now expects the economy to contract 3.5% to 5.5% this year, compared with a previous growth range of 0.5% to -2%.
“The decline in output was massive,” said Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid, chief economist at Bank Islam Malaysia. “It clearly shows that the pandemic has resulted the economy to be at a standstill.”
Other highlights of the data:
– Exports declined 21.7% in the second quarter from a year ago.
– Consumer spending plunged 18.5% in the period.
– GDP shrank 16.5% compared to the previous three months, worse than economists’ estimate of an 11.4% contraction. It was the second quarterly contraction in a row, the technical definition of a recession.
– Services industries contracted 16.2% from a year ago, manufacturing declined 18.3% and construction plunged 44.5%.
The benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index maintained its 0.8% decline after the data, set for the steepest drop in two weeks. The ringgit pared losses to 0.1% while government bonds gained, with the yield on Malaysia’s 10-year notes falling two basis points to 2.48%, the lowest in a week.
The economy began to show signs of recovery at the tail end of the quarter. Manufacturing production and sales growth turned positive in June and the unemployment rate fell to 4.9%.
“Activity has picked up following an easing in lockdown measures from May onwards, and we expect a solid post-lockdown rebound in growth” in the third quarter, Oxford Economics economist Sian Fenner wrote in a research note. “That said, the speed of the recovery will likely ease back after that amid depressed global trade, high unemployment and weak investment.”
Governor Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus said in a briefing Friday she’s “cautiously optimistic that the worst is behind us.” The full-year forecast was cut because the pandemic had a bigger impact on global demand than previously assumed and Malaysia’s lockdown was extended.
The government is seeking to raise its debt limit for the first time since 2009 to fund its fiscal stimulus. The central bank also has cut interest rates several times this year to help cushion growth.
“Should there be a second outbreak, there is room for targeted policy measures to complement the ones implemented earlier,” the governor said. “For example, the bank’s policy levers can be expanded or extended within this mandate.”
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Indonesia’s population exceeds 268 million as of June: Home Ministry
InternationalAug 14. 2020Central Statistics Agency (BPS) staff activity at the 2020 census call center room in Jakarta on Feb, 17, 2020. (JP/Seto Wardhana)
By The Jakarta Post/ANN
Indonesia’s population exceeded 268 million as of June, according to the latest report by the Home Ministry’s Population and Civil Registration Directorate General (Dukcapil).
Data from the ministry show that the male population had increased 0.71 percent from over 134.8 million to over 135.8 million as of Jun. 30.
Similarly, the female population had also risen 0.82 percent from over 131.6 million to over 132.7 million in the same period, the report found.
Dukcapil director general Zudan Arif Fakhrullah said the male population had been higher than the female population since 2014.
“However, in terms of each individual sex, the female population has recorded a higher increase than the male population, with an average of 0.88 percent per year,” Zudan said on Wednesday as quoted by kompas.com, adding that the national population had increased 0.77 percent this year.
West Java has the largest overall population out of all 34 provinces across the archipelago, with over 46 million people, according to the report.
North Kalimantan has the smallest population out of all the country’s provinces with 663,696 people.
The report also found four provinces where the female population is higher than the male population, namely the Special Region of Yogyakarta, West Nusa Tenggara, South Sulawesi and East Java.
In accordance with Law No. 24/2013 on the amendment of Law No. 23/2006 on civil administration, the Dukcapil is to publish official data on the national population every half year.
The first half report was published on Jun. 30, whereas the second half report is due to be released on Dec. 31.
The country’s online census was previously extended until May, while the face-to-face fieldwork was pushed as far back as September due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The government expects 400,000 more births than usual next year as lockdowns keep couples at home and cut access to contraception.
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Vietnamese COVID-19 vaccine set for human trials in October
InternationalAug 14. 2020COVID-19 vaccine development at Vaccine and Biological Production No.1 Company (Vabiotech) under the Ministry of Health. — VNA/VNS Photo Bùi Cường
By Viet Nam News/ANN
HÀ NỘI — First phase of human trials on a made-in-Việt Nam COVID-19 vaccine could begin as early as this October.
The Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals (IVAC) in Nha Trang City, partnering with New York City-based Icahn School of Medicine and the global health non-profit organisation PATH, expects to conduct testing on small groups of volunteers in October-December this year.
Phase 2, comprising larger groups of people, and Phase 3, comprising up to thousands, will be conducted at the beginning of 2021.
The institute plans to submit documents for approval to the health ministry as early as April next year and claims to be capable of producing 30 million doses a year.
By October 2021, the vaccine could be distributed to the general population.
IVAC is researching an egg-based vaccine, making use of the Newcastle disease virus (NDV) expressing the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2.
According to Dương Hữu Thái, head of IVAC, the production of its COVID-19 vaccine will be similar to the production of influenza vaccine.
The live NDV-Lasota-S virus – given to IVAC from its US partner in May – is injected into a membrane of fertilised hen’s egg and cultivated, then the propagated viruses are extracted from the membrane to be inactivated while still maintain their physical properties.
The now inactivate virus, unable to cause disease, will still trigger the body’s immune response that can target the coronavirus.
The vaccine candidate has shown initial positive results in animals, Thái said, but it was too early to claim success.
“In research, no one can claim to be successful until [the vaccine development] reaches the mass production stage,” he said.
Another firm, Vaccine and Biological Production No.1 Company (Vabiotech) under the Ministry of Health, partnering with the UK-based University of Bristol since February, said after trials on mice demonstrating strong immune response to coronavirus, especially after the repeat shot, it aims to conduct trials on small groups of people at the beginning of next year.
Vabiotech is developing its vaccine candidate using the protein subunit method, using only part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to stimulate the immune system to release antibodies.
“To deal with the diverse mutations of SARS-CoV-2, we have chosen the antigen that proved to have mutated the least,” said Đỗ Tuấn Đạt, Chairman of Vabiotech, explaining that the vaccine, if successful, would help achieve immunity against various different strains of the virus.
The company said it is optimising production procedures for large-scale production of the vaccine and could produce up to 100 million doses a year.
Two other companies in Việt Nam are researching a vaccine, including the Centre for Immunisation Vaccines POLYVAC partnering with the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, which is still waiting for approval from the Ministry of Science and Technology for its research.
The last is Nanogen Biopharmaceutical company in HCM City, using protein from the SARS-CoV-2 strain found in China’s Wuhan – where the virus is thought to have first emerged – together with the mutated strain D614G, the dominant strain rapidly spreading across the world, including the ongoing outbreak in Việt Nam.
The health ministry has asked the two companies to start preparing for large-scale manufacturing in case their vaccines are approved.
Nguyễn Thu Vân, member of Scientific Council under the Ministry of Health, said a Vietnamese-made COVID-19 vaccine could be obtained by the end of 2021.
“If Việt Nam can achieve that goal, that timeframe is already expedited. Usually, it takes at least five to six years to produce a new vaccine,” Vân said.
Nguyễn Ngô Quang, Vice Director of the Administration of Science, Technology and Training under the Ministry of Health, said in a meeting last month that even with an expedited timeline, “the vaccine’s quality must still be ensured and the product must be able to prevent coronavirus infection based on ethical principles in medical research”
Việt Nam health authorities have many times insisted that a return to ‘normal’ can only be achieved with a COVID-19 vaccine, and the country is aiming for self-reliance to make sure of sufficient distribution to all its population of 95 million.
The local research developments come as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin claimed Tuesday his country had created the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine, an announcement that met with safety concerns over a lack of testing.
Vabiotech’s Đạt told Lao Động (Labour) newspaper that they have not considered buying the vaccine from Russia, as they need more data on clinical trials, which Russian scientists have not publicly shared data on.
He also said that data for vaccine development in the UK and the US is public and readily accessible, aiding Việt Nam in the making of its own vaccine. — VNS
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Singapore and Japan to work on resumption of essential travel from September
InternationalAug 14. 2020Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi, on Aug 13, 2020. Japan and Singapore are in talks to set up two tracks that will allow cross-border travel. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, SINGAPORE
By Hariz Baharudin The Straits Times/ANN
SINGAPORE – Essential travel for expatriates and businessmen between Singapore and Japan could resume next month, as both countries agree to ease restrictions currently in place to combat the spread of Covid-19.
The two countries are currently in talks to set up two tracks that will allow cross-border travel, said a joint release by Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan and his visiting Japanese counterpart, Mr Toshimitsu Motegi, on Thursday (Aug 13).
The first track, called a “residence track”, will provide for a special quota of cross-border travel by work pass holders with the necessary public health safeguards – including a 14-day stay home notice upon arrival in the respective countries. The ministers welcomed ongoing negotiations on the setting up of this track as early as September.
The second track is a reciprocal green lane-otherwise known as a “business track”- where short-term business travellers will be subject to a controlled itinerary for the first 14 days, with the necessary public health safeguards.
The ministers agreed on major points of this track, and tasked officials to finalise the agreement by early September. This would make Singapore one of the first countries with which Japan will begin this exchange of business travellers.
Mr Motegi, who is in Singapore for an official visit from Aug 12 to 14, called on and was hosted to lunch by Dr Balakrishnan on Thursday. He also paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana.
Mr Lee noted that Mr Motegi is his first foreign visitor since the pandemic led to entry restrictions and border closures, and they had a good discussion on how both sides can do more together.
Japan is one of several countries with whom Singapore is setting up such “green lanes” to allow essential travel to resume, with safety precautions in place.
“We are proceeding cautiously, as Covid-19 is still very much a threat. But this will be an important step forward in restoring connectivity between countries, and adjusting to life with Covid-19,” said Mr Lee.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said both leaders affirmed the close and longstanding relationship between Singapore and Japan, and exchanged views on regional and international issues. They also discussed how the two countries can work together to promote greater economic integration in the region through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“Prime Minister Lee welcomed Japan’s continued engagement with Asean, and agreed that Singapore and Japan can further strengthen cooperation amid the Covid-19 pandemic such as the facilitation of cross-border essential business travel in a safe manner for both sides,” added the ministry.
MFA also said that Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Motegi had a good discussion on regional and international developments.
“They agreed on the importance of ensuring supply chain connectivity, modernising international trade rules for the digital economy, and forging partnerships to promote ‘vaccine multilateralism’ amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” it added.
Japan currently bans all foreign nationals from 146 designated countries and regions, but had said in late July that it is looking to work together with 12 Asian economies, including Singapore, on ways to resume travel.
Mr Motegi became the first Japanese Cabinet minister to travel abroad since February when he made a four-day visit to London last week to iron out the fine print of a new economic partnership agreement between his country and Britain.
He is scheduled to leave for Malaysia on Friday (Aug 14) and is also due to visit Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar from Aug 20 to 25.
The Straits Times understands that Mr Motegi will have to take a Covid-19 test before leaving and returning to Japan as a countermeasure against the disease.
His entourage will also be kept to the bare minimum and he will travel by chartered plane.
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Chinese tourism market further recovers as cross-provincial travel resumes
InternationalAug 14. 2020Hongcun in southern Anhui province. [Photo provided to China Daily]
By China Daily/ANN
HEFEI — As trans-provincial travel in China resumed after months-long suspension due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the usual hustle and bustle returns to tourist attractions across the country.
“I received over 20 guests from Hebei and Inner Mongolia today, a big improvement compared with previous months,” said Huang Min, a tour guide based in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced on July 14 that travel agencies and online tourism companies were allowed to resume their trans-provincial group tours gradually. The resumption has unleashed the domestic travel demand of Chinese people who had been confined to their homes for months to prevent the spread of the virus.
Since July 29, popular tourist destinations across the country have received nearly three times the tourists compared with last quarter, according to a report released by the country’s major online travel agency Trip.com Group.
“The resumption of trans-provincial travel has boosted the tourism sector. Take Hongcun (a historic village in Hongcun Town), for example, its average daily visitors have increased to more than 3,000, nearly half of the number in the same period last year,” said Hu Weimin, marketing director of Yixian County Hui Huang Tourism Group.
According to Hu, as the resumption comes ahead of the summer vacation, family travel has become quite popular, registering an increase of nearly 60 percent.
Travel agencies that encountered financial difficulties due to the epidemic have also returned to work.
Trip.com Group’s report showed that over 4,000 travel agencies have launched domestic travel products on its platform.
Liang Jianzhang, chairman and co-founder of Trip.com Group said in the first half the year, travel agencies had to rely on short trips to survive and the revenue only accounted for one-tenth of their previous income.
Liang added that outbound tourism usually accounts for half of the revenue for travel agencies and 40 percent of their earning comes from cross-provincial travel.
Wu Minghua, a 34-year-old from Guangdong, said tourists like himself had to sign an undertaking that mentioned about complying with anti-epidemic measures such as daily temperature screening, among others.
“We were told before the trip that vehicles will be disinfected every day to ensure a clean and safe environment for passengers,” said Wu.
Due to the impact of the epidemic, small-scale and customized tour groups began to gain popularity, said Li Kang, head of a travel agency in Hefei, capital of Anhui province.
“People are willing to pay more for quality service and strict health and safety protection measures,” Li said.
As scenic spots are busy preparing for a major inflow of tourists, local tourism departments also introduced incentives to attract visitors from outside the region. Provinces such as Shandong, Shanxi, Henan, and Guizhou announced free tickets or big discounts to tourists.
“Hongcun will allow free entry for children under 16 when they travel with their parents,” said Hu.
“We are eager to seize the opportunity by offering tailored services to meet demands of tourists amid the recovering tourism market,” said Li.