Ms Sylvia Lim asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) to what extent has Singapore contributed thus far towards combating COVID-19 globally and regionally, whether through COVAX or other multilateral or bilateral initiatives; and (b) what further contributions will Singapore make internationally towards combating COVID-19 in 2022.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: Although we are a small country, Singapore recognises the need to contribute to the global fight against COVID-19. The pandemic requires all countries to play their part so that we can all emerge from the pandemic sooner and more resilient as a global community. The fact remains that in dealing with a global pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe.
For this reason, we have continued to support global and regional efforts to tackle COVID-19. Singapore has been a member on the WHO’s Executive Board for a three-year term since May 2019, and we have contributed to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment and the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund. We were an early supporter of vaccine multilateralism and coalesced support for the COVAX Facility, co-founding the Friends of the COVAX Facility group with Switzerland. MOH Chief Health Scientist, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, is Singapore’s representative on the COVAX Shareholders’ Council. Until the end of 2021, he also served as one of three Council representatives on the COVAX Market Sensitive Decisions Committee, which reviews proposed agreements with vaccine manufacturers to ensure reasonableness, acceptable level of reputation risks, and availability of resources. We are a member of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator Facilitation Council, in our capacity as Chair of the Forum of Small States, where we have worked to ensure that the perspectives of small States are taken into account.
Members would also be aware of the Singapore Government’s contributions of vaccines to countries in our region in their times of need. In July 2021, PM Lee announced that Singapore would donate our vaccine allocation under the COVAX initiative to other countries. PM further announced in October 2021 that Singapore had contributed our allocation of vaccines under the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund to other ASEAN Member States. We have shared vaccines, procured under the COVAX initiative, with our neighbours, including 122,400 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with the Riau Islands province, and we have plans to further donate vaccine doses to neighbouring countries. In addition to donating vaccines under the COVAX initiative, we have provided 100,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to Brunei; 20,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, and 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Johor. We also entered into mutually beneficial dose sharing arrangements with Australia, Thailand and Brunei, where we sent 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Australia, 122,400 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Thailand and 100,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to Brunei in September 2021. So far, we have received the same number of doses back from Australia to support our booster programme.
We have contributed in other ways beyond the supply of vaccines. For example, the Singapore Government sent more than 500 tonnes of liquid oxygen to Indonesia through our “Oxygen Shuttle” Programme and donated 200,000 diagnostic tests and 500,000 nasopharyngeal swabs to Thailand, as well as 200,000 Antigen Rapid Tests to Vietnam. We worked with the Singapore Red Cross to distribute 200 oxygen concentrators to affected communities in Myanmar, and contributed USD 100,000 through the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) to the people of Myanmar when they faced a surge in COVID-19 cases. A Singapore nominee, former SCDF Assistant Commissioner Lee Yam Ming, has been elected and is serving as the Executive Director of the AHA Centre since August 2021. Under his leadership, the AHA Centre has already facilitated the provision of humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar. In addition to assisting fellow ASEAN countries, we airlifted a consignment of 256 urgently needed oxygen cylinders to India, and contributed medical supplies to fellow small island States such as Fiji and Palau. We continue to share best practices and information on the virus, including sharing the source code of TraceTogether publicly, which has helped several countries develop their own contact tracing applications.
During the pandemic, we remained committed to maintaining our openness as a major logistics, transportation, and energy hub. Our air and sea ports remain open to minimise global supply disruptions and ensure the uninterrupted flow of critical supplies such as vaccines, medicines and food, which not only benefitted Singapore but other countries as well. We also did not prohibit the export or transhipment of any goods through Singapore, including medical supplies in high demand like N-95 respirators. Changi Airport’s continued operation has helped to facilitate the repatriation of many Singaporeans and students, and enabled thousands of passengers to return home using Singapore as a transit point. Our efforts to keep our air and sea ports open despite COVID-19 will prevent the loss of strategic capabilities and our hard-earned position as a reliable transport hub. As a global maritime hub, we have also helped to vaccinate port workers and ship crew. Such moves have helped the countries in the region and beyond not only procure essential supplies during the pandemic but ensured that we can all make a smoother recovery from it.
The above is just a snapshot of the assistance and support Singapore has rendered to our friends and partners during this critical and challenging period. Singapore remains fully committed to support the global fight against COVID-19. The WHO Director General has called for 2022 to be the year when we end the acute stage of the pandemic. Singapore will work towards this goal by controlling the pandemic at home, and with our partners and international organisations to strengthen the global health architecture and build pandemic preparedness and resilience. We are working with the WHO and relevant partners, including through our Executive Board membership, to strengthen urban health emergency preparedness. This includes taking into account pandemic control in urban development, ensuring social support, the continuity of education, and synergising finance and health needs.
It might be tempting in these times, especially with the spread of the Omicron variant, to turn inwards, but we must never forget that Singapore’s continued prosperity is dependent on our ability to maintain our openness and relevance to the international community. I am proud that we have not shied away from contributing, within our means, to the global fight against the pandemic. Many Singapore-based private sector entities and other civil society organisations have also played their part, and I would like to thank them for flying our flag high. We will continue to work with ASEAN and the international community, including through our work in WHO workstreams such as the Working Group on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, to ensure that the global health architecture is fit for purpose and future ready. COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic that the world will face, and we must be ready to face future crises and pandemics when they arise. Singapore will continue to do our part to help make sure that this remains so.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
10 January 2022