SINGAPORE - While the 11 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 novel coronavirus outbreak, she noted in a speech at the award ceremony at the Istana on Tuesday (Feb 11).
"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."
President Halimah 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, she said.
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 added.
"We should also not get into the habit of victim blaming as viruses do not respect race, language or religion."
Madam Halimah also highlighted instances of how Singaporeans are stepping forward to help and support each other 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 a goody bag of essential household items, and youth volunteers helping seniors who are at risk of social isolation better prepare for the crisis and learn about good personal hygiene practices.
"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.
The president expressed confidence that Singaporeans are a resilient people. "We have a great opportunity now to show the kind of empathy, care and resilience that these finalists exhibit. I am confident that we are up to the challenge and will overcome this crisis, just like we have numerous times before this."
She also congratulated the 11 finalists of The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year Award.
Some are everyday regular 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 said.
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."