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Saturday, January 30, 2021

Block out background Zoom noise

Bothered by the background noise of Zoom calls? Here’s how to block it out 

Teachers on Zoom calls with students ages five to eight who are at home or in daycare might find this a familiar bugbear: the sounds of other children, siblings, parents and barking dogs. 

The students have noise-canceling headphones that block the noise for them, but not so much the teachers.

In addition, some students use iPads that have a plug for their headphones but no plug for a noise-cancelling external microphone (headphones that include microphones are expensive).

If this is what you’re facing, block the background racket by using noise-cancelling software instead of noise-canceling microphones.

There are two types of this software: The Zoom video call app, which has controls for cancelling out background noise at the student’s end of the conversation, and third-party programs for your computer that cancel out student background noise before the sound plays through your computer’s speaker.

In order to use the Zoom noise-cancelling feature, your students must connect to the call via the Zoom app on their iPads (as opposed to connecting without the app through the Zoom website).

In addition, an adult must examine the app’s settings to make sure they aren’t set to “original sound”, which means background noise is not filtered out. Toggling off “original sound” automatically turns on background noise cancellation. (For directions, clic here.)

Unfortunately, the noise-cancellation feature in the iPad Zoom app has its limits. Unlike the computer app, the iPad app doesn’t let you adjust to block specific types of sounds. It also doesn’t allow noise cancellation to be increased or decreased.

A better solution may be to download a third-party noise-cancellation program to the PC or Mac that you use for Zoom sessions. The app most suited to your needs is probably Krisp, which can filter out student background noise before you hear it. Krisp is free to use for up to 120 minutes a week; unlimited use costs US$5 (RM20) a month. (See details here and downloads here). – Star Tribune (Minneapolis)/Tribune News Service

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Background noise suppression – Zoom Help Center


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Friday, January 29, 2021

Watch out for WhatsApp scammers

MCMC: Beware of scammers trying to take over your WhatsApp account 

 MCMC issued a warning to alert the public to increasing reports of WhatsApp accounts being hijacked

MCMC said scammers often pose as friends or family members, using accounts that scammers had already successfully hacked into, to try to trick them into revealing their six-digit WhatsApp verification codes. — Bloomberg

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has issued a  statement warning the public to be wary of increasingly inventive tactics employed by scammers trying to hijack a user’s WhatsApp account, due to increasing reports of fraud cases being committed through the app.

MCMC said scammers usually manage to take over victims’ WhatsApp accounts by tricking them into divulging their six-digit verification codes, which users will usually receive when there is an attempt to change the phone number associated to their account.

To do this, scammers have been known to contact potential victims while posing as a hapless individual or business claiming to have mistakenly keyed in the victim’s phone number while trying to complete an online transaction, explaining that as a result the authorisation code for the transaction had been sent to the victim’s phone and imploring them for help retrieving the code.

These appeals could even come from the victim’s family members or friends via accounts that scammers had already hijacked, said MCMC.

This tactic commonly misleads the victim into thinking they would be sending the scammer an unrelated TAC (transaction authorisation code) when in fact they would be handing over the six-digit verification code to the victim’s own WhatsApp account.

Those who have been duped into giving up their codes could end up having their accounts stolen by scammers, added MCMC.

MCMC said scammers have also impersonated WhatsApp employees to fool users into sharing their verification code, adding that there have also been instances where the scammer would deliberately fail at keying in the code several times in order to force an automated system by WhatsApp to call the user about their verification code.

In this instance, the scammer would also contact the user to ask for the code while pretending to be someone else. If the user did not answer the automated call by WhatsApp and it goes into the user’s voice mailbox, then the scammer would try to randomly guess at or ask for the user’s voice mailbox PIN code to access the recording, according to MCMC.

The regulatory body advised WhatsApp users to be suspicious of any attempts to procure their six-digit verification code, adding that it is absolutely imperative that users never reveal the code to anyone else to prevent their accounts from being hijacked.

It added that users should also enable two-factor verification on WhatsApp and utilise more complicated PIN numbers for their voice mailbox as additional security measures.

According to an  FAQ by WhatsApp, a user may be sent the verification code via SMS – even when one wasn’t requested – for a number of reasons.

WhatsApp said this could happen due to someone mistyping their own number, or a hacker attempting to take over the person’s account.

Without the code, the hacker will not be able to complete the verification process, which would prevent the account from being hijacked.

If your account has been stolen, you will have to sign into WhatsApp with your phone number and verify your phone number by entering the six-digit code you receive via SMS.

Once you enter the six-digit SMS code, the individual using your account will be automatically logged out.

You might also be asked to provide a two-step verification code. If you don’t know this code, the hijacker using your account could have enabled two-step verification.

You must wait seven days before you can sign in without the two-step verification code, according to WhatsApp.

Regardless of whether you know this verification code, the other person will be logged out of your account once you entered the six-digit code received via SMS.

In a separate FAQ about  stolen accounts, WhatsApp also advised the victim to inform family and friends if they suspect someone is impersonating them in chats.

Users whose WhatsApp accounts have been stolen are encouraged to file a complaint with MCMC or lodge a report at the nearest police station.

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Thursday, January 28, 2021

China needs to lead global vaccinations

COVID-19 pandemic: From 1 to 100 million

As of Wednesday Beijing time, over 100 million people around the world have been infected with COVID-19, with over 2.15 million deaths. The severest pandemic since the beginning of the 21st century has brought great sufferings to the people and incurred huge losses. It has provided lessons.

As World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on Twitter, "Numbers can make us numb to what they represent: every death is someone's parent, someone's partner, someone's child, someone's friend." After all, humanity shouldn't be numb. We must keep the thirst for humanitarianism and always spare no efforts. Humanity must not connive in the growing number of deaths - it is a shame of the modern civilization.

Many lessons can be drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic that manages to rage across the globe. The biggest one is that we humans should have made full use of the capabilities to contain the pandemic, but the interference of politics with science and the resulting disunity among major countries have allowed the coronavirus to take advantage. What was supposed to be a unified war against the epidemic has become separate wars within different countries and regions. The problem is clear for all to see, but we have not yet been able to mend the fold quickly enough to build the collective human solidarity that was so badly needed.

Within many countries, too, it has been difficult to forge consensus and solidarity around the pandemic prevention routes. How to coordinate the fight against the epidemic and to boost economic recovery has become a common question. In this process, the opinions of scientists are often marginalized, and some influential politicians put non-scientific considerations first at the critical moment, leading the fight against the pandemic to go astray.

The ravaging epidemic has also exposed the fragility of economic activity and the way human society is organized. Most societies in general are poor in vigilance to disasters with a lack of mobilization, and dependent too much on fair weather for prosperity. The pandemic this time showed the destructive power of a public health crisis at a time when the world's population is growing and more socially intense. Human society must increase its investment in public safety.

After a terrible year, we are now at a new stage of the pandemic. Vaccines at this stage have the potential to revolutionize the fight against the pandemic and reshape the global structure.

China is a large populous country. It has achieved outstanding success in the last round of the epidemic fight, laying a sound foundation for the next stage of the war against the coronavirus. The country is also at the forefront of vaccine research and development. Next, we must create the fastest vaccination rate and stand at the front ranks on the herd immunity list. This is a new test for China.

We contained the epidemic without vaccines in the last round of the virus fight. We cannot continue such an advantage. The speed of vaccine promotion will greatly affect the opening-up of all societies in the future. The US and European societies suffered heavy losses last year, but at the same time they have developed relatively strong endurance toward the pandemic. If their vaccination is fast, this will promote mutual opening-up among them, which will exert pressure on countries which are slow in vaccination.

Only by getting vaccination rates in China roughly on par with the rates in the US and European countries, along with keeping the social distancing capabilities we already have, can China continue to lead in being open in the future and further provide the greatest impetus for the recovery of the global economy.

Before the next winter comes, China needs to strive to get the majority of the vulnerable and high-risk groups vaccinated and to expand the vaccination coverage to the general population. We need to guarantee the total number of people vaccinated in China several times higher than the number in the US.

China also needs to provide large quantities of vaccines to developing countries, and the total number of vaccines exported should be the largest. This is the role China should play as a major manufacturing country, and this is what is expected of China.

To accomplish these tasks at the same time, China's vaccine production must speed up as soon as possible. We don't have time to celebrate our past achievements. We need to move forward and focus on the future

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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The different types of Covid-19 tests

  Health authorities worldwide use either RT-PCR or RTK-Ag to test the virus

 There are two known popular Covid-19 tests available and used by the health authorities worldwide to detect the virus.

The two tests – reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and antigen rapid test kit (RTK-Ag) – require nasal or throat swab samples.

RT-PCR is considered the gold standard in diagnosing the Covid-19 virus.

It can detect if an individual has an active Covid-19 infection and the test has typically high sensitivity rates, though this also means the sample has to be carefully prepared to avoid contamination.<

RT-PCR is a molecular test that is able to detect minute quantities of Covid-19 virus’s ribonucleic acid (RNA) in the nasal or throat swab sample taken from an individual.

Chemicals are used on the swab to remove other substances and extract only the RNA in the sample.

The RNA is converted to DNA through the “reverse transcription” process, and extra short fragments of DNA are added by scientists to build DNA strands and to add marker labels to them to detect the virus.

The mixture is placed in a machine that creates copies of the viral DNA, during which the marker labels release a fluorescent dye that is measured by a computer.

Depending on the lab and logistics, results can be obtained in two hours, or up to several days if the sample needs to be shipped across distances.

The RTK-Ag test, on the other hand, is faster than the RT-PCR test, as it can generate results within 15 to 30 minutes.

As such, RTK-Ag has the advantage of detecting Covid-19 outbreaks quickly and in large quantities, but its accuracy is lower than the RT-PCR test and it may produce false-negative results (leading to a false sense of security).

The Health Ministry uses the RTK-Ag as an alternative to the RT-PCR in certain situations, in order to obtain test results within a shorter time in circumstances where molecular testing is not available.

Antigen tests work by detecting specific proteins on the surface of the virus, as opposed to the RT-PCR test which detects the virus’s genetic material.

Yet another Covid-19 test is the antibody test, which unlike the RT-PCR and RTK-Ag tests, is detected through a blood sample. Samples are obtained via pricking the finger or drawing of blood, and results can be obtained within a few days.

However, the antibody test is not suitable to be used to detect active Covid-19 infections as it can only show that a person has been (or never been) infected by the virus in the past.

The test picks up on antibodies, which are proteins created by a person’s immune system after they have been infected or vaccinated.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it will take one to three weeks after infection for a person’s body to produce antibodies.

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  MANY individuals and groups have shared suggestions of how to manage the Covid-19 pandemic. Allow me to summarise five key measures we cr...


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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Ways to fight raging Covid-19 fire


MANY individuals and groups have shared suggestions of how to manage the Covid-19 pandemic. Allow me to summarise five key measures we critically need to take to manage the crisis.

Test extensively:

Ramping up our PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests to 100,000 a day is insufficient. PCR tests are labour intensive and results are usually delayed. If it takes three to five days to get a result, this limits the value of the testing.

We need hundreds of thousands of RTK-Ag (antigen rapid test kit) tests on the ground. With a one- hour result time they offer rapid response and action when positive.

Even if they are only 75% sensitive, it significantly mutes the pandemic. Equivocal results can be sent for PCR testing. We should keep PCR tests for patients requiring admission and testing of high risk symptomatic persons (over 60 years with major comorbidities).

Restore contact tracing:

Contact tracing activities have been swamped by the huge numbers and have currently failed. We must learn from other nations.

Rapidly employ the more than 10,000 retrenched non-medical professionals, train and use them to re-establish contact tracing in all states. This will also free healthcare staff to do more vital tasks.

We must dramatically improve our handphone applications to allow for seamless contact tracing and notification of the public.

Support Health Ministry staff

Our Health Ministry staff are long past burnout. The burden of excessive work, long hours wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), fears of contracting Covid-19 and lack of adequate emotional support have wrought havoc on a healthcare system that was always fragile and inadequate.

We must immediately offer permanent jobs to all Health Ministry staff on contract, as well as hire all available doctors, pharmacists and nurses waiting for jobs. Also consider graduating all final year doctors, pharmacists and nurses, using their continued formative assessments and prior examination results as a proxy indicator of performance.

Improve home quarantine

Home quarantine is useful for Covid-19 individuals who are well and healthy. However, maintaining home quarantine for large numbers is a challenge. There are numerous reports of those who are supposed to be under home quarantine, either because they are positive or have been in close contact with a confirmed case, travelling outside their home to get food or visit a doctor.

In addition, many people are at a loss about what to do at home and are waiting for days for Health Ministry personnel to contact them. There must be a mechanism to improve current home quarantine conditions.

We should hire and train retrenched non-medical professionals and use them to monitor and support these individuals.

It may be important for the Health Ministry to offer hospitalised quarantine for those over 60 years of age with major comorbidities, as they are at high risk for death.

Widen pick up services:

 Individuals who are found to be Covd-19 positive and require hospitalisation should not have to wait. We hear many anecdotal reports of such persons waiting for days to be admitted.

We recognise that the Health Ministry’s ambulance services are overwhelmed. We need to urgently widen the pick-up services. We can train and use private ambulance services, especially for those who are really ill.

For those who are mildly ill and require hospitalisation, we could work with established transport services (taxis, Grab, etc) to provide a dedicated pick up service with good PPE and protection for the drivers.

When there is a huge fire raging in a large region, using hand-held fire extinguishers will not work. We cannot continue with the same initiatives we have practised thus far to control the vast local outbreak.

Using imaginative, out-of-the box strategies are necessary. No one person or organisation has all the solutions or answers. Listening to diverse views is critical.

DATUK DR AMAR-SINGH HSS , Senior Consultant Paediatrician

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Monday, January 25, 2021

Housekeeping Covid-19 away: ways to disinfect your home


Ministry details cleaning solutions for patients self-isolating at home

Clean those door knobs, tap faucets or other frequently touched surfaces.

Now that Covid-19 patients with mild or no symptoms at all are required to self-isolate at home instead of going to a quarantine centre, the Health Ministry has provided guidelines on sanitising your home if you are living with an infected person.

According to the ministry, the bathroom used by the patient should be disinfected at least once a day.

To prepare for the disinfectant solution, use five tablespoons of 5% sodium hypochlorite with 3.8 litres of water or four teaspoons of 5% sodium hypochlorite with 0.95 litres of water.

“The personal protective equipment needed are face mask, face shield, plastic apron and gloves.

“Surfaces can be cleaned with a normal detergent first, rinse and then clean using the disinfectant solution containing 0.1% sodium hypochlorite, ” it noted, adding that the person sanitising should wash their hands before and after the cleaning process.

Also, the ministry said that those who were living with a Covid-19 patient at home should wear a mask and disposable gloves when handling the patient’s clothes.

“Dirty clothes and linen should be stored in a sealed plastic or closed storage until it is ready to be washed.

“The clothes should also be separated from others.

“Don’t shake the laundry as the virus can be transmitted through the air, ” it said.

Health experts said the public should sanitise and disinfect shared spaces within their own house and workspace and especially if there was a Covid-19 case in the area.

Universiti Putra Malaysia medical epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Malina Osman said one of the basic principles for sanitisation was whether there was a risk of virus exposure.

“It depends on whether there is presence of possible infection in the area or not, ” she said.

Dr Malina said if there was a positive case at the workplace, sanitisation needed to be done at the person’s work desk and common areas including lift, railing, door knobs, toilet and other identified areas.

“There is no need to have a blanket rule to sanitise the whole building, the road to the office or the drainage system, ” she added.

Public health assistant Muhamad Shahir Mohd Razali said it was safe to use disinfectants to clean surfaces that were regularly touched such as table tops and door knobs.

“This can also be done at the workplace where sanitisation can be done once every two weeks.

“And for surfaces that are regularly touched, they can do it twice a day.

“This will help reduce the risk of transmitting diseases and viruses, ” he added.

Shahir said his team often conducted sanitisation at places where a Covid-19 patient had been to such as quarantine centres, offices, crematoriums or cemeteries.

“We sanitise the areas with a chemical solution which is sodium hypochlorite and water mixed according to the required measurement.

“The areas that we sanitise are the toilet, kitchen, bedroom and common areas, ” he said, noting that the PPE worn during disinfection would later be discarded in a bio-hazard plastic bag sealed and sprayed with detergent.

Malaysian Medical Association president Prof Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said disposable gloves or gloves dedicated for sanitising surfaces should be worn when sanitising.

“The home should also be sufficiently ventilated when sanitising to protect against inhaling harmful chemical vapours from the disinfectant.

“Surfaces should be disinfected after they are cleaned with soap and water, ” he said, noting that disposable gloves or rubber gloves should be worn and discarded properly.

Dr Subramaniam said mobile phones should also be wiped clean and disinfected everyday as it was the most used device often placed on various surfaces.

He said frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, switches, table tops and chairs should be cleaned at least twice a day.

“Staff should get into the habit of washing hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitiser.

“In smaller companies, staff should clean and disinfect their own workstation, ” he said, adding that face masks should be worn in the office to protect others and surfaces from respiratory droplets.

Dr Malina emphasised that the basic measure in preventing Covid-19 infection was to take care of personal hygiene.

“Any person who has to be at the office, regardless of their Covid-19 status, as it is often unknown, should always avoid touching unnecessary areas, always wash their hands when touching various surfaces and should never allow their nasal droplets or saliva to contaminate the office or public areas.

“If there is a possible contamination, it should be cleaned as soon as possible, ” she added.

Dr Malina said the current measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 like working from home, reducing the number of employees to 30% and stricter SOP were adequate.

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Pompeo and 27 others sanctioned for lying, cheating,stealing....

Sanction on Pompeo and 27 anti-China hawks is most gratifying to the people: State Council's HK & Macao Office

Mike Pompeo Photo: AFP

Ten sanctioned US politicians from the Trump eraInfographic: GT

The sanction of US former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and the other 27 anti-China hawks is most gratifying to the people, the Hong Kong and Macao Office of the State Council said on Thursday, saying that the office firmly supports the move.

"It is known to all that Pompeo had wantonly interfered with Hong Kong affairs, maliciously slandered the 'one country, two systems' practice, crazily incited and made sanctions, and severely violated international laws and the norms of international relations. He had severely damaged the China-US ties, destroyed the prosperity and stability of the Hong Kong region and he deserves the sanction," read the release of the office.

Soon after Joe Biden took the oath and became the new US president on January 20, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced sanctions on 28 anti-China politicians in the US for "their selfish political interests, and prejudice and hatred against China, as well as showing no regard for the interests of the Chinese and American people."

The list includes Michael R. Pompeo, Peter K. Navarro, Robert C. O'Brien, David R. Stilwell, Matthew Pottinger, Alex M. Azar II, Keith J. Krach, and Kelly D. K. Craft of the Trump administration, as well as John R. Bolton and Stephen K. Bannon. These individuals and their immediate family members are prohibited from entering the mainland, Hong Kong and Macao of China. They, and any companies or institutions associated with them, are also restricted from doing business with China.

The Hong Kong and Macao office said in the Thursday release that during his years as the secretary of state, Pompeo "successfully" earned fame for his brazen cheating, lying and utter interference with other countries' affairs.

His lunatic political farces showed the international community just how the US hegemony oppresses and attacks China's development, exposing their hypocrisy, arrogance, selfishness and their maliciousness in boasting "democracy, freedom and human rights."

"Pompeo and others used their deeds to remind the international community to keep their eyes sharpened, and from this angle, he may have done one little good thing," read the release.

The Chinese people never believe evil can win. History has proven that any forces that want to interfere with China's internal affairs have failed and found themselves badly beaten. If someone still wants to take any chances in interfering with Hong Kong affairs or even inciting "color revolution" in the region, nothing but shameful failure will await them, according to the release.

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Taiwan affairs office supports sanction on US politicians; Xinjiang conference 'hammers last nail' into coffin of 'poisonous legacy' of Pompeo

The Taiwan Affairs Office of China's State Council and the government of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Regions lammed former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over bad behavior on the Taiwan question and his smear against Xinjiang, as China announced sanctions on 28 anti-China US politicians on Wednesday night, including Pompeo.

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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Working from home trend spurs demand for bigger houses

12 Essential Work from Home Trends & Predictions for 2021/2022

THE Malaysian property market, despite still navigating the shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic from last year, is expected to perform better in 2021.

PPC International managing director Datuk Siders Sittampalam says while the pandemic “isn’t going to go away” soon, he is optimistic that the property market will find a way to “work around it.”
PPC International managing director Datuk Siders Sittampalam.

“The fear of the pandemic will not end anytime soon. It will take a while for everyone to go back to their normal live. “With that said, people are going to have to work around it. You can’t expect to be placed under cold storage for too long. Life needs to go on and the real estate segment is the same,” he tells StarBizWeek.

While the vaccine will be available soon, he emphasises that things will not go back to pre-pandemic conditions overnight.

“A sustainable model will need to be put in place for the local property market to work through the pandemic. Eventually, everyone will need to find what works best for them to be able to cope in this challenging environment.”Siders says the concept of working from home (WFH), which has become the norm, could change the mindset of housebuyers going forward.

“The WFH concept has fuelled the demand for properties that don’t just serve as homes, but also working spaces. Gone may be the days where a single bedroom apartment was more than sufficient.

“Now, there will likely be demand for larger properties that can double-up as your office.”

TA Securities, in a recent report, shared a similar sentiment.

“Demand for landed property remains resilient as we saw recent launches at (S P Setia Bhd’s) Alam Impian and Setia Alam achieved commendable take-up rates of more than 90%. Meanwhile, S P Setia sees a pent-up demand for larger homes as remote working options gain traction after the movement control order (MCO).

“Similarly, the trend of opting for bigger space is also observed in Singapore, as we saw a surge in buying interest at Daintree Residence, Singapore. This project was only 30% sold after two years of launch. However, the take-up rate shot up to 90% when the sales gallery reopened after circuit breaker was lifted.”

Despite the implementation of a second MCO, Siders is optimistic that any repercussions on the property sector will not be as bad as the first one that was implemented in March last year.

“I think the market will be better than last year. Activity has not come to a full standstill like the first MCO.

“The sudden shock during the first MCO is not reflected in the current one. Generally, the market will be better than last year,” he says.

Meanwhile, Knight Frank Malaysia managing director Sarkunan Subramaniam says the performance of the residential market is very much dependent on how the economy moves forward.

“The anticipated commercial rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine by the first half of this year will certainly boost the hopes for the country’s economic recovery and lift overall consumer sentiment.

“However, the current ongoing political uncertainties amid the worsening Covid-19 have led property buyers as well as developers to rethink their future plans and strategies. The residential market is expected to remain challenging in the first half of 2021,” he says in a recent statement.

Slight recovery

Sarkunan says the residential market showed a slight recovery post the first MCO last year with selected developers reporting improved bookings, supported by the low interest rate environment and pent-up demand.

“The reintroduction of the Home Ownership Campaign (HOC), coupled with several stimulus packages as well as the initiatives tabled under Budget 2021, offered a ray of hope for the sluggish residential market.

“However, the recent spike of Covid-19 cases, which led to the implementation of the second MCO, will likely derail market recovery in the short term.”

The government reintroduced the HOC in June last year under the Short-Term Economic Recovery Plan (Penjana). Under the campaign, stamp duty exemption will be provided on the transfer of property and loan agreement for the purchase of homes priced between RM300,000 and RM2.5mil.

Meanwhile, the exemption on the instrument of transfer is limited to the first RM1mil of the home price, while full stamp duty exemption is given on loan agreement effective for sales and purchase agreements signed between June 1 to May 31, 2021.

In addition, the government has announced real property gains tax exemption for Malaysians for the disposal of up to three properties between June 1, 2020 and Dec 31, 2021.

The HOC was kicked off in January 2019 to address the overhang problem in the country.

The campaign, which was initially intended for six months, was extended for a full-year.

Better outlook

The HOC proved successful, having generated total sales of RM23.2bil in 2019, surpassing the government’s initial target of RM17bil.

Maybank Investment Bank Research (Maybank IB) in a recent report says the local property sector is poised for recovery in 2021, driven by a better economic outlook and historically low interest rate environment, as well as pent-up demand.

“In our view, first half 2021 sales should perform better than the second half,as we expect a spike in sales before the end of the HOC and better political stability during the State of Emergency until Aug 1.”

Maybank IB adds that the imposition of the MCO this year should have a lower damage impact on sales as compared with the first MCO last year.

This is because most developers have acclimated to the “new norm” and accelerated their efforts to market their products via the digital platforms.

“A few developers told us that 50% to 70% of their 2020 sales were derived from the online platforms. Construction works are allowed during the MCO as long as approvals are obtained after registering with the Covid-19 Intelligent Management System and adhering to the standard operating procedure, hence, limiting the impact on first quarter 2021 earnings.”

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Do we still need an office?

Millennials now make up over a third of the workplace and overwhelmingly value flexibility in where, when and how to work. And top talent has been increasingly clustering in dense urban areas and has been unwilling to commute to suburban office parks







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A look back at Trump's four years, US trumped out in trade war

A look back at Trump’s four years 

With the new President in the White House, the time to embrace the global community is now and not delay any longer. Washington will then be looked upon with great respect after four years of rule by one man, which was nothing but traumatic, chaotic and deceitful.( Pic shows Biden signing executive orders on first day of Presidency.)

AS we now welcome the era of Bidenomics over the next four years, one cannot help but to review the impact of the previous US president’s tenure which ended just three days ago.

One of Trump’s rallying cry was his call of making America great again. With that, the US embarked on a trade war with the rest of the world, in particular with China, to reduce the massive trade deficits that the US has been experiencing for umpteen years.

In addition, Trump also wanted to bring foreign manufacturers to the US on the assumption that this would reduce their import bill, attracting foreign direct investments as well as creating jobs for Americans.

The trade war saw US imposing tariffs on Chinese goods, and in retaliation, China too started to impose tariffs on US goods – effectively a tit-for-tat move by the two superpowers where effectively nobody wins.

The US-China trade war led to nervousness in markets, in particular during the 2018-2019 period, but the impact of the stand-off tapered off sometime about a year ago when both agreed to enter into the Phase 1 trade deal.

To recap, that trade truce entailed China agreeing to increase the import of American goods and services by at least US$200bil over the next two years. China, which purchased some US$130bil in total goods and US$56bil in services in 2017, was supposed to increase total imports by about US$162bil in total goods purchased and US$38bil in services over the two-year period.

In terms of breakdown for the year 2020 and 2021, China was to increase its imported goods by US$64bil in 2020 and US$98bil this year from the base line figure of 2017. In terms of services, the level of imports by China was expected to increase by about US$13bil last year and US$25bil this year.

Since the Phase 1 trade deal was inked about a year ago, how has the Chinese trade with the rest of the world and in particular the US performed in 2020? Overall, with the December 2020 trade data just released last week, China saw its total exports for the year rising by 3.6% while imports fell by 1.1% year-on-year (y-o-y).

This, of course, would lead to one thing – a widening trade surplus. In fact, China’s 2020 total trade surplus jumped by 27% to US$535bil – the highest in five years.

How about China’s trade with the US? Based on the data released, China’s trade surplus with the US rose by 7.1% to US$316.9bil and contrary to what president Trump intended to achieve with his tariff measures. Chinese exports to the US in 2020 increased by 7.9% to US$451.8bil while imports surged 9.8% y-o-y to US$134.9bil.

This definitely fell short of the targeted US$194bil total goods that was supposed to be imported by China in 2020 (US$130bil base line + US$64bil target). In terms of percentage, the shortfall was as much as 30%.

Based on the data from the US, trade with China up to November 2020 showed that US exports to China totalled some US$110bil while imports stood at US$393.6bil, giving rise to a trade deficit of US$283.6bil.

It is likely that for the month of December 2020, the US will add another US$30bil in deficit and thus bringing the 2020 total trade deficit with China to around US$314bil. Total exports for the year will likely come in at about US$125bil, up 15.8% y-o-y; while imports are expected to come in 3% lower at US$439bil.

Compared with the 2018 import value, US imports from China effectively would have dropped by about US$102bil but exports to China have increased by just 2.5% from the 2018 level of US$122bil.

In essence, while the US bought 19% less goods from China, what it sold to Beijing was barely any higher. In addition, while the US trade deficit with China may have improved by about US$30bil y-o-y in 2020, the Chinese trade surplus with the rest of the world is significantly higher.

What does this mean for Phase 1 Trade Deal?

With a shortfall of some US$70bil (based on US data) in 2020 and on the assumption that China is to import an additional amount of US$98bil this year to meet the target of Phase 1 trade deal, China would need to import as much as US$298bil worth of goods from the US this year!

This is derived after taking into consideration the base line of US$130bil in 2017, adding the US$70bil shortfall in 2020 and topping it up with the pledged US$98bil increase. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that China would be able to meet this target, which is more than doubled what it imported from the US last year.

Effectively, Phase 1 trade deal is dead in the water. Trump’s strategy can be said to have failed and China in effect has emerged as a clear winner in the trade war. What is now left to be seen is what will Bidenomics bring to the table as far as the trade war is concerned.

Will the new President soften his approach towards China? Will it be status quo or will Biden continue with Trump’s hard approach in dealing with China? After all, Janet Yellen, the treasury secretary nominee was quoted as saying that the US is prepared to take on China’s “abusive” trade and economic practices.

However, in the interest of globalisation and ease of movement of goods and services, tariffs effectively serve no purpose, especially to consumers as it actually only adds to the cost of goods purchased as the cost of tariff is passed on to the end buyers. Tariff is not a tool to restrict movement of goods or services. Instead, nations should strive to make themselves more competitive.

With the new President in the White House, the time to embrace the global community is now and not delay any longer. Washington will then be looked upon with great respect after four years of rule by one man, which was nothing but traumatic, chaotic and deceitful.

By Pankaj C. Kumar who is a long-time investment analyst. Views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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