SINGAPORE - A mass exercise to vaccinate 37,000 front-line workers in the aviation and maritime sectors began on Monday (Jan 18) and is set to be completed within two months.
About 13,000 workers have registered to get their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine this week, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung told reporters during a visit to the vaccination centre at Changi Airport Terminal 4.
The vaccinations are a very important step towards reviving Singapore's air hub, which has been decimated by the pandemic, he said.
If a substantial number of workers in the aviation and maritime sectors is vaccinated, "whoever comes through will know that it is safe, (that) our people are cohesive and we work as a team".
"This is a huge advantage in terms of our brand name," he stressed.
Singapore Airlines can be the first vaccinated international airline of the world, Mr Ong said.
Inoculating front-line workers will also protect Singapore, he added, noting that while the situation here is largely under control, the virus is "raging like wildfire" abroad.
"All our 37,000 front-liners, they're defenders of our borders because the borders are a key vulnerability," he said.
The authorities have set aside enough vaccine doses to cover this key group of workers, he said, as he urged the front-liners to step forward.
Mr Ong, SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong and Mr Alex Hungate, president and CEO of Sats, also got their jabs on Monday.
At the T4 centre which is now able to vaccinate up to 2,000 people a day, capacity can be further expanded, said the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) in a statement.
For a start, priority will be given to about 20,000 front-line workers - including cabin crew, cleaners, security screeners and baggage handlers - who may come into contact with travellers from high-risk countries, as well as their belongings, CAAS added.
The vaccination centre at Raffles City Convention Centre, where maritime workers are getting their jabs, can inoculate up to 1,000 a day.
Recent Covid-19 community cases here have involved workers in the two sectors.
The largest active Covid-19 cluster is centred on bunker tanker NewOcean 6, with 13 confirmed cases linked to the vessel.
Crowne Plaza Changi Airport was closed for two weeks from Jan 8 after two of its staff who delivered pre-packed meals to air crew and hotel guests contracted the virus. An airline cargo operator was also among those who tested positive this month.
Asked about staff who may be unwilling to take the vaccine, Mr Ong said there will be some who are reluctant to do so, due to personal considerations.
But the majority are willing to step forward, he said, adding: "So just start vaccinating those who are willing first, and over time, I think, the momentum will grow, the snowball will get bigger and bigger. As of now the national policy remains that we are not making it compulsory, even at the sectoral basis."
On the air travel bubble with Hong Kong that was deferred in November due to the worsening virus situation there, Mr Ong said he would rather not set any target for when it can resume.
"We ourselves must take care of our situation, make sure we continue to keep our community cases very low, and if the conditions are right, we have an agreement already baked on the table and we can activate it anytime," he added.
As for air travel bubbles with other places, the minister said Singapore continues to explore such arrangements.
"They will continue to be relevant with or without vaccines," he added.
By the end of February, a total of eight vaccination centres will be set up islandwide. They include the two already operational at T4 and Raffles City Convention Centre.
Another two centres at the former Hong Kah Secondary School and Woodlands Galaxy Community Club are slated to open this week.
More centres are in the works and will be rolled out in tandem with the arrival of vaccine shipments. Jabs will also be given at polyclinics and general practitioner clinics, as well as at healthcare institutions.
Barring any unforeseen disruptions to shipments, the Health Ministry said it is making provisions for all Singaporeans and long-term residents to be able to get vaccinated by the third quarter of this year.