SINGAPORE – Singapore’s director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, who played a key role in the nation’s fight against the Covid-19 outbreak, was named as one of three recipients of the top Covid-19 National Award on Thursday.
He will receive the Meritorious Service Medal (Covid-19) for his role as adviser to the multi-ministry task force (MTF) and government agencies in crafting the overall strategy for managing the outbreak that hit Singapore in early 2020. Prof Mak also oversaw the public health response to combat the spread of the coronavirus in the community, among his other contributions.
Mr Pang Kin Keong, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, will also receive the award in recognition of his work in rallying agencies across the private and public sectors, as well as community organisations, to respond to the crisis, the Prime Minister’s Office said on Thursday.
The third recipient of the top award, Mr Tan Chong Meng, group chief executive of port operator PSA International, helped to ensure Singapore continued to receive crucial supplies amid global supply chain disruptions caused by the Covid-19 storm.
Prof Mak had taken on the role of chief medical adviser shortly before the pandemic rocked the world in early 2020.
“I was trained as a general surgeon and it was at the fringe of my comfort zone to have to make the public health decisions to combat Covid-19,” he said.
“I had to bring together a multi-disciplinary team of infectious disease and public health experts, and I learnt to trust their expert advice in crafting our strategy.”
He quickly became a familiar face at MTF news conferences and many engagement sessions with healthcare professionals and community partners. The MTF, which was formed in early 2020, directs the national response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
“His steady and calm presence reassured the public and reinforced the public’s trust in the Government’s handling of the pandemic,” the Prime Minister’s Office said of Prof Mak.
Prof Mak said he has learnt to be humble and to acknowledge the many talents within the healthcare system.
“I also learnt how important it is to be resilient in the midst of a crisis, and to derive my energy and strength from the relationships I have with my family, my friends and my colleagues.”
The award, he said, was unexpected. “The award is also a recognition of the contributions made by all healthcare professionals, working in different settings – public and private hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, community treatment facilities and in the community,” Prof Mak said.
The second recipient of the award, Mr Pang, led the Homefront Crisis Executive Group as its chairman. The group’s role was to come up with proposals for the MTF and put those that were accepted into operation.
“It was in large part due to his leadership that the Singapore Public Service was able to anticipate many of the challenges during the crisis, respond swiftly and effectively to a complex threat, and generally stay ahead of this tricky pandemic,” said the Prime Minister’s Office.
“And it was in large part due to his leadership that morale in the public service never flagged during the crisis,” it added.
Mr Pang said the relentless pace at which the Covid-19 situation developed over two years was probably the most challenging aspect of managing the crisis.
“We had to guess how far and fast the pandemic would spread, and its severity, against the consequences of any social, economic or border restrictions we implemented,” he said.
He said the award is a recognition of the entire public service and, in particular, of the work by his fellow permanent secretaries, who all played critical leadership roles.
PSA’s Mr Tan, who is also the lead for Temasek’s community care facilities (CCFs) task force, drove the setting-up of emergency health infrastructure during the first Covid-19 surge, and facilitated the safe arrival of migrant workers for critical sectors, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
He was also the co-chair of the Emerging Stronger Taskforce, which was set up to pre-empt the major trends triggered by Covid-19 and prepare Singapore for eventual economic and social recovery.
Mr Tan said the fast conversion in 2020 of the Singapore Expo and Tanjong Pagar Terminal into facilities ready to deal with Covid-19 seems incredible.
He recalled that in early April 2020, four days into the construction of the Expo CCF, he and his team were asked to get the CCF ready for the first Covid-19 patients in three days. It meant that the Expo had to be certified fit as a medical facility within mere days.
The team worked very hard but was briefly stumped by the challenge of not having an information technology (IT) system to manage patient processes and data, like any hospital would, he said. He remembered thinking that this might be what would stop them from meeting their ambitious deadline.
Fortunately, Mr Tan Hee Teck, then president of leisure group Genting Singapore, offered to convert the Opera hospitality management system used in Resorts World Singapore hotels. His IT department swung into action to get a system up in time.
“There were many such episodes over the weeks that ensued. If not for leaders like Hee Teck and, similarly, those from (engineering company) Surbana Jurong, PSA... the Singapore Armed Forces Medical Corps, SingHealth, Raffles Hospital and other key partners, the challenges could have been insurmountable,” said Mr Tan.
In all, more than 100,000 individuals will receive national recognition for their efforts in Singapore’s fight against Covid-19.
See the full list of National Awards (Covid-19) recipients at www.pmo.gov.sg/National-Awards.