Quoteworthy: "It’s important to us not to lose sight of what this was all built on." — Grab CEO Anthony Tan, referring to the “opening bell” ceremony for the company’s debut on the Nasdaq that will be held in Singapore with Grab’s drivers and merchant partners
KL-Singapore high speed rail project may be revived
Singapore is open to reviving discussions about the KL-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) project which was terminated under an earlier Malaysian government.
“This has been amicably settled and closed,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, disclosing that his counterpart Ismail Sabri Yaakob had raised the possibility of reviving the project.
“Nevertheless, Singapore’s open to fresh proposals from Malaysia,” said Lee, at a joint press conference on Nov 29.
“Singapore looks forward to receiving more details from Malaysia, so that we can study them, and consider the matter again, starting from a clean slate,” he added.
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The 350km-long HSR line was first mooted back in 2013 and a binding agreement was signed in December 2016 with a target to have the line operational by 2026.
Instead of a four-hour drive, travellers can reach either city within 90 minutes using the HSR.
The project was postponed and eventually scrapped officially on Jan 1 this year under a later Malaysian government. Singapore received compensation of more than $102 million for costs incurred.
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At the conference, Lee also said the two countries aim to expand the current vaccinated travel lane (VTL) arrangements to include general travellers.
However, he warns that the relaxation of measures has to take into account the impact of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron. “We are all watching anxiously to see what it does and how it will behave.”
Nevertheless, the borders cannot remain shut. “Even if Omicron disrupts these plans, our goal will still be to have more open borders between Singapore and Malaysia and I’m quite confident that after some time we will be able to make further progress,” said Lee.
“Today, we reached another significant milestone in our cooperation,” said Ismail, referring to the start of VTL arrangements between the two countries via both air and land routes for those fully vaccinated.
The two prime ministers agreed to resume regular bilateral interactions that were disrupted by the pandemic, such as the 10th annual leaders retreat, which was not convened in the past two years amid the pandemic.
“We will have our leaders retreat in the first quarter of next year and I look forward to it,” Ismail said.
Crypto traders in South Korea get tax reprieve
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A looming tax on cryptocurrency profits in South Korea will likely be pushed back by a year, giving a reprieve to traders who said they were being unfairly targeted.
The South Korean National Assembly’s finance committee on Nov 30 approved to delay a 20% tax on crypto profits of more than KRW2.5 million ($2,897) until 2023. It is expected to be up for a vote by the full body on Dec 2.
The crypto tax was supposed to be implemented a year ahead of a similar capital-gains tax on stocks, sparking questions on why digital currencies such as Bitcoin were being treated differently.
South Korea originally considered the crypto levy in 2017 as the country attempted to rein in the frenzy surrounding digital assets. At the time, the government bolstered regulations, including banning initial coin offerings and shutting down smaller crypto exchanges.
Now, countries around the world are rewriting their tax laws specifically to get a handle on cryptocurrencies, an asset class whose market value had ballooned to more than US$3 trillion($4 trillion) before retreating some. Austria is planning to implement a 27.5% tax on crypto gains starting in March, equal to the rate of other assets. Meanwhile, in the US, crypto has already been taxed at the same rate as other capital gains, though a new law has tightened reporting requirements to make sure taxes are actually paid. — Bloomberg
South African scientists sound caution on Omicron case severity
Leading South African scientists warned it is still too early to determine that the Omicron variant will only cause mild illness.
The true impact of the coronavirus strain is currently hard to determine because it has so far mostly affected young people, who are better able to fight off the pathogen, and people tend to get sicker after carrying the virus for some time, the scientists said in a presentation to lawmakers on Dec 1.
Earlier, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said the daily number of new confirmed cases in South Africa almost doubled to 8,561 infections in the last 24 hours. Omicron is now by far the dominant strain in the country.
The latest infections have occurred “mostly in the younger age groups but we are starting to see this move into the older age groups”, Michelle Groome, head of public health surveillance and response at the NICD, told the lawmakers. “We are also expecting that the more severe complications may not present themselves for a few weeks.”
On Nov 25, the South African government and scientists announced that this new variant, later christened Omicron by the World Health Organization, had been found in the country. That triggered an equity market sell-off and led to the imposition of travel bans on several southern African nations.
Richard Lessells, an infectious disease specialist at the KRISP genomics institute, said the severity of disease caused by the new strain may also be masked by the fact that many people have already contracted other variants or have been inoculated, giving them some immunity.
“If this virus and this variant spreads very efficiently through the population, then it will still be able to find those people in the population who are unvaccinated and may be unprotected against severe disease,” he said. “That’s what also concerns us when we think about the continent more generally.”
South Africa’s vaccination rate is low compared with western nations and China but is well above most African nations, with about a quarter of the population fully inoculated. Across the continent of 1.3 billion people, only 6.7% are fully vaccinated, with only 0.1% of the 100 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo having received their shots. Even so, Lessells expects that while the variant may evade antibodies the body’s other defenses, such as T-cells, may still be effective. T-cells kill infected cells. — Bloomberg