SINGAPORE: Singapore marks 55 years of independence in 2020 - a challenging year for the small nation as it continues to fight the global COVID-19 pandemic. On Sunday (Jul 26), a rehearsal was held at the Padang previewing this year's National Day Parade (NDP), a smaller affair focused on safety and dedicated to frontline workers.
The parade segment of the event will comprise the state colours, guard-of-honour contingents formed by the Singapore Army, Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and Singapore Police Force (SPF), as well as a combined band from SPF and the Singapore Armed Forces.
For the first time, the presidential gun salute will be conducted at the Padang together with the marching contingents on parade.
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Traditional parade favourites will feature in this year's NDP, including the state flag flypast by the RSAF's CH-47SD Chinook helicopter, escorted by two AH-64D Apache helicopters.
Singaporeans can look forward to six F-15SG fighter planes flying in a delta formation to perform a "roar of unity" across the Padang, before overflying Singapore as a tribute to frontline fighters and essential workers.
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Highlights of the parade include the "nationwide anthem moment" and a salute to frontline and essential workers.
During the former, President Halimah Yacob - together with the parade - will lead the singing of the national anthem as the state flag is raised at the Padang. At the same time, flag-raising ceremonies will take place across Singapore in a bid to bring Singaporeans together in a collective moment of unity.
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Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who witnessed the rehearsal at the Padang, spoke about the precautions taken for this year's parade to stem the spread of COVID-19.
"It will be a scaled-down parade," said Dr Ng, with just four guard-of-honour contingents.
The spectators will be made up of "representatives of society" and "instead of tens of thousands, we will have about 150 members", he said.
These spectators will be split into three segregated sectors of about 50 each for the event. The three sectors will not interact with each other and spectators will have different routes for entry and exit.
“The contingents have been exercising very strict discipline, in terms of ‘cohorting’ and ensuring that they themselves are well. I think that so far so good, they have kept themselves free from infection, but we are always monitoring,” said Dr Ng.
Each contingent will have 36 participants, half of what it was in previous years, and they are all required to wear a mask throughout the ceremony.
"It was a little bit challenging at the beginning because it is a little harder to breathe," said Parade Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) Master Warrant Officer David Ling.
"However, we planned a progressive training programme whereby we acclimatised them to the heat, the humidity and the difficulty in breathing. We allowed them to adjust and regulate their breathing before we moved on to proper training,” he said.
He said that safety is "paramount" and that it is his responsibility in his role to plan and execute a parade that is "safe for all participants".
"We require our participants to take their temperature twice a day. We also ensure that all participants adhere to safety distancing,” he added.
Parade Commander LTC Nicholas Ong talked about how NDP 2020 will be a dedication to the frontline workers.
“We want to take this opportunity to pay our respects and gratitude to our unsung heroes, who have been working tirelessly (since) our nation was hit by the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
“I think as all Singaporeans know, it’s a very challenging year because of COVID-19," said Dr Ng.
"But we have to stand together and send a very strong message as Singaporeans that no matter what comes, rain or shine, virus or no virus, that our resolve to celebrate our national day as one nation, our resolve to overcome our difficulties … that’s what National Day means. That’s what it has meant ever since our independence 55 years ago."