SINGAPORE - For a minute and a half on Sunday morning (Aug 9), Singaporeans at different locations across the island came together to sing Majulah Singapura in unison.
Apart, yet as one, the nation was led in the solemn Anthem Moment by President Halimah Yacob from the Padang, in a collective voice echoed at seven other places.
National leaders at these locations, each chosen for a different key national sector, spoke of how the pandemic had changed the tenor of this year's National Day.
But they said the sacrifices and resilience shown in the fight against Covid-19 for the last several months have made the nation's 55th birthday all the more meaningful.
In opening remarks made at the event in Kampung Admiralty representing housing and community, Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said the Anthem Moment itself reflects a "new normal".
"Despite the restrictions that we have had to put in place for everyone's health and safety, which keep us physically apart, we will continue to find ways to come together as one united people," he said.
Also present was Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, who said National Day this year was no less meaningful for being held in a decentralised manner.
Noting the celebrations in heartland areas like Kampung Admiralty, Mr Tong said: "It represents a community, how we live together, how we play together, and the vision that we have for the future, the community we want to build, and how we want to age together as well."
Leaders at the various other locations echoed their sentiments.
At North Vista Secondary School, Education Minister Lawrence Wong thanked all educators at a ceremony also attended by Sengkang GRC MPs Jamus Lim and Louis Chua, both from the opposition Workers' Party (WP).
Mr Wong, who is also co-chair of the multi-ministry Covid-19 task force, said that while "Singapore Together" was a common refrain, the pandemic has made it more meaningful.
"We have been tested in the crucible but we have not failed. We have prevailed, and we have emerged stronger as a nation," he said.
At the NTUC FairPrice Hub in Joo Koon, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said this year's National Day, commemorated during the pandemic, is a very special one for all Singaporeans.
He paid tribute to essential service workers who have "worked quietly behind the scenes to allow us to live life as normally as possible".
"Together with other logistic and supply chain players, they have helped to keep our supply chains going, providing us with food and essential services and items," he said.
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, who visited Changi Airport's air control tower and spoke to staff, said that "air traffic may be low, but spirits are high".
"We spent more than 40 years building up Singapore as an air hub, and Covid-19 decimated aviation... We hope that in the months, weeks ahead, we will start the process of regaining and reviving our air hub status," he told reporters.
At the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, a critical facility in Singapore's Covid-19 fight, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong thanked healthcare workers.
"The road to recovery will be long and tough. But I am confident the Covid-19 virus will not break our Singapore spirit of grit, resilience, determination and unity," he said.
Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said the Enabling Village, a centre for persons with disabilities, where he was speaking, represented "the ethos of our social services sector" where beneficiaries are always placed at the centre.
He added that he was heartened by how Singaporeans, firms and community groups stepped forward to help the vulnerable and support front-line and migrant workers.
"Crisis often brings out the best in us. Even as this pandemic has caused major disruptions to our lives, I am glad that the community has stepped up to support our fellow Singaporeans," he said.
At the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar, leaders from business, the labour movement and Government represented Singapore's unique tripartite relationship supporting its workforce. Also present was Workers' Party's Mr Gerald Giam, an MP for Aljunied GRC.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo told the over 30 people gathered that there was still much to be grateful for, including Singapore's low Covid-19 fatalities and the resilience of Singapore's people, businesses and civil service.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Mrs Teo said Singapore's diverse workforce will continue to face challenges, but she is confident in its ability to weather the crisis.
She noted that younger workers are willing to adapt to the labour market and are creative in contributing to the workforce digitally.
For middle-aged workers, the focus is on helping to avoid permanent damage to careers based on current temporary setbacks, she said.
Reflecting on the past few months, including recent inroads into the Covid-19 situation at the dormitories, Mrs Teo said "every small win" is celebrated during such a difficult journey while staying vigilant against unexpected challenges.
"Our ability to quickly assess the situation and organise ourselves in order to mount as best a response as we can - that must remain part of the Singapore DNA," she said.