"HOW TRUST IN ONE ANOTHER HELPED US AVERT A SOCIAL CRISIS AND EMERGE STRONGER TOGETHER"
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fortunately, none of these happened in Singapore.
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.
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.
Everyone may have their own views on COVID-19, whether to wear masks, whether to get vaccinated.
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.
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."
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.
The high level of trust between people in Singapore is the key to our success in fighting the pandemic.
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.
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
The trust of the people in the government is not inherent. Trust is earned through years of sincere efforts and practical actions.
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
"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.
The elderly are most at risk from COVID-19, hence taking care of them is an important part of our work.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
In the private sector, countless kind-hearted individuals donated generously to support vulnerable communities, social service organisations, and charities.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kudos to all our mothers and educators!
2) Ground up initiatives
In addition to the hard work of schools, parents, and educators, many also came forward during this time to help our children.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
After the pandemic, Singapore not only withstood the challenges but also emerged stronger and more united.
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.
What new crises will we face in the future, and how should we respond?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.