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Singapore’s research and innovation key in fight against COVID-19, creation of growth opportunities: Heng Swee Keat

Singapore’s research and innovation key in fight against COVID-19, creation of growth opportunities: Heng Swee Keat

File photo: Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat speaks at a UBS client conference in Singapore on Jan 14, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Feline Lim)

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s research and innovation efforts have been critical in the fight against the novel coronavirus, and will help create new opportunities for economic growth in a post-COVID-19 world, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Wednesday (Aug 26).

The minister, who is also the chairman of the National Research Foundation (NRF), was outlining how the foundation would support priorities laid out by President Halimah Yacob in her address at the opening of Parliament on Monday.

In her speech, Mdm Halimah spoke of the need to pursue new sources of growth and opportunities.

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Science and technology efforts have played a key role towards these aims and will continue to do so post-pandemic, said Mr Heng in an addendum to the President’s Address.

Singapore was the third country in the world outside of China to successfully culture the new coronavirus, he said.

In addition, public research and development (R&D) institutes, such as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, have worked closely with the public health community in Singapore to develop accurate diagnostic test kits and effective treatment methods, he said.

Today, the research, innovation and enterprise community is working on more than 200 research projects that support Singapore’s fight against COVID-19 and strengthen its preparedness for future pandemics, said the minister.

In its plans for the next five years, the NRF will support research in “high impact strategic areas”, building on Singapore’s strengths in advanced manufacturing and engineering, health and biomedical sciences, sustainability and urban solutions, as well as digital technologies, said Mr Heng.

“Our RIE (research, innovation and enterprise) efforts are closely integrated with the work of the Future Economy Council to support economic transformation and create more good jobs for Singaporeans,” he said.

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There are also efforts to drive industries to adopt science and technology, and turn research outcomes into competitive and marketable solutions for the global market.

Examples include 3D-printed nasal swabs to support COVID-19 testing and the world’s first 3D printing facility for port operations, both catalysed by the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster.

“We will set up more of such platforms to meet emerging industry needs and better equip existing centres of innovation to support our enterprises to adopt new technologies,” Mr Heng said.

To help industries harness science and technology more effectively, NRF initiated the Maritime Transformation Programme and the Aviation Transformation Programme to further Singapore’s position as a maritime and aviation hub.

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These initiatives use technologies such as big-data analytics and advanced sensors and communications to enhance Singapore’s connectivity capabilities, and will enable the country to remain a critical transport and logistics node in a post-COVID-19 world, he said.

Singapore will also build on its investments in digital and automation technologies, including artificial intelligence and robotics, which are critical enablers in its journey as a Smart Nation.

To encourage more young Singaporeans to pursue careers in science and technology, NRF will support the SGUnited Traineeship Programme and offer traineeships in R&D laboratories, deep-tech start-ups, accelerators and incubators.


Beyond Singapore’s economic transformation, NRF will continue to support national needs and improve the lives of Singaporeans, said Mr Heng.

The agency will work with the Ministry of Health to build on R&D in areas such as preventive care and digital healthcare, and enhance capabilities in sustainable urban solutions and low-carbon technologies.

“This will contribute to our national efforts to address climate change, and enhance the quality of living in Singapore,” said Mr Heng.

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To grow future capabilities, NRF will continue to invest in building a robust base of research scientists and engineers with strong links to the global community, he said.

The proportion of research scientists and engineers in Singapore’s population has grown at a compound annual rate of 3.5 per cent over the last 20 years, according to Mr Heng, and is now comparable to that of other small advanced economies.

The NRF will refresh investments in research institutes, build on its schemes to attract promising young scientists and established experts to Singapore and use the Returning Singapore Scientist scheme to attract overseas Singaporean scientists and talents home, said the minister.

“Our RIE plan for the next five years will strengthen the partnership with industries and create new opportunities for Singapore,” said Mr Heng.

“It will also ensure that Singapore remains resilient in the face of new challenges, beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Source: CNA/jt(nc)


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