SINGAPORE: Some operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) will have to undergo COVID-19 tests from October, if proximity to other individuals cannot be avoided during in-camp training.
This is an added measure to enhance the detection of COVID-19 infections, given that more training activities have resumed, said Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 6).
"DSO (National Laboratories) is assisting the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) to use other methods which are more suited for mass testing. For example, oropharyngeal mid-turbinate swabs (OP-MT) or saliva testing," said Dr Ng.
"Initial results of our trials on both these different applications have been promising with regard to the acceptability and accuracy of these newer methods."
READ: SAF to progressively resume NS in-camp training, IPPT from October with COVID-19 safety measures
Responding to a question from Workers' Party Member of Parliament Dennis Tan on how COVID-19 has affected SAF operations and training, Dr Ng noted that critical operations such as island defence, protection of key installations, maritime security, air defence and counter-terrorism, continue around the clock.
"They never stopped, whether during the 'circuit breaker' period, before that, or even now. They will not stop," said Dr Ng.
Similarly, essential in-camp training, as well as training schools that are essential to sustain operational units, namely the Officer Cadet School and Specialist Cadet School, have continued.
"But in order to make sure the SAF maintains REDCON 1 (Readiness Condition 1) across the span of duties, some personnel performing critical operations have to isolate themselves in camps and bases for a period of time. They had to make sure that they were ready and free from infection, before they started their duties," he said.
Some of them stayed in camp for two weeks away from their families as a cohort, before they start their duties and during their operational duties.
This is on top of safe distancing and measures like reducing training group sizes.
READ: Away from family to defend the skies: Some RSAF crew live on base as part of COVID-19 adjustments
For other SAF training, Dr Ng said the disruptions corresponded to COVID-19 restrictions placed on the general public, noting that basic military training and large-scale overseas exercises were suspended during the "circuit breaker" period.
SAF HAS "COPED WELL" WITH COVID-19 CHALLENGES: DR NG
Responding to Mr Tan's question on how has the SAF coped to ensure that it is operationally ready and that the quality of training is uncompromised, Dr Ng said: "I think the SAF has coped well with the challenges brought about by COVID-19.
"In addition to maintaining its core functions and military training, the SAF strongly supported our nation’s fight against COVID-19."
More than 6,000 Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF personnel were mobilised and deployed across a wide range of national task forces and operations.
These ranged from leading contact tracing operations, caring for migrant workers in dormitories, converting and managing SAF camps as community recovery facilities, as well as providing care to medical patients.
READ: RSAF has reduced local training ‘as far as possible’, measures in place to reduce noise: Ng Eng Hen
"While the SAF contributes to Singapore’s fight against COVID-19, it will not be distracted from its core functions," Dr Ng added.
"The SAF recognises that Singapore’s security challenges do not diminish during this COVID-19 pandemic – in fact, our assumption is that would be aggressors can take advantage of the situation to do us harm," he said.
"The SAF will therefore continue to be vigilant, maintain its level of operational readiness through realistic training and full-manning of critical units."