The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines has landed here, as Singapore takes a crucial step towards vaccinating its population.
The vaccines - the first shipment from Pfizer-BioNTech to arrive in Asia - were carried by a Singapore Airlines (SIA) Boeing 747-400 freighter, SQ7979.
The cargo flight had departed from Brussels, Belgium, on Sunday and landed at Changi Airport at 7.36pm yesterday.
The shipment was prioritised for loading onto the aircraft in Brussels, as well as during unloading in Singapore, SIA said.
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore director-general Kevin Shum and the chief executives of Changi Airport Group and SIA were among those who witnessed the arrival of the vaccines.
Ground handler Sats moved the vaccines to its cold chain facility, Sats Coolport, before they were loaded onto a refrigerated truck that will send them to a designated undisclosed location.
In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he was delighted to see the arrival of the first shipment of vaccines, and thanked various agencies and workers that made this possible.
"It's been a long and arduous year. I hope that this news will give Singaporeans cheer this festive season, and reason to be optimistic for 2021."
Speaking to reporters at the facility, Mr Ong said: "We are ready to (handle vaccine cargo) and a lot of preparation work has gone into making this as smooth as possible."
The Multi-Ministry Taskforce is working out details on the roll-out of vaccinations, based on priority groups and the expected delivery schedule of the vaccines, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong, in a Facebook post last evening.
"We will put out more details when ready, so that everyone will know when they can access the vaccine, and how to go about getting one," said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the task force.
He said this involved a massive operations and logistics effort, since the vaccines could be kept at normal refrigeration conditions for just five days, once they were taken out of frozen storage.
Meanwhile, SIA said it had conducted a trial along the same freighter flight route last Saturday, to test its vaccine handling capability.
It carried out the trial with cool boxes that would be used to hold the actual vaccines, and had tracked the internal temperature within these boxes throughout the flight. It also monitored the rate at which dry ice within the box turned into carbon dioxide. The vaccines need to be stored at minus 70 deg C.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the first Covid-19 vaccine approved in Singapore. Other vaccines are expected to arrive in the coming months.
The vaccines will be offered on a free and voluntary basis to all Singaporeans and long-term residents who are currently here. Priority will be given to healthcare and front-line workers, as well as elderly and vulnerable patients.
A high vaccine adoption rate will help to combat the coronavirus situation here, which saw 10 new Covid-19 cases confirmed yesterday.
Singapore is also positioning itself to be a hub for the movement of Covid-19 vaccines to the region.