Covid-19 front-line fighters: A look back at year of sacrifices and trials

(Clockwise from top left) Nurse clinician Abdul Wahab, Covid-19 swabber Benson Ng, NCID executive director Leo Yee Sin, Duke-NUS professor Ooi Eng Eong and Certis Integrated Quarantine Order Services commanding officer Nigel Quek.
(Clockwise from top left) Nurse clinician Abdul Wahab, Covid-19 swabber Benson Ng, NCID executive director Leo Yee Sin, Duke-NUS professor Ooi Eng Eong and Certis Integrated Quarantine Order Services commanding officer Nigel Quek.PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - For swabber Benson Ng and intensive care unit (ICU) nurse clinician Abdul Wahab, the effects of the contagious enemy hit too close to home.

In March, Mr Ng's father contracted Covid-19 and had to be closely monitored in the ICU for a few days.

Witnessing his father's ordeal with the disease and going through quarantine first-hand with his family spurred the 32-year-old, who used to work in food retail, to sign up as a swabber for Covid-19 tests. He wanted to do his part to contribute to the fight against he virus.

Since the start of the outbreak last year, Mr Wahab - who works at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) - had refrained from visiting his mother so as not to expose her to the coronavirus, and was eager to embrace her once it all ended. But unfortunately, she died last November, and he saw his mother in person only thrice last year.

Mr Wahab, 54, and Mr Ng - along with three other Covid-19 front-liners - represented all healthcare workers and volunteers in winning The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2020 award.

The other three representatives are Mr Nigel Quek, commanding officer at Certis' Integrated Quarantine Order Services, NCID executive director Leo Yee Sin, and Professor Ooi Eng Eong, co-developer of the nation's sole Sars-CoV-2 vaccine currently in human trials.

While Mr Wahab and his nurses had to adapt to ever-changing infection control protocols and help to keep critically ill patients alive, the most stressful moments for him were when he had to console distraught family members of ICU patients.

He recalled arranging regular video calls for a man who was stuck overseas but badly wanted to see his Covid-19-stricken parents. The man's father had to be hooked to a ventilator in the ICU and eventually succumbed to the disease.

Mr Wahab said he will never forget the heart-wrenching moments when the son willed his father not to give up. "He always told his father, 'Dad, be strong, don't worry. You can get better, we're still waiting for you'."

Even those in charge of enforcement approached their roles with humanity during the difficult time. 

Mr Quek, 34, who supervised hundreds of quarantine order agents in Certis, said he was pleased to see many of his officers shed their stern demeanour and become more empathetic towards people who were worried about their family members and access to food during quarantine.

"Many of our Certis front-liners proactively volunteered for this operation as they wanted to do their part for the community," said Mr Quek, who has personally served about 100 quarantine orders.

Duke-NUS Medical School's Prof Ooi, 53, and his team of postdoctoral fellows and research assistants are working with American pharmaceutical company Arcturus Therapeutics to develop the Lunar-Cov19 vaccine.

The infectious diseases expert is also the co-founder of a biotech company that has developed a Covid-19 antibody drug. Both vaccine and drug are currently in more advanced stages of clinical trials.

Among his various research goals this year is to find out how RNA vaccines can be refined to minimise common side effects, such as tiredness and headache.

Humbly adding that he is just representing many others contributing to the fight against the virus through science, Prof Ooi said: "It is a privilege to represent the many who have worked very hard to understand Sars-CoV-2 when it first arrived on Singapore's shores, as well as our immune response."

  • Citation: Front-line fighters against Covid-19

  • For their unselfish dedication to their jobs in tackling Covid-19, despite personal sacrifices along the way.

    Healthcare workers were at the ready when Covid-19 hit Singapore's shores. They had undergone rigorous training and knew just what to do. They were geared up to tackle what many have called the biggest crisis of a generation - and they stepped up to the plate and delivered.

    These dedicated front-liners inspired many with their unfailing dedication, working long hours in personal protective equipment, drenched in sweat.

    Others researched vaccines and made sure healthcare operations ran smoothly. Their efforts helped Singapore keep its Covid-19 death rate low, and manage the outbreak well in comparison with other countries.

    Singaporeans are grateful to the efforts of these heroes, who are represented by nurse clinician Abdul Wahab, Covid-19 swabber Benson Ng, Certis Integrated Quarantine Order Services commanding officer Nigel Quek, Duke-NUS professor Ooi Eng Eong, co-developer of Singapore's sole Sars-CoV-2 vaccine currently in human trials, and Professor Leo Yee Sin, executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.