How well Singapore stands together amid crisis defines us as a people: Halimah Yacob

President Halimah Yacob receiving a bouquet from two young finalists of the award - siblings and students Seng Ian Hao and Seng Ing Le - during yesterday's ceremony.
President Halimah Yacob receiving a bouquet from two young finalists of the award - siblings and students Seng Ian Hao and Seng Ing Le - during yesterday's ceremony.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

While the finalists for The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year award hail from different fields, they display many valuable traits worth emulating like resilience, said President Halimah Yacob.

Resilience is particularly important during a global health crisis like the coronavirus outbreak, she noted in a speech at the award ceremony at the Istana yesterday.

"The strength of a people is seldom tested during good times, but will be severely challenged when we face a crisis," she said.

"How well we stand together, support each other and react to a situation define us as a people."

She made the point that people all over the world are naturally concerned about the outbreak, and Singapore is no exception.

But panic-buying, spreading of misinformation and victim blaming of any community are not the right responses to the outbreak, she said, adding that the Government is "doing everything possible" to ensure the well-being of the people.

This includes timely updates by the Health Ministry, which should be the primary source of information about the coronavirus.

The Government has also given assurances that there are adequate food and other basic supplies, and "we should trust that our needs will be met", she said. "We should also not get into the habit of victim blaming as viruses do not respect race, language or religion."

The President also highlighted instances of how Singaporeans are stepping forward to help and support one another during the crisis.

She cited two young girls who delivered breakfast and messages of encouragement to healthcare workers, a donation drive that raised more than $10,000 within a day to gift 200 needy families with bags of essential household items, and youth volunteers helping seniors at risk of social isolation better prepare for the crisis.

"These deeds give me hope that there is still care, compassion and cohesion in our midst, and are good reminders of how we as Singaporeans have a choice in the kind of society we desire," she said.


Madam Halimah expressed confidence that Singapore is up to the challenge and will overcome the current crisis, just like it has numerous times before. "We have a great opportunity now to show the kind of empathy, care and resilience that these finalists exhibit."

She also congratulated the 11 finalists. Some are everyday Singaporeans who performed an extraordinary act, while others have built up a body of work, whether it is offering mental health support, feeding the homeless or improving eldercare with technology, she said.

Some of this year's nominees have made great strides to alleviate issues that have become more prominent over the years, such as mental health, sustainability and the emphasis on grades and examinations, she added.


Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group and editor of The Straits Times, said each of the nominees is an inspiration. "Their stories have helped uplift Singapore society. They challenge us to set our sights higher.

"They cause us to pause and ponder why they do what they do, and perhaps whether we too might do the same, each in our own way, in whatever way we can."

He added that the ST Singaporean of the Year "is not just about the winning". "It is more about the showcasing of acts, big and small, the highlighting of issues and causes, simple and profound."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2020, with the headline 'How well S'pore stands together amid crisis defines us as a people: Halimah'. Subscribe