Athletes competing abroad to get priority for vaccination
This will protect those preparing or trying to qualify for major events like the Olympics, says Edwin Tong
Athletes who have to travel abroad to train, prepare or qualify for the Tokyo Olympics "will be accorded some degree of prioritisation" for Covid-19 vaccination, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong on Tuesday.
Looking ahead to the postponed Tokyo Games, scheduled for July 23 to Aug 8, Mr Tong said at a media engagement session: "Some of our athletes are going overseas to take part in other competitions to get qualification for the Olympics. So those will be prioritised."
While stressing that front-line workers and seniors are "in front of the queue" to be vaccinated, he said the ministry is working to see what can be done for athletes who fit the criteria.
"We're looking at how we can, as a group, prioritise them so that when they leave, when they go overseas, they can be protected with a vaccination," said Mr Tong.
"And of course, we want to avoid the risk of them contracting Covid when they are overseas competing because that will derail their preparations for these major Games."
Singapore will have Olympic representatives in swimming, diving, sailing, gymnastics, shooting and table tennis, while fencer Amita Berthier and badminton players Yeo Jia Min and Loh Kean Yew are in the running to seal their tickets to Tokyo.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said last November that vaccination would not be a prerequisite to compete in the Tokyo Games, with Mr Dick Pound, the IOC's longest-serving member, advocating priority access to vaccines for athletes to stave off the prospect of the Olympics being cancelled.
The majority of athletes The New Paper spoke to were in favour of getting vaccinated.
Tokyo-bound diver Jonathan Chan said: "I'm thankful to be considered to be fast-tracked. I think it'll be important to be vaccinated before travelling."
He is planning to take part in the Fina Diving World Cup in Tokyo in April.
Paddler Yu Mengyu, who is already in Japan competing in the T.League, said she would have no qualms about taking the vaccine as it has been tested by local health authorities.
49erFX skiff class sailor Kimberly Lim said she considers inoculation "a protection from Covid for all our travels and potential exposure".
Her teammate Cecilia Low added that while she was in favour of getting vaccinated, "one of the factors in the decision-making would be finding time in our busy schedule to actually take the vaccine".
The Asian Games champion pair spent three months in Portugal from last September and will return to Europe on Saturday to train and compete.
Shuttler Loh, who is in Bangkok for the Thailand Open, where some players and their entourage have tested positive, said seeing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong getting inoculated boosted his confidence.
But he added: "Hopefully, there are no side effects or anything that's potentially going to harm us as a human being or as an athlete."
Berthier, who is studying and training at the University of Notre Dame in the US, said she would want to know if foreign athletes have taken the vaccine and "what has the outcome been" before deciding.
Another athlete, who declined to be named, would be opting out of getting vaccinated, noting: "I'm not yet certain of possible side effects."
Besides vaccination, another way Mr Tong hopes to help national athletes is by trying to cater a quarantine programme to their needs when they return from overseas.
He explained: "Another aspect of protecting our athletes is to ensure when they travel and come back, they come back to a quarantine area that can also be specially designed for them...
"Can we 'bubble' them in some way to look at training (while they're at) the facilities? It's still in the idea stage."
ADDITIONAL REPORTING: NARENDAREN KARNAGERAN