Herd immunity, recruits to stay home when they book out: How SAF is coping with Covid-19 new normal

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen speaking to the media ahead of SAF Day, on June 28, 2021.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen speaking to the media ahead of SAF Day, on June 28, 2021.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - In his annual interview ahead of SAF Day on Thursday (July 1), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen outlined how the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will transition to a "new normal" of living with the Covid-19 disease.

Vaccinations will be a mainstay, but testing and surveillance will also be strengthened, and working arrangements to minimise interaction between teams will continue, he said.

With less than two months to go before Aug 9, he also said the National Day Parade (NDP) can be held safely.

Meanwhile, the SAF is continuing its next-generation transformation amid the pandemic.

Here are the points from Dr Ng's interview on Monday.

1. The shift has begun towards living with Covid-19

The SAF will treat Covid-19 as a daily reality, instead of dealing with it as an epidemic, Dr Ng said.

More than 90 per cent of SAF and Ministry of Defence (Mindef) personnel have already received their first dose of a vaccine. By mid-July, 92 per cent will have received both doses.

With herd immunity achieved, Dr Ng said training schools such as the Basic Military Training Centre, Officer Cadet School, and Specialist Cadet School will not need to close, even if infections arise among soldiers.

Disruptions to activities involving national servicemen can be avoided. Critical operations units will not be shut down, he added.

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2. NDP 2021 will be held at Marina Bay


Structures being set up at the Marina Bay floating platform on May 27, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM MIN ZHANG

This year's parade will be an in-person event at the floating platform, said Dr Ng, in the first official comments about how this year's parade will be held, but the number of participants and spectators will be scaled down, and they must be fully vaccinated.

However, the public can look forward to a parade and show much like in previous years, as well as heartland activities. More details will be announced in the coming days, said Dr Ng.

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3. Latest safety measures for military recruits


An enlistee getting swabbed at Selarang Camp on June 29, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Covid-19 vaccinations are now offered to recruits before they enlist.

The first group that was vaccinated early enlisted on Tuesday, and they were also swabbed at Selarang Camp in Loyang before getting on the transport to Pulau Tekong. They received the first dose of the vaccine earlier this month.

Other Covid-19 measures implemented at the Basic Military Training Centre recently include requiring recruits to stay home during the weekends, and go out only for essential trips.

Trainers who interact with different groups of recruits are tested routinely. Wastewater surveillance has also been going on at Pulau Tekong since last year.

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4. Unmanned technology tested at Paya Lebar Air Base


A drone at a test site in Paya Lebar Airbase on June 23, 2021. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Innovative solutions are being put through their paces, with the Republic of Singapore Air Force trialling unmanned ground vehicles that inspect aircraft, drones that maintain airbase security as well as survey runways for damage, and autonomous vehicles that can ferry servicemen across the airbase.

These are being explored as part of the smart airbase concept at Paya Lebar Air Base.

Meanwhile, Dr Ng on Monday commissioned the Singapore Army's latest capabilities, a weapon-locating radar and a vehicle-mounted advanced mortar system.

A new mini-unmanned aerial vehicle for reconnaissance called the Veloce 15 was also unveiled. These are aimed at helping the next-generation army to "see better" and "shoot faster".

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