SINGAPORE - The determination of Singaporeans to stand firm together in the face of adversity since the nation's birth is why he is confident the Republic will get through the Covid-19 pandemic, as it has in previous crises, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Aug 9).
Every year since the first National Day Parade (NDP) in 1966, Singaporeans have come together without fail to celebrate the making of this nation, and to renew their commitment to Singapore, PM Lee said in his televised National Day message.
Despite the coronavirus, Singaporeans have been determined to still hold the Parade as a symbol of their unity as a nation - a unity more important than ever, given the severe economic challenges ahead, he said.
"In good years, our parades rejoice in our progress, and look forward to a better future together," he said. "In difficult years, we still hold National Day Parades, to renew our resolve to weather the storm and take Singapore through to better days."
This year's NDP is also an opportunity to salute those on the front line fighting Covid-19, and the many who have stepped up to help others in need, Mr Lee said in his address, which came ahead of the scaled-down parade at the Padang on Sunday morning.
Also taking place at the same time were ceremonies at seven other locations around the island, each symbolising one aspect of the nation's response to Covid-19. These included providing medical care at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID); supporting the workforce with skills and jobs at the Lifelong Learning Institute; keeping learning going for students at North Vista Secondary School; and sustaining our community spirit at Kampung Admiralty.
Mr Lee hailed the many who have gone beyond the call of duty and shown great generosity of spirit, such as retired doctors and nurses who volunteered to come back, donning personal protective equipment to serve at hospitals and migrant worker dormitories. Thousands of public-spirited Singaporeans also volunteered to be trained in swab operations and served in hot zones, like dorms and community care facilities, and they were joined by migrant workers who played their part to support these operations, said Mr Lee.
"Their help was deeply appreciated by our SAF, Home Team and public officers," he said. "These selfless acts have made all the difference to our response to Covid-19."
Singapore will need this unity and resilience more than ever, as the crisis is far from over, PM Lee added. Many countries brought infections under control and eased restrictions only to see cases rise sharply once more - something that can happen here too, despite various precautions.
"It will most likely take a year or two before a vaccine is widely available, and the threat of the virus is blunted. Until then, we have to maintain our vigilance and resolve, to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our neighbours all safe," he said.
The economic climate will also be tough in the near term, with business closures, retrenchments and unemployment all likely to go up in the coming months. Singaporeans are thus understandably anxious and worried, said Mr Lee.
But Singapore has weathered multiple economic crises in the last quarter-century alone, including the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, the aftermath of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.
"Each time, the outlook was ominous and we feared the worst, but each time, we worked hard to secure our position, gritted our teeth, and came through together," he said.
"I am confident we will get through this current crisis too, though it may take longer. All of us must do our part, but none of us will be alone."
Mr Lee outlined how the Government is actively helping people find new jobs and acquire new skills, with the Jobs Support Scheme and Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme to ease the burden on employers and individuals.
The labour movement is also working with employers to create job training programmes and career pathways. "It will ensure that every worker is treated fairly and with dignity, especially when job losses cannot be avoided," said Mr Lee.
"Employers too must make every effort to keep their workers, and not drop them at the first sign of trouble. This will build loyalty, and encourage the employees to help their employers rebuild when conditions improve," he added.
In his message, Mr Lee, who has attended almost every NDP since the first in 1966, recalled being on the Padang as it rained during the 1968 parade.
"The rain poured down, but the contingents stood steady, and marched past proudly, drenched, yet undaunted," he said.
Then a student in Catholic High School, Mr Lee played the clarinet in the combined schools brass band. Founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had decided that the show would go on that year, in spite of the torrential downpour that soaked the field where the contingents were assembled.
"We showed ourselves and the world that Singaporeans were rugged people, and had the steel in us to stand firm in adversity," said Mr Lee on Sunday.
Grim and hard as the nation's fight against Covid-19 has been, the experience has brought Singaporeans closer together and will deepen their bonds as one united people, the same way separation from Malaysia and independence tempered the Pioneer and Merdeka generations, he said.
"Let us brace ourselves for the trials ahead, so that many years from now, when our grandchildren celebrate National Day, they will look back on these times and say yes, this generation stood together, sacrificed for one another, and built Singapore for us."