Singapore defence minister: S$90m upgrade for DSO biosafety lab to deal with threats worse than Covid-19

02-Mar-2021 Intellasia | Malay Mail | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Singapore is upgrading the facilities at the DSO National Laboratories to the highest possible biosafety level, BSL-4, to deal with biological threats graver than Covid-19, Defence minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament today.

The Ministry of Defence will be investing S$90 million (RM274 million) into the joint effort by DSO, Singapore’s largest defence research and development organisation, and the Ministry of Health (MOH), he said.

In a speech during the debate on his ministry’s budget, in which he outlined Singapore’s strategy to prepare for the security environment of a post-Covid world, Ng said one of the epiphanies gained from the pandemic is that Singapore must continue to plan long-term and steadily invest in emerging and novel capabilities.

“Nowhere has this wisdom been more vindicated than in Mindef and SAF’s (Singapore Armed Forces) ability to respond to Covid-19,” he added.

Thanks to steady defence spending over the years, he said DSO managed to get polymerase chain reaction tests up and running in January 2020, within the same month that Covid-19 entered Singapore.

And through the waves of infections last year, and despite ongoing SAF operations, only a small number of Covid-19 cases arose within the SAF, which were detected, contained effectively, with no clusters formed, Ng noted.

“Members would agree with me that those investments from our defence budget that went into building medical and scientific capabilities have paid for themselves many times over,” he said.

“Had we not learnt the right lessons following Sars, sarin, anthrax, and other lethal chemical and biological incidents over the years, DSO would not have had the facilities, let alone the people and expertise to produce tests and other breakthroughs, when Covid-19 invaded our shores.”

Today, many developed countries including China, Japan and Korea have already built BSL-4 labs, but there are none among Asean nations, Ng said.

While Singapore has BSL-3 labs, which were assessed to provide adequate protection before the Covid-19 pandemic, BSL-4 labs will provide higher protection, such as more stringent levels of air separation and the ability to quickly shut down and isolate that facility when needed.

Third-party and overseas experts will also be brought in to advise on the entire process, from the design stage to construction, and to periodically validate the systems thereafter, he said.

Ng noted that Covid-19 could have been “much worse” as an infectious agent. For instance, diseases like mumps and measles are four to 10 times more infectious than Covid-19, and Sars and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome cause more severe cases and deaths.

“Can we plan on the basis that future pandemics or biological attacks will not be worse than Covid-19? Or can we ‘outsource’ to or call another country for help when it happens? I think members of this house can unanimously say, surely not,” he said.

“It would be foolish to depend on others and we need to build capabilities within Singapore to protect ourselves.”


Category: Singapore

Print This Post

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.