Three Covid-19 experts in Singapore knighted by French government

Professor Leo Yee Sin (centre) and Professor Tan Chorh Chuan (right) were conferred the honour by French Ambassador Marc Abensour on April 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Three Covid-19 experts in Singapore were knighted by France on Tuesday (April 26) in recognition of their outstanding contributions in health and science, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, which helped to strengthen ties between the two countries.

Singapore's chief health scientist, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, and National Centre for Infectious Diseases executive director Leo Yee Sin were conferred the title of Knight of the French Order of the Legion of Honour, an award founded in 1802.

Professor Laurent Rénia, director of the Respiratory and Infectious Diseases Programme at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University and senior fellow at the A*Star Infectious Diseases Labs, was conferred the title of Knight of the French National Order of Merit.

They were bestowed the awards by France's Ambassador to Singapore Marc Abensour at the French Embassy in Cluny Park Road.

The Legion of Honour is France's highest award for outstanding service made by civilians or military personnel to the country, regardless of their citizenship, while the National Order of Merit, created in 1963, is the second national order after the Legion of Honor.

Both orders consist of three ranks: Chevalier (Knight), Officiers (Officer) and Commandeur (Commander).

Prof Tan told The Straits Times that the award acknowledges the teams of people working behind the scenes on the research and development that has been really useful for Singapore's response to the pandemic.

It also reflects the international nature of research innovation and the importance of informal networks that helped to provide the world with the scientific insights and tools needed to control the pandemic, he said.

Prof Tan, who is also executive director of the Ministry of Health's Office for Healthcare Transformation, said these connections were built on decades of prior investment in basic research and extensive collaboration between scientists across many disciplines and countries.

"We have colleagues in many parts of the world with whom we can talk at the science level and at the policy level, just exchanging information, understanding how the situation is over there. Those insights are very valuable and usually shared before they are publicly known."

Professor Leo, too, shared the view, saying the world has become smaller and there is a need to be very well connected to every part of the world.

Prof Renia, who is French, said he had been working with Prof Leo for more than a decade, "and so when Covid-19 arrived, it was natural that the collaboration continued".

At the ceremony, Mr Abensour said Prof Tan collaborated with France on many bilateral exchanges and information sharing sessions regarding pandemic management, to the mutual benefit of both countries.

"Your openness to Franco-Singaporean collaborations, leadership and mentorship abilities have a far-reaching and long-lasting impact on France-Singapore partnerships," he said.

Prof Leo played a crucial role as the chairperson for the Singapore side, in the France-Singapore scientific working group on infectious diseases that was set up in July 2020, added Mr Abensour.

Of the work group's contributions, he said: "This has opened up multiple channels of cooperation in these priority areas between Singapore and France, not only at our respective national levels, but also on the international stage."

He said Prof Rénia distinguished himself on numerous occasions as a reference for the Singaporean authorities, in addition to the high-quality scientific research he conducted in France.

As a key member of the Scientific Committee created by the French Embassy at the start of the pandemic, he contributed greatly to informing and reassuring the French community in Singapore on the evolution of the pandemic.

Addressing Prof Rénia, Mr Abensour said: "After 15 years working on infectious diseases and immunology research being based in Singapore, you are indeed one of the pillars of the bilateral cooperation between France and Singapore in this field."

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