Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at NCID's second anniversary celebration and launch of the NCID Gallery on 7 September 2021.
Mr Tan Tee How, Chairman, National Healthcare Group Board
Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, Director of Medical Services
Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, Chief Health Scientist
Professor Philip Choo, Group CEO, National Healthcare Group
Professor Leo Yee Sin, Executive Director, National Centre for Infectious Diseases
Ladies and gentlemen,
Commemorating the second anniversary of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases or NCID, in the midst of our battle against COVID-19, is especially meaningful.
The NCID is a young institution. But as I launched the NCID Gallery just now, I was reminded that your roots go back more than a hundred years. NCID’s early beginnings can be traced back to 1913, when an isolation hospital was built for the “Big 3” diseases of the time – bubonic plague, cholera and smallpox. Over the years, waves of infectious diseases have visited our shores, such as the Spanish Flu in 1918, polio in the 1950s, and many others. In particular, SARS in 2003 was one of the darkest periods in our nation’s history. Many of you here today were also on the frontlines then.
Following SARS, we were determined to ensure that we would be much better prepared for the next pandemic. We enhanced our protocols and put them into practice with regular emergency preparedness exercises. We strengthened our epidemiological surveillance and containment capabilities. We also decided to set up the NCID to strengthen our ability to manage future pandemics, by better integrating clinical, research and public health functions.
NCID officially opened in September 2019. The timing could not be more fortuitous. Within a few months of opening, COVID-19 engulfed the world.
In the early days of the pandemic, much about the virus was unknown to the world – how it transmitted, how deadly it would be, and how patients could be treated. But we knew that it was a matter of time before the virus reached our shores. We quickly set up the Multi-Ministry Taskforce to mount a national response. Mitigation measures were rapidly put in place, such as temperature screening of inbound visitors. And NCID and our entire healthcare system sprang into action.
We are now 20 months into the fight against COVID-19. NCID has been at the heart of our efforts against the pandemic, working closely with the rest of our healthcare system. You have been at the forefront of the battle to save lives and care for your patients. At the peak of the pandemic, NCID ramped up your capacity beyond the original 330 beds to more than 500 beds. NCID cares for around one-third of COVID-19 cases admitted to hospitals.
NCID also played a pioneering role in our vaccination programme. In December last year, the team at NCID was the first batch in Singapore to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Your experience and work processes provided the foundation for scaling the vaccination programme. Building on your good work, we have achieved good momentum. More than 80% of our population have now received both doses of the vaccine.
NCID’s good work goes beyond the four walls of this building. A key strength is how you have collaborated with other partners throughout this crisis. NCID provided training to public and private organisations, including private and community hospitals and Community Care Facilities, on the best practices in managing the virus and infection control.
You set up the National COVID-19 Research Workgroup, one day before the first case was confirmed in Singapore. The workgroup, chaired by Professor Leo and with Professor Tan Chorh Chuan as Advisor, brought together our R&D eco-system – including public healthcare institutions, institutes of higher learning, NRF, A*STAR, DSO National Laboratories, and others. The workgroup has guided research efforts and generated important findings that directly impacted our prevention and treatment strategies.
The partnership across different agencies has also been valuable in developing new tools in our fight against COVID-19. For example, NCID supported A*STAR and Tan Tock Seng Hospital in meeting the regulatory standards for the Fortitude PCR test kit, which has since been deployed to over 40 countries. NCID also helped to validate and deploy the cPass test kit from Duke-NUS, the first serological test for neutralising antibodies to be authorised for emergency use by the US FDA.
Beyond our shores, NCID also contributed to the global battle against COVID-19. You contributed thousands of genome sequences of our local cases to GISAID, the global science initiative for the sharing of virus genetic data. Singapore played a useful role in setting up and maintaining the genomic database for COVID-19, together with partners from around the globe. This helped in monitoring the evolution of the virus, and informed public health responses and vaccine strategies.
Dedication of Healthcare Workers
The dedication and professionalism of all of you at NCID, and our wider healthcare community, has been critical in our battle against the pandemic. At the peak of the pandemic, healthcare workers from our entire healthcare community came forward to support NCID’s scaled up operations. I thank all our healthcare clusters for stepping up in our nation’s hour of need. It was moving to see our healthcare community united as one, standing shoulder to shoulder at the frontlines. You made personal sacrifices, working day and night, especially in the early days of the crisis. You served your patients with empathy and compassion. The close partnerships and strong camaraderie that you have developed will be our healthcare system’s strongest asset in this crisis and beyond. Some of these stories from the nursing community are captured in the “Heroes Amongst Us” video competition, which we are recognising later.
Singapore owes all of you a deep debt of gratitude. Thank you for your hard work and sacrifices. Even as we continue this fight, do take care of yourselves. Take some time off to recharge and spend time with your loved ones, as we are in this for the long haul.
As we mark the second year of NCID’s establishment, we can take heart in the progress we have made so far in managing this pandemic. We have kept fatalities low. Our healthcare system has been tested, but was never overwhelmed. Along the way, we adjusted our measures nimbly, always basing our decisions on scientific evidence. But we must remain on guard. This virus has, time and again, also proven itself to be very nimble. We must expect more twists and turns ahead. With NCID playing a key role and everyone playing our part, I am confident we will eventually overcome the pandemic.
The well-documented history of serious infectious disease outbreaks in the just launched NCID Gallery is a reminder that COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic. Disease X is not a matter of if but when. As the nature of each pandemic is different, we cannot blindly apply the lessons from the last war. Instead, we must learn from each war, and do our best to stay nimble and adapt to future outbreaks. Critical to building this adaptive capacity is investing in R&D. Preparing for the next pandemic is a key area of our Research, Innovation, and Enterprise 2025 plans. We will be developing a National R&D Programme for Epidemic Preparedness and Response, or PREPARE in short. PREPARE will further strengthen our capabilities to prevent, prepare for and respond to future epidemics, by working with our local research partners, including NCID, and building a regional network to foster collaborations. Ultimately, we have done well so far because of the attributes of our healthcare team – your dedication and professionalism, the commitment to your patients, and the quest to explore the frontiers of science. These attributes will continue to serve us well as we deal with future pandemics.
Over time, I hope the NCID Gallery will continue to grow your repository of stories and the lessons from each pandemic. I also hope that the NCID Gallery will be able to educate and inspire future generations of healthcare workers.
Let me once again wish all of you here at NCID a happy 2nd Anniversary. In the continuing fight against COVID-19 and in preparing for future pandemics, NCID will continue to play an instrumental role. In the same way that you have risen to the current challenge, I am confident that NCID will continue to be a “strong, trusted, and united” institution, as your vision aptly captures.
Explore recent content
Explore related topics