SINGAPORE - The Republic marked its 56th year since independence with a scaled-down ceremonial parade comprising 600 uniformed participants at the Marina Bay floating platform on Monday (Aug 9).
Another 200 people from nine youth uniformed groups and 12 social and economic organisations joined virtually in pre-recorded segments, in a first for a National Day Parade.
Proceedings unfolded with the usual military precision, with strict safety and crowd control measures. This was the second year the parade has been held amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Reviewing the parade was President Halimah Yacob, who arrived shortly after 9.20am, in her fourth National Day Parade as president.
Earlier, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Cabinet ministers and other MPs streamed in, decked in customary red-and-white outfits. They were seated apart in line with safe distancing guidelines.
The spectator stands were empty except for one section in the middle with 100 people, including political office holders, MPs and "everyday heroes" - Singaporeans who have served on the front lines or are in essential roles, or have stepped up amid the pandemic as community volunteers. There were also personnel from the media.
A 21-gun salute was fired from a Mobility 3rd Generation (M3G) military raft on the water as a military honour, as President Halimah inspected the parade.
As the national anthem was played, a Chinook helicopter carried the state flag across Marina Bay, followed by a group of F-15SG fighter jets that soared past with a bomb burst manoeuvre as a salute to the nation.
The ceremonial parade was announced on July 22, as the original National Day Parade - usually held in the evening - was postponed to Aug 21, after the end of phase two (heightened alert) on Aug 18.
Monday's parade takes place as 70 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, and a day before some restrictions are eased, such as raising the maximum group sizes for social gatherings to five and resuming dining in.
The 600 participants were masked, and a 1m distance was kept between those in the same contingent.
They consisted of four guard-of-honour contingents, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) colours party, five SAF and Home Team contingents, and a combined SAF and Singapore Police Force (SPF) band.
Deputy Superintendent of Police Gregory Kang, 29, who led the police guard-of-honour contingent, said every participant had made sacrifices to make the parade possible.
"I feel I speak for everyone who will be on the parade ground on Aug 9, including the working crew, when I say that the sense of pride will both be personal to each one of us in different ways, but also collectively as a group," he said.
The youth contingents come from nine different schools, including Peicai Secondary School, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and Canberra Secondary School.
The 12 civilian contingents are from organisations such as the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, PSA International, the National Trades Union Congress, the People's Association and Singtel. Singapore Airlines and Families for Life are participating for the first time, with one contingent each.
Although the number of parade participants this year is less than a third compared with previous ones held at the floating platform, it was larger than the 200 Home Team and SAF personnel who marched at the Padang last year.
Extra safety precautions had been taken. For instance, participants were subjected to regular testing and are all fully vaccinated. There were also stringent safe distancing measures for all participants and spectators.
To prevent crowds from forming, some parts of the Marina Bay area were also closed to the public, from midnight to 2.30pm.
Round-the-island state flag and fighter jet fly-pasts were reprised for the second National Day in a row, as the organisers sought to bring cheer to more Singaporeans while encouraging them to stay home.
As the parade ended at about 9.50am, six F-15SG fighter jets flew in a tight delta formation across the island, to places from Jurong and Bukit Timah to Woodlands and Pasir Ris.
F-15SG pilot, Major Muhammad Iskandar Dzulfadhli Abdul Rahman, said the delta formation represents how Singaporeans, "with our collective strength, will and unity", aim to forge ahead amid these challenging times because of Covid-19.
"Furthermore, the island fly-past allows us to reach more people in the heartland as we fly over Singapore, and Singaporeans can look up to the skies and view the fly-past live from their homes," he said in an earlier interview.
At the Marina Barrage, about 150 people could be seen on the roof, with groups observing social distancing. Staff could be seen reminding parade watchers not to eat.
The Padang area, though emptier than usual, had about 50 people decked in red and white spaced apart, with some holding cameras ready for the fly-past. Many were in masks with the lion head symbol printed on them.
- Additional reporting by Ng Wei Kai, Tay Hong Yi, and Rosalind Ang
Correction note: This article has been updated for accuracy.