New ways for Singaporeans to offer help and support amid outbreak of COVID-19: Desmond Lee


SINGAPORE: Amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, individual Singaporeans have stepped forward in various ways to do their part, including starting ground-up initiatives to help the more vulnerable in the society and to show appreciation for the healthcare workers.

This outpouring of support from Singaporeans and local organisations is encouraging and heartening, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee on Wednesday (Feb 12) at a press conference organised by the multi-ministry task force tackling the virus outbreak here. 

READ: 3 new cases of COVID-19 in Singapore, including DBS employee, 2 church members

Following feedback that it might be helpful to have a “centralised place” for such ground-up efforts, Mr Lee said the Government will help to coordinate and channel these support and resources in two ways.

The first is through the Courage Fund, which was set up in April 2003 as a fund-raising effort to help victims of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), healthcare workers and their families, as well as the wider community affected by serious infectious diseases.

This fund will now be used to support patients, healthcare workers and the wider community who may need additional support beyond what the Government and social service agencies can provide during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, said the minister.

It will also serve as an avenue for people who wish to contribute to various efforts aimed at helping the vulnerable and those impacted, he added.

Donations have been made – CapitaLand’s philanthropic arm, the CapitaLand Hope Foundation, and the President’s Challenge have donated S$300,000 and S$250,000 respectively.

This will be facilitated by the National Council of Social Services and Community Chest, with more details to come, said Mr Lee.

The Government will also be setting up a centralised platform to help “convene various ground-up efforts”. 

More information will be shared shortly, the minister said.

“We will establish a centralised platform to enable ground-up groups, partners and Government-led initiatives to be publicised so that people can say step forward to say this is an area I’ll like to play a part, that’s an area I like to support, where can I go, what can I do and who can I contact,” he told reporters. 

“This will enable our civic partners, NGOs, community groups … to step forward and to play a part.” 

Mr Lee noted that there have been various ground-up initiatives thus far, including an “Operations Hands On” project started by two outdoor camp operators, FutuReady and Innotrek. 

These two operators had been impacted by the cancellations of school camps, but have decided to come together to distribute hand sanitisers and masks to the elderly and vulnerable in their community, while sharing important public health messages.

Members of the Youth Corps Singapore will also be mobilising themselves to help soup kitchen Willing Hearts to distribute meals on Feb 13 and 14. 

This comes as charities and social service agencies here have also been facing a shortage of volunteers amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, said Mr Lee.

Ride-hailing operator Grab also announced on Wednesday that it would begin a new service that offers a dedicated 24-hour service for healthcare professionals travelling from work. 

The service, called GrabCare, will begin its pilot on Friday for healthcare professionals working at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) and Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). 

READ: Grab to pilot service offering round-the-clock rides home for healthcare professionals

Grab has plans to to expand the service to eventually allow for rides from homes to hospitals and to widen the pool of participating hospitals, it said. 

Describing these as “just the tip of the iceberg” of ground-up efforts spearheaded by Singaporeans, Mr Lee said: “It’s not just about what we do in a crisis, but how we respond (as) Government and people.” 

“Through these actions, we hope that more Singaporeans who are focused very much on the situation can also find avenues to lay a part, contribute, join hands in this effort to tackle this situation.” 

“If we support our frontline workers instead of shunning them; if we stand by them … and give them all the help we can muster, we can emerge (from this) much stronger,” he added. 

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