ST Singaporean of the Year 2020: Frontline heroes an inspiration to many

Mr Benson Ng joined the Health Promotion Board as a swabber as he felt compelled to join the frontliners after his father contracted Covid-19 in early-2020.
Mr Benson Ng joined the Health Promotion Board as a swabber as he felt compelled to join the frontliners after his father contracted Covid-19 in early-2020.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Mr Abdul Wahab Bin Hassan is a Nurse Clinician at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.
Mr Abdul Wahab Bin Hassan is a Nurse Clinician at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Professor Leo Yee-Sin, executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases on Dec 14, 2020.
Professor Leo Yee-Sin, executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases on Dec 14, 2020.ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY
Professor Ooi Eng Eong, an expert in emerging infectious diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School and co-developer of a Covid-19 vaccine in Singapore on Dec 14, 2020.
Professor Ooi Eng Eong, an expert in emerging infectious diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School and co-developer of a Covid-19 vaccine in Singapore on Dec 14, 2020.PHOTO: ST FILE
Mr Nigel Quek, Commanding Officer, Integrated Quarantine Order Services, on Dec 15, 2020.
Mr Nigel Quek, Commanding Officer, Integrated Quarantine Order Services, on Dec 15, 2020.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE -There were mixed reactions when the virus hit early in the year - some people were wary, others complacent - but an army of frontliners had been gearing up behind the scenes to keep Singapore safe.

When cases began to rise, healthcare workers were at the ready: They had been trained in using personal protective wear and how to ensure good hygiene practices to reduce the chance of infection.

Other essential staff continued to show up at work to keep things running, despite the personal risk it involved.

These dedicated frontliners had to make sacrifices on other fronts - nurse clinician Abdul Wahab, 54, saw his mother just three times this year before she died in November.

When his mum developed heart failure in October, he was stuck between wanting to be by her side while also keeping her safe from anything that might be on him.

Mr Wahab and four others - Mr Benson Ng, a swabber for Covid-19 tests, Mr Nigel Quek, commanding officer at Certis' Integrated Quarantine Order Services, Professor Ooi Eng Eong, co-developer of Singapore's sole Sars-CoV-2 vaccine now in human trials, NCID executive director Professor Leo Yee Sin - have been nominated to represent the army of people on the front lines of Covid-19 for The Straits Times' Singaporean of the Year award.

Mr Ng's determination to sign up as a swabber came after his 58-year-old father's brush with Covid-19 in March.

"The experience that my family went through made me very determined to do something to fight the virus," said 32-year-old Mr Ng, who is employed under the Health Promotion Board.

Mr Quek, 34, said it has been gratifying to see hundreds of his officers step up to oversee quarantine orders, especially during the peak of the pandemic when they had to deal high numbers in the dorms.

Duke-NUS Medical School's Prof Ooi, who specialises in emerging infectious diseases, has been racing against time to develop a vaccine for the virus.

Prof Leo helms the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), which became the nerve centre of Singapore's battle against its biggest pandemic less than six months after it officially opened in September 2019.

While Singapore managed to bring community cases down, the work of frontliners has yet to ease.

"There are still a lot of unknowns about the disease, such as post-Covid-19 syndrome and reports of re-infections," said Prof Leo.

"We don't know whether the virus will evolve and how the evolutions will affect us ... We have to continue researching and studying this."