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Speech By Ms Sun Xueling, Minister Of State, Ministry Of Home Affairs And Ministry Of Social And Family Development, At Parliamentary Debate On The White Paper On Singapore's Response To Covid-19: Lessons For The Next Pandemic

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Sun Xueling

Topic(s): Children & Families, Financial Assistance & Social Support, MSFCares Volunteers, Social Service Agencies & Partners, Social Service Professionals


I. Collective Collaboration and Trust are the Keys to Overcoming the Pandemic

1 冠病疫情是一场世纪危机。它不仅仅侵蚀我们的健康和经济,还威胁着我们的社会基础。COVID-19 is the pandemic of the century. COVID-19 did not just present a health and economic crisis, it also presented a social crisis.

2 它的起源不明确,起初的传播途径让人难以捉摸。其狡猾及隐秘的特性,有可能会让人们处处防范他人,凡事以自保为先。
Given its unclear origins and elusive transmission pathways, the secretive nature of the virus can lead people to guard against others and focus on self-protection.

3 种种因素,都可能会让我们沦为一个以恐惧为驱动、仅为个人生存而排斥他人、甚至攻击他人的社会。
These various factors may lead us to become a society driven by fear, where we may turn on each other for the sake of personal survival.
4 我们看到,有些国家的民众对于是否该戴口罩、是否应该接种疫苗等问题上出现严重分歧,造成防疫措施无法顺利执行。还有些国家发生医疗系统瘫痪、甚至是种族冲突。
We have seen severe divisions in some countries over whether to wear masks or get vaccinated, leading to a failure of implementing preventive measures. We have also seen other countries experience strain on their healthcare system and even ethnic conflicts.
5 幸运的是,这些悲剧没有在新加坡发生。
Fortunately, none of these happened in Singapore.
6 我们之所以能战胜疫情,避免社会分歧,是因为新加坡强大的集体协作能力,以及人与人之间高度的信任。
The reason we have been able to overcome the pandemic and minimise its social impact is due to the strong collective collaboration and high level of mutual trust in Singapore.
7 冠病和一般的疾病不同,它具有极强的传染性。一个人得了病,不仅影响自己的健康,还会影响到他人的健康。
COVID-19 is different from ordinary diseases because of its highly contagious nature. When one person falls ill, it affects not only their own health but also the health of others.
8 每个人在面对冠病的时候,对于是否该戴口罩,是否该打疫苗,学生是否该上学,或许都有自己的见解。
Everyone may have their own views on COVID-19, whether to wear masks, whether to get vaccinated.
9 但是,如果每个人都只考虑到自己的想法,不顾及他人,或是不愿意集体协作,那么防疫措施就很难取得成效。
However, if everyone only considers their own views without regard for others or is unwilling to collaborate collectively, it would be challenging to implement preventive measures with success.
10 集体协作的基础,在于人与人之间的信任。
The foundation of collective collaboration lies in the high level of trust between individuals.
11 孔子说:“民无信,不立。” 也就是说,如果没有人民的信任,国家和政策就立不住。
Confucius said, "Without the people’s trust, a nation cannot stand."
12 牛津大学的一项研究发现,在信任度较高的国家,冠病死亡率较低。他们研究了影响死亡率的各种因素,包括医疗系统、医疗建议等,但这些都不是导致死亡率降低的决定性因素。关键因素是社会的信任水平。
A study by Oxford University found that countries with higher levels of trust have lower COVID-19 mortality rates. They examined various factors, such as a country's healthcare system or medical advice, but these were not the decisive factors in reducing mortality rates. The key factor was the level of trust in society.
13 新加坡人与人之间的高度信任,是我们抗疫成功的关键。
The high level of trust between people in Singapore is the key to our success in fighting the pandemic.
14 人民信任政府能够以透明、坦诚、科学的方式处理好危机。企业和机构除了关注自己的业务以外,也考虑了员工的健康和他们看护责任。每一位公民各尽其职,坚守岗位,照顾了自己的家人,并关爱了他人。
People trust that the government can handle the crisis in a transparent, honest, and scientific manner. Businesses and institutions not only focus on their operations but also consider the health and caregiving responsibilities of their employees, providing them with the confidence that they are being taking care of. Every individual fulfills and stands by their roles, takes care of their families, and cares for others.
15 正是有了政府、企业、机构和人民的相互信任,新加坡才能发挥每一个人的力量,团结互助,战胜疫情。
It is because of the mutual trust between the government, businesses, institutions, and the people of Singapore that Singapore can harness the energies of everyone, unite in mutual assistance, and overcome the pandemic.
II. People and government trust and support each other, resolving social crises
16 人民对政府的信任不是与生俱来的。信任是靠长年累月,一点一滴的真诚付出和实际行动累积而成的。
The trust of the people in the government is not inherent. Trust is earned through years of sincere efforts and practical actions.
17 当疫情最严峻的时候,政府跨部门抗疫工作小组几乎天天召开记者会,向人民讲解控制疫情工作的进展,以及大家应该采取的防疫措施;当我国先于绝大部分国家争取到高质量的疫苗,总理和部长们纷纷以身作则示范接种疫苗,并拍视频给大家看。这些都是为了让人民安心,建立信心,团结所有人,共度难关。
During the most challenging times of the pandemic, the government's MTF task force held press conferences almost daily to inform people of the progress of the pandemic control efforts and gave guidance to the people on the preventive measures they should individually take. When Singapore secured high-quality vaccines, the Prime Minister and ministers took the lead in getting vaccinated and recorded videos for everyone to watch. These efforts aimed to reassure the public, build mutual confidence, and unite everyone in fighting the pandemic.
1. Care and support for the elderly and vulnerable families

1) Caring for the elderly
18 “老吾老,以及人之老;幼吾幼,以及人之幼。”用照顾自己的长辈和孩子的那份心,照顾他人的长辈和孩子。这在此次的抗疫工作中得到了很好的体现。
"Caring for the elderly and young children as one’s own parents and children". This has been well reflected in our fight against the pandemic.
19 年长者受到冠病的威胁最大,因此照顾好年长者是我们抗疫工作的一个重点。
The elderly are most at risk from COVID-19, hence taking care of them is an important part of our work.
20 在阻断措施期间,为了最大限度减少病毒传播,国家暂时限制年长者的家人前去探访。为年长者提供的基本服务则依然持续运行。社区合作伙伴也主动进行家访,在卫生、安全的条件下,为无家庭支持的年长者送上熟食和必需品。
During the circuit breaker period, visits to the elderly were temporarily restricted to minimise virus transmission. However, essential services for the elderly continued to operate. Community partners also initiated home visits, delivering cooked meals and necessities to elderly individuals without family support under hygienic and safe conditions.
21 当疫苗问世后,政府派出流动接种团队前往护理中心,为年长者和护理人员接种疫苗。
When vaccines became available, the government dispatched Mobile Vaccination Teams to nursing centers to vaccinate the elderly and caregivers. Community partners actively persuaded and guided elderly individuals who had concerns about the vaccine. Eventually, the vaccination rate among Singaporean seniors reached 90%. Their health has been safeguarded.
22 我们要感谢年长者们愿意听取意见,接种了我们优先为他们准备的疫苗和追加剂。这在其他国家并不容易做到,因为他们没有定期接种疫苗的习惯,而且在其他国家,国人也可能并不遵从政府的指引。
We would also like to thank the elderly for their willingness to listen to our advice and receive the vaccines and boosters that we have prioritised for them. This is not an easy task in other countries, especially when the elderly may not have the habit of receiving vaccinations regularly. There were even instances in other countries where people do not follow government guidelines.
2) Supporting the elderly

23 年长者和家人信任政府和社区伙伴,政府和社区也鼓励和支持年长者自发参与有益身心健康的活动,全方位地照顾他们的生活需要。
Trust works both ways. While the elderly and the families trust the government and community partners to do the best for them, the government and the community also empowers the elderly to engage in organic and spontaneous activities, supporting their endeavors and promoting their well-being.

24 例如,在疫情期间,年长者的日常生活因为严格的限制而受到影响,他们不能进行团体活动,不能去小贩中心,不能去巴刹,不能在咖啡店聚会。
For example, during the pandemic, the daily lives of the elderly were affected by strict restrictions, and they were unable to engage in group activities such as going to markets, coffee shops, or hawker centres.

25 他们只好改变生活习惯,进行居家活动。政府于是为了他们特制了营养保健、居家健身的电视节目。一些社区的活跃乐龄委员会还向年长者免费发放了便携式的收音机,让他们了解最新的疫情讯息。广播电台的互动谈话节目也能让他们排解寂寞、放松心情。
They had to change their daily routine and engage in home-based activities. The government then specially designed TV programs on nutrition, health care, and home fitness for them. Active Ageing Committees in some of the communities also purchased portable radio sets to distribute to the elderly for free, enabling beneficiary seniors to be kept to date on COVID-19 news. The interactive talk shows on the radio also helped our seniors keep loneliness at bay.

26 我们的长辈们也勇敢地迈出了拥抱科技的一步。虽然他们不是数码世界的原住民,但为了在疫情期间跟亲友们保持联系,他们愿意学习数码科技。在这方面,政府的数码乐龄计划发挥了重要的作用,与社区伙伴们一起协助年长者学习使用手机应用。
Our elders bravely embraced technology. Although they are not digital natives, they wanted to learn digital technology to stay connected with their families and friends during the pandemic. The Seniors Go Digital programme played an important role in this regard, working with community partners in equipping our seniors with the skills to go online.
27 许多长辈们学会了用WhatsApp来发短讯,相互问候,有的还通过Zoom参加了欢庆中秋、农历新年的集体活动。这些活动促进了年长者的相互联系,他们也能给予彼此更多的精神支持。
Many seniors also learned to use WhatsApp to send each other text messages and greetings, to keep in contact and check in on each other. Some even participated in group activities such as celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival and Lunar New Year through Zoom. These activities promoted connection among seniors, and this enabled them to provide each other with emotional support.
28 过去三年,约有21万名年长者转向数码化。塞翁失马,焉知非福。我要向我们的长辈们致敬,并感谢他们的团结与信任!
In the past three years, about 210,000 elderly people have transitioned to digitalisation. Kudos to them for seizing the moment and making the best out of a difficult situation!
3) Government and civil society working together to care for vulnerable families

29 在疫情期间,我们也特别地关注弱势家庭。政府的各项援助配套和人民的积极捐赠,让新加坡的弱势家庭受到了自上而下、以及自下而上的照顾。
During the pandemic, we paid special attention to vulnerable families. Government assistance packages and active donations from the public provided care for vulnerable families in Singapore in a comprehensive way.
30 政府推出了冠病财政援助配套,加强了社会安全网,向超过50万人发放了约23亿新元的资金,缓解了人民的经济负担。同时,约有20万人通过“新心相连”就业与技能提升计划,找到了就业机会。
Through various budgets, we provided financial assistance as part of an enhanced safety net. Altogether, the COVID-19 financial assistance schemes disbursed around $2.3 billion to 790,000 individuals, helping to ease the financial burden of COVID on those affected most severely. At the same time, around 200,000 individuals found job opportunities through the SGUnited Jobs & Skills Programme.
31 在坊间,也有数不清的爱心人士慷慨解囊,支持弱势社群、社会服务机构和慈善机构。
In the private sector, countless kind-hearted individuals donated generously to support vulnerable communities, social service organisations, and charities.
32 Giving.sg是一个一站式的线上捐款平台,在2020年至2022年期间,收到的捐款创下了2.86亿新元的纪录,主要捐赠给社会福利、卫生保健以及社区服务领域。公益金也在一年里收到了8,700万新元的捐款。
Giving.sg, a one-stop online donation platform, raised a record of $286 million from 2020 to 2022, with many giving more to the social welfare, health, and community sectors. Community Chest was able to raise over $87 million from April 2020 to March 2021.
2. Education and Children

1) 教育
1) Education

33 疫情期间,一些国家的学校被迫关闭了很长的时间,造成孩子的学业被推迟了半年、一年、甚至更久。
During the pandemic, schools in some countries were closed for extended periods, resulting in children's studies being delayed by half a year to a year, or even longer.
34 然而在新加坡,我们在维护孩子们的健康的同时,也兼顾了他们的学习和身心发展,尽可能在绝大部分时间保持学校和幼儿园的开放,让孩子们能够继续上课,基本没有耽误学习的进度。
However, in Singapore, while ensuring our children's health, we were able to keep preschools and schools mostly open, allowing them to continue their education with minimal disruption and with virtually no delay in their learning progress.
35 我回想起在教育部的那些会议,当时似乎最简单、直接的方式,就是关闭学校。那样的话,照顾孩子的责任就会全落在他们的父母身上,而教育部、幼儿培育署就不用承担任何的责任。
I recall being in MOE meetings, when it seemed like the most straightforward solution was just to shut our preschools and schools.  Then, the responsibility for taking care of the children would fall on their parents, and ECDA and MOE would not have to take any responsibility.
36 但是如果这样的话,孩子们的学业将会受到什么样的长期影响呢?此外,低收入家庭可能会因为没有替代方案而受苦,甚至不得不辞去工作来照顾孩子。我们就是考虑到看护者的难处,我们才没有选择轻易地关闭学校。关闭学校的做法虽然容易实施,但对家庭的影响却是不成比例的。还有,如果孩子们长期不上学,缺乏和老师、同学们的互动,是否会影响到他们的社交能力、甚至身心健康呢?
But what about the longer-term impact on the learning and developmental needs of our children? What about exacerbating inequalities, as lower income families might have to grapple with finding child-minding alternatives and some might even have to quit their jobs to care for their children? We chose not to shut our schools because we understood the difficulties the caregivers would face. Closing of schools might be the easy way out, but it will disproportionately affect these families. Furthermore, if children do not go to school for a long time, resulting in a lack of interaction with teachers and classmates, will it affect their social interaction skills and even their physical and mental health?
37 因此,我们决定在绝大部分的时间里开放学校,因为在重视卫生健康的同时,我们也非常重视这60万名学生和19万名学前儿童的未来,以及所有家长的生活。
Hence, we decided to keep our schools open most of the time, because as much as we value health, we also place great importance on the future of these 660,000 students and 190,000 preschoolers, as well as the lives and livelihoods of all parents.
38 绝大部分的家长都遵守政府和学校的指引,因此2020年与2021年的学生平均出席率与疫情前相似,充分说明家长们对政府的信任。
The vast majority of parents followed the government and schools' guidelines. Attendance rates in 2020 and 2021 were comparable to the pre-pandemic period, which fully demonstrates the parents' trust in the government.
39 在2020年4月和2021年的5月,我们实施了阶段性的居家学习(HBL),以支持国家的抗疫策略。这并非是一个轻松的过渡,但每个人,包括教育工作者、家长和学生,都付出了努力和牺牲,得使以实现。
In April 2020 and May 2021, a decision was made to swiftly pivot formal schooling to full Home-Based Learning (HBL) to support our national COVID-19 strategy. Everyone – educators, parents, and students – took pains and made sacrifices to make it work.
40 老师们迅速适应新的教学方式,并在专业社群中分享课程资源和创意。许多老师本身就是妈妈,他们在居家学习阶段教育学生们的同时,还得照顾自己家里的孩子。
Educators rose to the occasion to adapt quickly to new ways of teaching and came together as a professional community to share lesson resources and best ideas. Many educators who are parents themselves juggled the responsibility of educating their students via HBL, while also taking care of their own children.
41 在这里,我要向所有的妈妈们和教育工作者们致敬!非常感谢你们的牺牲和努力。
Kudos to all our mothers and educators!
2) Ground up initiatives

42 除了学校、家长和教育工作者的辛勤付出,也有很多普通市民在这个时候站出来,帮助我们的孩子们。
In addition to the hard work of schools, parents, and educators, many also came forward during this time to help our children.
43 在这里,我特别要提一个名为“爱心缝制口罩”的草根项目,因为它是一个典型的例子,展示了在最艰难的时刻,普通老百姓也能够发挥作用,为社会做出贡献。
I would like to specially mention a ground-up initiative, Masks Sewn With Love, because it is a shining example of how ordinary citizens can have agency and do good even in the most difficult of times.
44 起初,这个项目只是榜鹅社区一些好心的居民们给孩子和弱势群体们缝制了可重复使用的布口罩,因为当时,儿童口罩并不是随手可得。后来,这个善举发展到了全国,有超过6,000名志愿者在家中,为孩子们、年长者和一线工作人员缝制了40多万个口罩。
What started out as a local community effort in Punggol to sew reusable cloth masks for children at a time when children sized masks were not readily available, grew into a nationwide initiative which saw 6,000 plus volunteers working from home to sew over 400,000 cloth masks for our children, seniors and frontline workers.
45 我特别记得Aunty Amy,她当时已经70多岁了,身患癌症,但这并没有阻止她为社会付出。Amy阿姨从早到晚坐在缝纫机前,一个人就缝制了几百个口罩。还有Uncle Chung,他是一位退休的武装部队人员,他和Grab外卖员一起把捐赠的布料送到缝制者手中,让她们更方便地进行缝制工作。
I fondly remember Aunty Amy, who at over 70 years of age did not let age or cancer hold her back from giving to others. Sitting at her sewing machine from dawn to dusk, Aunty Amy single-handedly sewed hundreds of masks for children, seniors, persons living in shelters and frontline workers. And Uncle Chung, a retired SAF officer who worked with Grab delivery riders to deliver donated cloth to stay-home mums and grandmas so they could participate in Masks Sewn With Love.
46 “爱心缝制口罩”也得到了社会各界的支持,例如淡马锡基金,为口罩提供了中间的过滤布,以提高过滤保护功能。淡马锡基金还在报纸上登广告,教大家如何在家中缝制口罩。还有新加坡邮政,为所有的爱心缝制口罩提供了免费的邮寄服务,只要在信封上面写上“Masks Sewn With Love”,口罩就会免费送到所需要的地方。
"Masks Sewn With Love" also received support from various sectors of society. For example, the Temasek Foundation provided the non-woven melt-blown filters to enhance filtration efficacy. Temasek Foundation also placed advertisements in newspapers teaching the public how to sew masks at home. Singapore Post provided free mailing services for these masks; by simply writing "Masks Sewn With Love" on the envelope, the masks would be delivered to the needy beneficiaries for free.
47 可以看到,新加坡不仅能在人民的信任下,得以有效地执行政府自上而下的抗疫政策,在最艰难的时刻还有众多的市民挺身而出,自下而上地为社会做出贡献。而我们的市民的这些善举,随后又进一步得到政府、社区和企业的支持,在更大的范围里进行推广,让更多人受益。
As we can see, Singapore not only has top-down pandemic policies from the government which could only be effectively implemented due to trust from the people, but many ordinary citizens also stepped up to initiate ground up actions during these challenging times. These ground-up initiatives were further promoted by the government, community, and businesses on a larger scale, and benefited more people.
48 人民信任政府的政策和指引,政府支持人民的行动和善举,不分彼此,团结互助。这既是人性光辉的展现,也是集体协作的胜利。
People trust the government's policies and guidelines, and the government supports the actions and good deeds of the people. Through this virtuous cycle, we unite and help one other. This is both a manifestation of the beauty of humanity and a victory for collective collaboration.
III. Trust and Cooperation, Moving Forward Together, and Creating the Future

49 根据皮尤研究中心的一项调查,在受访的19个国家中,大部分国家的社会在疫情后变得更加的分裂。
In a survey by the Pew Research Centre, among the 19 countries surveyed, many in those countries saw their society as becoming more divided after the pandemic. However, Singapore is an exception. 3 out of 4 Singaporeans said that our country was more united than before COVID-19.
50 经历过疫情的打击,新加坡不仅重新站了起来,而且还变得更加团结、更加坚强。
After the pandemic, Singapore not only withstood the challenges but also emerged stronger and more united.
51 在后疫情时代,许多国家的社会出现分裂、经济出现危机,民族保护主义和去全球化的浪潮也愈演愈烈,国际局势面临众多的不确定性。虽然新加坡目前处于相对稳定的状态,但是作为一个小国,我们势必会受到国际局势动荡的影响。
In the post-pandemic era, many countries are experiencing social divisions, economic crises, and a surge in ultra-nationalism and de-globalization, leading to great uncertainty in the international situation. Although Singapore is currently in a relatively stable state, as a small country, we are inevitably affected by international turbulence.
52 未来我们还会遇到什么样的危机?我们该如何应对?
What new crises will we face in the future, and how should we respond?
53 我想,新加坡这次的抗疫经验,不仅对于应对类似的危机具有借鉴意义,而且对于未来国家的治理、社会问题的管理,都具有重要的参考价值。
I believe that Singapore's experience in fighting the pandemic not only provides lessons for dealing with similar crises but also has significant implications for our future governance and how we go about addressing social issues.
54 抗疫的经验告诉我们,人与人之间的信任是多么的重要的。我们相互的信任来自常年的累积和相的互付出。经过这次的疫情和磨练,我们更增进了对相互之间的信心和信任。我希望每一个新加坡人都能珍惜这来个之不易、宝贵的信任。这是我们集体协作的力量源泉。
The pandemic experience has shown us how important trust is between people. Trust is developed over time, through mutual understanding, mutual giving and mutual sacrifice. I hope that after this pandemic where we had strengthened trust in the process, that every Singaporean cherishes this hard-won and precious trust. Trust is the source of our collective strength and collaboration.
55 政府需要继续以透明、坦诚、科学的方式来处理问题,不断适应世界的新发展、新变化。不断巩固社会的共识,一点一滴地真诚地付出,才能不辜负人民的信任和重托。
The government needs to continue addressing issues transparently, honestly, and in a science-based manner, constantly adapting to new developments and changes in the world and achieving social consensus. Only by sincerely contributing to the good of our nation can we live up to the trust and expectations of the people.
56 同时,我们需要继续聆听人民的声音,鼓励自下而上的行动和善举,与社区、企业和机构充分地合作,与人民一道,建设一个包容、博爱、富有同理心的社会。
At the same time, we need to listen to the people's voices, encourage ground up initiatives and good deeds, collaborate fully with communities, businesses, and institutions, and work together with the people to build an inclusive, compassionate, and empathetic society.
57 我相信,只要新加坡人继续彼此信任,团结互助,携手前进,就一定能够战胜任何危机和挑战。我们肯定能共同创造一个更美好的未来!谢谢大家。
I believe that through the Forward SG exercise, fellow Singaporeans can refresh our social compact and reaffirm the values we hold dear in our society. Together, we will be able to overcome any crisis and challenges and create a beautiful future together!
Mr Speaker, Sir, in English, please.
58 I speak in support of the Motion.
59 COVID-19 did not just present a health and economic crisis. It also presented a social crisis.
60 But what was more important was our response to the crisis, where the choices we made would define us as a People. I am grateful that we made the right choices together.
61 We chose to recognise that we are all interconnected with one another. We chose by our actions, to help others and in so doing, helped ourselves. Most importantly, we trusted one another - in the authorities to manage the crisis to the best of its ability, as well as in one another as individuals to do the right thing.
62 And because we did, each of us was able to respond with courage, concern, and kindness. We overcame our initial fears, acted responsibly, worked together, and supported one another. We not only averted a social crisis. We emerged stronger as a society.
63 In my speech, I would like to touch on how mutual trust and mutual support enabled us to avert a social crisis together and safeguard our way of life, and how all this was only made possible because Singaporeans cared for one another, and gave something of ourselves, to help others.
Working with Partners to Preserve Livelihoods and Supporting Vulnerable Groups
64 As the White Paper recognised, Singapore did well to support the vulnerable amongst us. Lower-income families were more vulnerable as they had less savings and resources to tide over these challenges. Others who worked in sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, such as aviation, tourism, hospitality, F&B, and retail, faced job losses or sizeable reductions in income. They all benefitted from quick and decisive support provided through the COVID-19 financial assistance schemes.
65 At the same time, many affected individuals took it upon themselves to utilise various employment support programmes, with around 200,000 individuals placed into jobs under the SGUnited Jobs & Skills Package. Recently, I met a flight crew on a Singapore Airlines flight and he told me that during the pandemic, he had worked first as a transport hub service ambassador, then a restaurant staff, and finally, a furniture delivery mover before coming back to Singapore Airlines when the aviation industry picked up. This is an example of mutual support where the government supported hard hit industries like Aviation and F&B and worked with companies to redesign jobs to help affected individuals such as our flight crew. At the same time, Singaporeans demonstrated personal resilience by taking personal responsibility to secure their livelihood and continue to take care of their families.
66 Ms Jessica Tan raised an important point about last-mile communication at the local community level. This is particularly important for vulnerable groups, and I would like to speak a little bit more about this here. They may face challenges in accessing or understanding the flurry of information during the pandemic.
67 To help our vulnerable families, our Social Service Offices remained open to serve the needs of our citizens through the height of the pandemic. Under the SG Cares Community Network, our local community partners including social service agencies and the grassroots helped to multiply outreach, to ensure that vulnerable groups and families were able to receive information and the support needed. Some 5,000 households living in rental housing who had not previously come forward to seek support and help were promptly given support. We expanded ComLink from the initial four pilot towns to 21 ComLink communities nationwide so as to better serve families with children living in rental housing.
68 The People’s Association and the Silver Generation Office, they swung into action quickly, leveraging on the networks they that have built over the years, leveraging their staff and volunteers to check in regularly with seniors in need, offering support for their daily living needs, and referring them to befriending services. With their extensive networks, they helped ensure that no one was left to fend on their own.
69 Ms He Ting Ru expressed concerns about the rise in the incidence of family violence during the pandemic. MSF and our partner agencies increased the frequency of check-ins with vulnerable clients through phone and video calls. We also stepped up home visits for cases assessed to be more urgent or high risk to ensure the safety of vulnerable adults and children. Members of the public were urged to call the 24-hour National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline at 1800-777-0000 to make a report or call the Police for emergency assistance. In October 2021, the Government accepted, in principle, all the Family Violence Taskforce’s recommendations, and are implementing them progressively over the next few years.
70 COVID also had a considerable effect on parents and caregivers, and that is why ECDA and MOE did not take the decision to close schools lightly. During full Home-based Learning, many parents had to juggle the responsibility of educating students, while also taking care of their own children. I remember doing a zoom call with an educator and her child was “zoom-bombing” her all the time in the background. We understood this challenge and this was why when the situation stabilised, we opened our schools quickly but safely to resume classes in schools. Kudos to our moms and dads and educators!
71 Mr Gerald Giam suggested to include persons with disabilities in emergency response strategies earlier and more extensively. This is something which we will continually look into, so that that the needs of persons with disabilities are met through active conversations with community partners as well as persons with disabilities themselves. For example, as part of the Government’s active engagement process, we worked together with persons with visual impairment to improve the accessibility of new public service websites created as part of the COVID-19 response. With feedback from the deaf and hard of hearing community, SG Enable connected with innovators to produce prototypes of see-through masks that allow students to read the lips and facial cues of their teachers. I would like to thank the community for also stepping in to support persons with disabilities who faced challenges during the pandemic.
Supporting Mental Well-being
72 COVID-19 cast a spotlight on mental well-being concerns and the general population was not spared from the isolating effects of COVID-19. 13% of the general population reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic.
a. We set up the National CARE Hotline in April 2020 to provide psychological first aid. Over 78,500 calls were supported, and this was only possible because of the many volunteers who stepped forward, including mental health professionals, social service agencies, public servants, and other trained individuals. 
b. The Youth Mental Well-being Network supported by MOE, MSF and MOH was also launched during this period and over 1,600 members of the public signed up to be part of ground up initiatives to tackle youth mental well-being issues. Project It’ll Be Alright was one such ground up initiative for youths by youths. It initiated a nationwide call to action for youths to contribute stories of personal resilience in the face of mental health challenges. This was supported by the MOE and led to the production of an e-book resource which continues to be used in some schools today.
73 In our schools,
a. Our school counsellors actively reached out and provided support to students throughout the entire pandemic. We kept schools largely open except for April 2020 and May 2021 and this helped to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on social activities for our young. 
b. We are also mindful about our teachers' well-being and will continue with efforts to manage workload and enhance administrative support. Workshops and resources on mental well-being are being made available for our teachers.
c. We must also not forget the power of peer support. Many students stepped forward to look out for their peers as peer support leaders, a system which is in place in all schools today. Others learned how to better listen and empathise, and to encourage their peers to seek help when needed.
d. An online poll released yesterday showed that a higher proportion of young people (38% compared with 28% for the general population) reported a drop in their quality of life than before the pandemic. About 37% of youths in this age group also said there was a decrease in their ability to manage their mental health now compared with before the pandemic. This emphasises the importance of continuing with our work to support the mental well-being of our youths. 
e. The Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being, that was established during the pandemic, is working towards the development of a national strategy for mental health and well-being and is aiming to release this by the end of the year. We will continue to place emphasis on developing strong supportive relationships between students, their teachers and their peers and prioritise regular check-in efforts to support well-being in schools.
A Strong United People Who Rose Alongside the Government to Overcome the Challenges of COVID-19
74 Mr Speaker, faced with the crisis of a generation, we could have broken apart as a society, degenerating into mutual recrimination or demanding that help be provided to ourselves and our loved ones first. But we did not. 
a. Instead, we trusted one another, stayed calm and carried on. We each did our best to take care of our loved ones, continued with our work and societal responsibilities and some of us stepped up to help others. We were confident that others would play their part, do their best and look out for us as well. 
75 We trusted that the government would steer the country through capably, with honesty and transparency. And years of trust built between the people, private and government sectors enabled our people sector to ramp up programmes and outreach swiftly and decisively to help families and individuals in need. 
a. Our social services agencies (SSAs) on the frontlines, including family service centres and the many non-profit organisations supporting families, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and many more, overcame the numerous challenges that COVID posed and embraced digitalisation to continue to provide services to their beneficiaries. SPD, an SSA that serves persons with disabilities, was one of many that tapped on the Invictus Fund set up by the National Council of Social Service. The fund supported SPD to expand its e-therapy services and pilot tele-practice with caregivers so that regular speech or occupational therapy was not disrupted. In all, the Invictus Fund provided $18 million to support over 300 SSAs. 
b. Corporates and the community gave generously to monetary donations and in-kind. For instance, the Majurity Trust, a philanthropic organisation, rallied the support of family foundations, philanthropists, and corporate partners to launch the Singapore Strong Fund, to support ground-up initiatives. 
c. Last but not least, I would like to acknowledge the many volunteers who rose to the occasion to demonstrate everyday acts of care and concern or who started ground up initiatives to support the community. Volunteers with the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (PEERS) Network kept rough sleepers safe during the circuit breaker, while those with the Charity Food Workgroup ensured that families in need would not go hungry.
d. I am heartened that many came forward to start ground-up initiatives overnight to support their fellow Singaporeans. Thank you all for embodying a culture of giving for good even when the going was tough.
e. I have heard in this chamber comments about how now we have the benefit of hindsight. Indeed, this reminds me of the following quote from President Roosevelt. It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and understanding; but who does actually strive to do the deeds. 
f. And so, when I listen, when I think about mask wearing, what has been said in this chamber about mask wearing policies, I think about the ground-up initiative, Masks Sewn With Love, which I mentioned earlier. These individuals who participated in Masks Sewn With Love, they did not wait to be told what to do.
g. This was the Singapore spirit at its best and brightest. There was no distinction of people by status, wealth, age, or ability. At a time when masks were short and we did not have production lines to manufacture masks, these ordinary citizens they decided to stand up and be counted on. Men cutting cloth so their wives could help sew. Grandmas and stay home mothers rising to the occasion, dusting off old sewing machines or picking up needle and thread to sew masks to protect their loved ones and others. They had agency. Their actions mattered. They did not wait to be asked. They each did what they could.
76 Ordinary Singaporeans did extraordinary things together and we saw this during COVID-19. And it is this spirit which prevented a health and economic crisis from becoming a social crisis. 
77 We should take pride in how we had overcome COVID-19 as a country. The White Paper has summed up how each and every one of us played a part in the pandemic and how each and every one of us will continue to play a part in the recovery process and beyond. It has shown us that undergirding our effective response to the pandemic was mutual trust and support, the foundations for which we can navigate our future together, come what may.
78 Learning from the lessons of the pandemic, we will redouble our efforts to strengthen our social compact and partnerships amongst all stakeholders in our society. We have reaffirmed the values we hold dear as a society and further anchored the foundations of our society.
79 As we refresh our social compact through Forward SG, let us tap on the strengths of individuals and families, the social capital within our communities, and the expertise and resources from the public, private and people sectors. Together, we can build a more resilient, caring, and inclusive Singapore in the years ahead.
80 Thank you.