SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 pandemic has changed Singaporeans in many ways, whether it is getting into the habit of wearing masks daily, or showing more compassion and kindness to those around them, said President Halimah Yacob on Tuesday (Feb 2).
"The response of Singaporeans, particularly to the needy and less privileged, has been heartwarming. With this pandemic of disease, there is also the pandemic of kindness, generosity and compassion," she said at The Straits Times' Singaporean of the Year 2020 award ceremony held at the Istana.
More have donated money to those in need, while the number of volunteers has also increased, according to data from 2020.
"So, deep in the hearts of many Singaporeans, resides this desire to surmount our own limitations and needs, and to be greater than ourselves," said Madam Halimah, who noted that not all countries have stood together in the same way.
The Singaporean of the Year award this year is particularly meaningful given how trying 2020 was, she added.
"Our economy and lives were disrupted, and we have had to make tremendous adjustments to everything that we had hitherto held dear and thought are constants," said Madam Halimah.
Just going to work or shopping or meeting with family and friends now requires more thought and planning, she added.
"To some extent, we now must think a lot deeper about how our actions and behaviours will affect the well-being of others, and not just ourselves," she said.
"But we must continue to find occasions to celebrate goodness and virtue, like this award," said Madam Halimah, congratulating the eight finalists.
She noted that the Singaporean of the Year award recognises the many role models in society who have shown outstanding acts of kindness, bravery and creativity worth emulating and multiplying to create a better society.
"By highlighting their contributions, the award seeks to reinforce the values that we hold dear as a society and which stand us in good stead through good and bad times. Hence, this award will have an enduring value," she said.
How long the pandemic will last is uncertain, given the many variables like the emergence of different more contagious variants of the virus, said Madam Halimah.
A lot also depends on whether people are able to accept some limitations on their freedom of movement and engagement in social activities, which in many countries are met with resistance, she added.
She said: "The simple act of masking up, for example, may seem mechanical and necessitated by law but it is a tremendous step forward in being thoughtful and considerate to protect others.
"It pushes us to think about what it means to be part of a community and how much of our shared living space has an impact on us, and what we must do to collectively protect it."
She noted that in Singapore, everyone will get the vaccine free, and the Government has tapped the reserves to provide "tremendous relief" to mitigate the harsh impact caused by the pandemic.
"As a result of the Government's fast action, through no less than five Budgets, we have helped many Singaporeans and businesses. We helped to save jobs and provide stability to our businesses and families," said Madam Halimah.
She noted that the pandemic is also far from over in Singapore, although the vaccine offers some relief and the possibility of attaining herd immunity if enough Singaporeans are vaccinated.
"But unless a significant portion of the whole world is inoculated too, it is difficult to see how we can return to the pre-Covid-19 normalcy.
"Herein lies the challenge for the world: Can human kindness and, more importantly, common sense prevail over narrow interests of nationalism and populism when it comes to vaccine distribution to the whole world? That remains to be seen."
In his remarks, UBS Asia-Pacific president Edmund Koh thanked Madam Halimah for allowing the Government to use the reserves to bolster the budget for Covid-19 support measures, bringing relief to Singaporeans.
He also highlighted the work of Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and Education Minister Lawrence Wong, the co-chairs of the multi-ministry task force tackling the coronavirus outbreak.
The pair have done the job well despite taking a lot of criticism along the way, and done it in a steadfast manner with the belief of making Singapore even better, said Mr Koh. "I think that warms the heart for all of us," he added.
"There were very difficult decisions to make, you can't win it all," he said. "These two ministers have really done Singapore proud."