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Singapore turns to domestic tourism as travel sector reels from coronavirus

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SINGAPORE — Singapore is turning to domestic tourism as its borders remain largely closed to overseas visitors due to coronavirus.

“The tourism sector in Singapore was really badly affected as a result of this pandemic,” said Chaly Mah, chairman of the Singapore Tourism Board on Tuesday, on the sidelines of the Singapore Summit.

Singapore started off the year strong with 1.69 million visitors in January — an increase from 1.62 million the same month a year ago. However, as authorities sought to control the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, travel restrictions were imposed. The immigration controls sent the numbers plunging about 99% year-on-year in recent months, he said.

“Given that we are a small country and we don’t have the benefit of domestic travel, what we are trying to do now is to encourage Singaporeans to visit some of our local tourist attractions,” said Mah.

Authorities are trying to make up some of the shortfall in tourism revenue by enticing Singaporeans to visit attractions in their own country.

As our borders are now still closed, the idea of flight to nowhere, cruise to nowhere is an interesting idea for a small city-state like Singapore.

Chaly Mah

chairman of the Singapore Tourism Board

Singapore travelers generated about 34 billion Singapore dollars ($25 billion) in tourism-related spending overseas last year, and the goal is to capture about 10% of that amount from domestic travelers, Mah told CNBC’s “Street Signs.” Tourists who came to Singapore spent 27.7 billion Singapore dollars ($20.4 billion) in receipts here last year, according to daa from the Singapore government.

The Singapore Tourism Board launched the SingapoRediscovers campaign in July to encourage Singapore residents to spend on hotels, dining and attractions. 

The government also announced that it will be distributing 320 million Singapore dollars in “tourism credits” to residents to drive local spending in domestic travel.

“The idea there is to have Singaporeans and local residents visit some of our local tourist spots and rediscover Singapore,” said Mah.

“For us to have an authentic experience for our tourists in Singapore, we must have our own Singaporeans experiencing some of these local attractions so they can tell an authentic story when they relate it to the tourists,” he added.

People wearing face masks as a preventive measure jog along the Merlion Park, a major tourist destination in Singapore, across the Marina Bay Sands, during the Covid-19 crisis.

Maverick Asio | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

There are many attractions and experiences in the country that “Singaporeans take for granted but have never visited,” Mah said.

He added that the tourism board is also exploring cruises to nowhere to boost cruise traffic. Singapore Airlines is also said to be considering flights to nowhere.

“As our borders are now still closed, the idea of flight to nowhere, cruise to nowhere is an interesting idea for a small city-state like Singapore,” said Mah.

Meanwhile, Singapore has put into place reciprocal green lane travel arrangements with several countries including China and Malaysia. They cater mainly to business and official travelers at the moment.

The city-state will slowly reopen its borders to more international travelers in a “deliberate and calibrated manner,” said Mah.

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Complacency about low rates is ‘dangerous’: Clifford Capital Holdings

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SINGAPORE — Complacency about the low interest rate environment and abundant liquidity in the market is “dangerous,” the deputy chairman of a financial services company said this week.

“The bifurcation that bothers me the most is the one between the health of the global economy and the health of the global population on the one hand, and the state of the capital markets on the other,” said Sanjiv Misra of Clifford Capital Holdings.

“The first is in dire straits and the latter is roaring ahead as though we were experiencing one of the greatest growth spurts in recent years,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” at the Singapore Summit on Tuesday. Countries around the world are still fighting the coronavirus outbreak, but the stock market has recovered, with the S&P 500 closing at a record high in August.

Ultimately, when the cost of capital drops as precipitously as it has, that’s a precursor to unwise investment decisions, whether … fixed asset expenditure or in terms of public markets investing.

Sanjiv Misra

Clifford Capital Holdings

Misra said the bridge between the two sides is the “wall of liquidity” that has been unleashed by central banks such as the U.S. Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank in a bid to support the economy as the coronavirus spread. That has led to “enormous money supply-driven asset inflation,” with the stock market being the “single most visible representative” of it.

He noted that in the U.S., the stock market capitalization-to-GDP ratio is at a 50-year high, and the market cap-to-liquidity ratio is double that of the global average. “The difference … is manifested in that liquidity boom, which is occasioned mainly by this expectation that interest rates are going to stay low for a very long time,” he said.

“I do agree that this complacency is dangerous,” said Misra.

Consequences of low rates

Besides concerns about asset bubbles and price discovery, an extended period of extremely low interest rates can also lead to “unwise” choices.

“Ultimately, when the cost of capital drops as precipitously as it has, that’s a precursor to unwise investment decisions, whether … fixed asset expenditure or in terms of public markets investing,” he said.

Misra acknowledged that low rates were “essential” and “the only salvation” for the global economy in March and April amid the health crisis, but said monetary and fiscal measures would need to be recalibrated at some point.

The key question is when governments should think about taking the money in the system and redistributing it or investing it in real assets, he said. Such investments can lead to “productive expenditure and the generation of jobs and incomes” over time, he added.

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Trump claims he ‘up-played’ the coronavirus after he admitted downplaying it

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U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on judicial appointments during a brief appearance in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, September 9, 2020.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

President Donald Trump on Tuesday denied that he had downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, claiming he “up-played” the danger of the disease through his actions – despite privately admitting months earlier that “I wanted to always play it down.”  

Trump, speaking at an ABC News town hall event with voters in Philadelphia, said his moves early on in the Covid-19 crisis saved lives and demonstrated “action, not with the mouth but in actual fact.”

The president’s assertion that “in many ways I up-played it in terms of action” came less than a week after the release of audio from an interview with veteran journalist Bob Woodward, in which Trump said of the coronavirus: “I wanted to always play it down … I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” 

That clip was recorded in mid-March, more than a month after Trump reportedly told Woodward that he understood the virus was “more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”

Trump’s advisors, Woodward reported in his new book “Rage,” had warned him in late January that the coronavirus “will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.”

In the town hall event Tuesday evening, Trump was asked by a student, “If you believe it’s the president’s responsibility to protect America, why would you downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low income families and minority communities?”

The president responded, “Yeah, well I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways I up-played it in terms of action.”

The student appeared to reference the president’s recorded comments with Woodward as she began a follow-up question: “Did you not admit to it yourself, saying that you…”

But Trump cut her off. “What I did was, with China I put a ban on. With Europe I put a ban on. And we would’ve lost thousands of more people had I not put the ban on,” he said.

“So that was called action, not with the mouth but in actual fact, we did a very, very good job when we put that ban on. Whether you call it talent or luck, it was very important. So we saved a lot of lives when we did that.”

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, who hosted the town hall, said, “There were holes in the ban, and the European ban didn’t come for another month.”

The president replied, “Well, they were Americans, I mean the holes in were if you have somebody in China that’s an American citizen, we had to let them in.”

Multiple fact-checks of Trump’s claim that he imposed a “ban” on China note that thousands of foreign nationals had continued to come into the U.S. in the months after the policy took effect in early February.

The Associated Press in July noted that “more than 27,000 Americans returned from mainland China in the first month after the restrictions took effect.”

ABC’s 90-minute town hall, hosted at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in accordance with Pennsylvania’s social distancing rules, comes just seven weeks before the presidential election between Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. It was set to air at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

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India pushes supplies to disputed China border ahead of winter

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An Indian army convoy passes along a highway leading to Ladakh on September 1, 2020. The Srinagar-Leh highway has been closed to civilians following movements by Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh.

Waseem Andrabi | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

From deploying mules to large transport aircraft, India’s military has activated its entire logistics network to transport supplies to thousands of troops for a harsh winter along a bitterly disputed Himalayan border with China.

In recent months, one of India’s biggest military logistics exercises in years has brought vast quantities of ammunition, equipment, fuel, winter supplies and food into Ladakh, a region bordering Tibet that India administers as a union territory, officials said.

The move was triggered by a border stand-off with China in the snow deserts of Ladakh that began in May and escalated in June into hand-to-hand combat. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed while China suffered an undisclosed number of casualties.

Both countries are negotiating to resolve the confrontation, but neither side has backed down. The Indian military is now set to keep troops deployed along the treacherous, high-altitude border through the winter.

Eastern Ladakh, where the flare-up occurred, is typically manned by 20,000-30,000 soldiers. But the deployment has more than doubled with the tensions, a military official said, declining to provide exact numbers.

“We have mirrored the increase in Chinese troops,” the official said, adding the Indian military was well-prepared but did not want further escalation or a prolonged conflict.

Temperatures in Ladakh can fall well below freezing, and troops are often deployed at altitudes of over 15,000 feet, where oxygen is scarce, officials said.

Since snow blocks mountain passes into Ladakh at least four months every winter, Indian military planners have already moved more than 150,000 tonnes of materials into the region.

“All the supplies that we need have already been pushed to wherever they are required,” said Major General Arvind Kapoor, chief of staff of the Indian army’s 14 Corps.

Ferrying to the frontline

On Tuesday morning, a succession of the Indian air force’s large transport aircraft landed at a forward base in Ladakh, carrying men and materials, as fighter jets roared overhead.

Soldiers with backpacks streamed out and were checked for Covid-19 symptoms at a transit facility, where they awaited further transport.

The materials are stored across a network of logistics hubs.

At a fuel, oil and lubricant depot near Leh, Ladakh’s main city, a hillside was covered with clusters of green drums.

At storage facilities at a nearby supply depot, boxes and sacks of ration – including pistachios, instant noodles and Indian curries – stood in tall piles. At another base near Leh, tents, heaters, winter clothing and high-altitude equipment lay stacked.

From these depots, the materials are pushed to logistics nodes by trucks, helicopters and, in some particularly difficult parts, mules, officials said.

“In a place like Ladakh, operations logistics is of huge importance,” said Kapoor. “In the last 20 years, we have mastered it.”

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