SINGAPORE – The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) is looking to shorten seafarers’ isolation period prior to deploying overseas as they move to living with Covid-19 as an endemic disease.
Colonel Daniel Ng Kok Yeng, the RSN’s assistant chief of naval operations, told reporters on Friday, July 2, that while the Navy’s current precautions are robust and strict, they may not be the right approach in the long run.
He found that more than 95 percent of RSN’s staff are vaccinated. “So we have already achieved herd immunity,” he replied when asked whether the Navy’s current Covid-19 measures were sustainable.
“So do we have to lock our people up for seven days before sailing and test all of them (of them)? We can cut the time or even just go sailing.”
Sailors have to survive a period of isolation outside the home, for example on board ships or in army camps, before they can be deployed abroad. Currently this takes about seven days.
Lt. Col. Ng, 41, said in a video conference that the Navy had continued to operate throughout the pandemic. However, he stated that âthere is definitely a price to be paid for continued deployment in a pandemic scenarioâ, since soldiers also spend time away from home.
“So I think this change is very important for all of us because in an endemic scenario with some key factors and some mental shift, I think we need to change the way we do business again.”
Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said last week that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) were moving towards a scenario where Covid-19 is endemic.
More than 90 percent of the SAF and Department of Defense staff will be fully vaccinated by the middle of this month. With a high level of vaccination, restrictions can be relaxed so that units can operate with maximum effectiveness, he said.
The RSN participated in several overseas exercises last year, including the Singaroo exercise with Australia in September and the Singapore-India bilateral sea exercise in November. The planning of such exercises continued through virtual meetings and there were no physical interactions between the RSN crew and other Marines.
Four ships are currently stationed in the US island area of ââGuam for Exercise Pacific Griffin.
To meet the demands of the Covid-19 situation, Col Ng said video calls are now more frequent and with better connectivity on board ships. Soldiers’ families are also looked after with the help of liaison officers.
On Mother’s Day initiatives by family officers included sending cards and flowers to the mothers of soldiers on the high seas.
Meanwhile, other ongoing initiatives have been accelerated as the Navy prepares for long deployments.
Sights with attached cameras allow the ship’s crew to have live video calls with experts ashore so that deficiencies can be more easily remedied. In the past, problems of the ship’s crew were described with pictures and text.
These visors will be used during Exercise Pacific Griffin. The goal is to eventually roll it out on all RSN ships, said military expert 5 Chin Ching Wei, 42, branch manager for radar and navigation and C2 systems at the Systems Readiness Engineering Center.
The use of data analytics has also resulted in maintenance being carried out now, even before errors occur.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jamin Lau, 35, commanding officer of the RSS Intrepid frigate, believes the isolation phase and pre-operation testing will allow the crew to focus on their mission without worrying about infection.
Covid-19 has led to stressors also occurring outside of missions, he said. For example, seafarers may be concerned about their young children who have to study at home or their older parents.
The unit looks for these stressors, added LTC Lau, to ensure the sailors’ mental and emotional wellbeing is taken care of.