SINGAPORE: There are no plans to cancel Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in-camp training amid concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How said on Tuesday (Feb 11).
“We have to go back to the mission of the SAF and the defence of this country. We have to defend this country whether or not there is a virus situation,” he said.
“That said, we must understand that when there is such a situation, we must take the necessary steps to safeguard the health of our soldiers.
“This is exactly what we are doing – to make sure that both are top priorities.”
The individual physical proficiency test (IPPT) will also not be cancelled at unit level.
“If they are sick, then they should let it be known so that we can then ask them not to undertake IPPT, (or) it can be rescheduled so that in the meantime you can seek treatment,” Mr Heng continued.
Mr Heng was speaking to reporters at the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) on Pulau Tekong after observing stepped up measures against the virus outbreak.
The centre, which currently has 5,000 recruits, has introduced measures like social distancing as well as increased frequency of cleaning and temperature-taking.
This comes after some members of the public have written to the media urging ICTs to be suspended following local transmissions of the coronavirus.
“The very purpose of my visit today is indeed to give confidence to our soldiers and their families that there is no need to worry, that we understand the situation and that we have in place the measures, (which are) the same as those maintained on the mainland under the guidance of the MOH (Ministry of Health),” Mr Heng said.
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While Mr Heng stressed that BMTC does not have a confirmed case of the virus, he said suspected cases will be sent to the island’s medical centre, which has “exactly the same” standards and procedures as those adopted by MOH on the mainland.
“If the doctor over here feels the patient fits the criteria that needs to be referred to the NCID (National Centre for Infectious Diseases), then that will be done,” he said.
“Following that, we will do the necessary contact tracing as well as segregation of the close contacts for close monitoring.”
The BMTC has also introduced staggered meal times and book-in and book-out timings to minimise interaction among servicemen.
Each meal period has been divided into four timings to accommodate two companies of soldiers each. One company has 220 servicemen.
Previously, more than four companies could eat during the same meal period.
BMTC has also cancelled or rescheduled physical activities where prolonged interaction is expected, like aqua jogging in the pool.
In addition, it has deferred non-essential social activities like the recruits’ evening and external talks.
Servicemen have been provided with stronger disinfectants like bleach and instructed to clean their bunks more frequently. SAF-chartered ferries and buses are also being cleaned more frequently.
Similar measures have been implemented at all SAF camps.
The centre is also considering reducing the number of public visitors at the next graduation parade in March and direct enlistment on Pulau Tekong in April.
During the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009, BMTC reduced the number of visitors each servicemen could invite to their graduation parade from four to two.
The measures come after Singapore on Friday raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level to Orange. The country has 45 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of Monday.
Under the new DORSCON level, organisers of large events should take necessary precautions such as carrying out temperature screening, looking out for respiratory symptoms like cough or runny nose, and denying entry to unwell individuals.
BMTC has increased the frequency of temperature-taking for active personnel from once to at least twice a day.
It has also introduced an online health declaration form for visitors and contractors, with restrictions for those with recent travel to China.
If the DORSCON level is raised to the maximum Red, the centre will align its measures with those introduced by the Ministry of Health.
Mr Heng said: “We have also reminded every soldier to take good care of himself and herself to go see a doctor or let the commanders know when you’re feeling unwell.”
While Recruit Zachary Ho said it’s definitely “quite a hassle” to have to clean his bunk more frequently, he acknowledged the rationale behind it given the virus outbreak.
“As much as we hate it, we’ll do our best to try to reach every nook and cranny of the bunk to make sure it’s free of dust and bacteria,” the 18-year-old said.
“We use the anti-bacterial wet wipes or bleach given to us to clean down the room as best as we can.”
Recruit Muhammad Syukri Sallehuddin, 18, said his parents were initially concerned for his well-being after the DORSCON level was raised and asked if the flu had been going around.
“After knowing the measures, they were less worried,” he added. “The commanders really try to open up and ask us to let them know if we were feeling unwell.”
The platoon commanders in charge of the recruits said they make it a point to enforce the increased frequency of cleaning to ensure the bunks are hygienic.
Beyond that, Second Lieutenant John Pravin Kanesan, 22, said it was about being more open with recruits and telling them it’s fine to inform of symptoms and report sick.
“After DORSCON Orange, what we have started thinking about more is to ensure that there’s an open culture of reporting whenever recruits are feeling sick,” he added.