SINGAPORE - An alien world. That is how Mr Kevin Lim, 40, described the first time he came across cleaning personnel dressed from head to toe in personal protective equipment more than two years ago at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On an assignment to photograph the cleaning of a church where a case had been detected in early 2020, he said: "I was not used to a scene like that or for it to eventually become commonplace. But it prepared me for the days to come – how to be dressed, what kind of precautions to take besides simply using face mask and hand sanitiser."
Mr Lim, who is chief photojournalist at The Straits Times, was speaking to an audience of about 80 at the National Museum of Singapore during a talk titled Covid-19 – The Reopening Of The Nation In Pictures on Oct 8.
The event is part of the Through The Lens exhibition, which ends on Oct 29. Held on the first and second floors of the museum, it features photos from the World Press Photo exhibition and those taken by ST photojournalists.
For senior executive photojournalist Kua Chee Siong, getting in the thick of the action has always been part and parcel of the job.
The pandemic, however, presented a different challenge for the veteran of 22 years, as completing his assignments carried a risk of transmitting the virus to his wife and their three children.
The 48-year-old said: "I was at a dormitory getting the pictures that I needed, and a man walked past me. And I was told by a healthcare worker that he had just tested positive. At that moment, I froze because this was during the period when the Delta variant was prevalent, and it had caused quite a number of deaths."
He added that during that time, he would make it a point after every assignment to sanitise himself and wipe his camera gear and belongings. Such practices soon became a norm, with his taking out a bottle of hand sanitiser from his pocket to illustrate the point.
His colleague Jason Quah told the audience of his experience covering the reopening of the Causeway in April 2022.
The 34-year-old executive photojournalist said: "When the borders were closed in 2020, there were these visuals of big crowds coming in to the Singapore side, almost like refugees.
"This time around, what I tried to show was a more happy mood and... the contrast of people who were happy to be going home."
Part of the assignment also involved having to illustrate the cross-border relationship between Malaysia and Singapore, which saw Mr Quah scouring Johor Bahru for Singaporeans buying groceries, topping up their cars' fuel tanks and queueing for banana cakes.
The most recent hire at ST Picture Desk, Ms Feline Lim, presented a multimedia piece that told the story of a Filipino national living in Singapore, unable to travel home as a result of border restrictions during the pandemic.
Documenting the process of filling up care packages, known as balikbayan boxes, that Filipino workers send home, also told an unseen side of the pandemic story, said the 27-year-old photojournalist.
“These workers are far from home, and these boxes are one of the few ways they have to show their love for their families. Many of them live in our homes, and we are so dependent on them to go work and provide for our own children.”