Only one Covid-19 case reported in SAF critical operations units: Ng Eng Hen

Such units' responsibilities include protection of key installations, sea and air defence, and counter-terrorism. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has had but a single reported case of Covid-19 among its personnel in critical operations units, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Such units' responsibilities include protection of key installations, sea and air defence, and counter-terrorism.

A serviceman in one such unit tested positive in April, Dr Ng said during an interview last Thursday (June 25) ahead of SAF Day on July 1.

There had been six other previously reported Covid-19 cases that involved SAF personnel, including four imported cases from France in March and a regular who was working at Tengah Air Base in February.

The last was 23-year-old footballer Lionel Tan, who tested positive on April 23. He was still a full-time national serviceman then but had not entered onto any SAF premises after April 9.

Dr Ng also revealed that more than 6,000 servicemen and women were mobilised to help in the national effort against Covid-19, including operationally-ready national servicemen and former regulars who volunteered their services.

The Ministry of Defence and SAF have been involved in various operations: packing and distributing masks, running migrant worker dormitories, contact tracing and setting up community care facilities.

Organisations like the Defence Science and Technology Agency, DSO National Laboratories and ST Engineering companies have also developed technology such as temperature self-checking systems, mobile swab stations, and ultraviolet disinfection cabinets.

Dr Ng said that security operations have not been compromised despite the pandemic and that safety measures had been implemented for those on duty.

For instance, those performing critical functions stayed in camp, sometimes for as long as two to three weeks, before starting their duties.

"And I want to congratulate them because through all these months, (with) thousands of people on duty, we only had one infection and we've basically maintained clean units, and they kept Singapore safe because of how they conducted their ops," he said.

Asked about SAF's Covid-19 efforts, Dr Ng said: "We were very clear from the outset that the SAF must lean forward. It's a national effort.

"And if you don't deal with the Covid-19 epidemic locally, if it gets out of hand, it overwhelms the national healthcare system, then that in itself affects security."

At the same time, it was also clear that SAF cannot compromise on critical operations that only it can do and which it is mandated to do, he added.

For that, protecting servicemen in critical operation units was key, along with good planning, execution, strong discipline, professionalism and camaraderie.

SAF and Mindef-related organisations built almost 10,000 beds together, and have cared for more than 29,000 patients so far, he revealed. "And that's the reason why our public healthcare system wasn't overwhelmed."

Six military camps have been converted into community recovery facilities since late April. The conversion provided more than 5,000 beds, on top of another 4,400 beds at the Changi Exhibition Centre.

Mindef-related organisations are also building a temporary dormitory for 1,700 migrant workers in Kranji, which is expected to begin receiving workers by July, he said.

As for whether the SAF being involved in the Covid-19 effort was sustainable, Dr Ng said it would be so if everyone played their part and continued to be disciplined.

"I think our successes have given us confidence that we can control it. We do not for any moment presume that there will be no further clusters. I think that would be very short-sighted thinking. No country has avoided a second, third, or even fourth wave."

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