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Singapore Prioritizes Maritime Personnel to Receive COVID-19 Vaccine

Singapore is prioritizing its maritime workforce for COVID-19 vaccinations
Singapore is prioritizing its maritime workforce for COVID-19 vaccinations (file photo)

Published Jan 18, 2021 3:32 PM by The Maritime Executive

After having dealt with several COVID clusters linked to the activity in the port, Singapore announced that it will prioritize maritime personnel to receive vaccinations this month. Singapore expects to become one of the first countries to inoculate the maritime sector while calls are going in other parts of the world for similar efforts.

Recognizing that frontline maritime personnel at the port are coming in contact with people from outside of Singapore, the authorities said the effort was designed to protect the employees, their families, and the broader community while also maintaining the import business sector. Over 10,000 frontline maritime personnel are expected to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by the end of January during what the Singapore authorities are calling the Sea - Air Vaccination Exercise (SAVE). 

Among the front line personnel being prioritized in the SAVE program are port workers, harbor pilots, cargo officers, marine surveyors, and marine superintendents. The program includes people involved in navigation, refueling, ship repair, and maintenance, as well as cargo handling. Harbor craft and ocean-going crews who are Singaporeans and long-term residents living in the community are also prioritized for vaccination. 

In the past few days, Singapore reports that more than 700 personnel have been vaccinated. An additional 6,000 registrations have also been received by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) for vaccinations to be administered this week.

“We rely on our frontline maritime personnel for the transportation of what we need every day, including food, medical supplies, and consumer goods,” said Quah Ley Hoon, Chief Executive of MPA announcing this initiative. “We hope that the vaccination can give them peace of mind when they perform their work onboard ships. This will provide an additional layer of protection, and keep their family and the community safe. We strongly encourage them to come forward for early vaccination.”

Once the maritime workers have completed their full vaccination course, the MPA said they will also reduce the testing requirements due to the better protection offered by vaccination. Initially, the testing routines will be relaxed so that individuals who had been required to test weekly will be tested every other week and those who were being tested every 14-days will now be tested once a month.

Singapore’s vaccination program for the maritime sector came as the British Ports Association also called for essential port workers to be given priority during the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine. The BPA says that there are 115,000 people directly employed in the UK ports industry and that they are vital to keeping the ports functioning and maintaining trade.

“Following the completion of phase one of the vaccination rollout, we strongly urge the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to include port workers, and in particular, those in key "pinch point" roles to be prioritized as a matter of urgency,” said Sara Walsh, Head of Corporate Services at the British Ports Association. “We are talking about the unsung heroes who keep the county supplied, from marine pilots to cutter crew, crane and plant operators, vessel traffic service operators, tug operators, quayside operators, stevedores, and linesmen.”

The BPA highlighted that the vast majority of ports in the UK have been able to maintain operations throughout the pandemic, but that there is an increasing concern within the sector about the surge of infection rates. As a consequence, the BPA says the number of employees who are having to self-isolate, whether that be because they have tested positive or are a close contact with someone who has, increased rapidly in certain parts of the country. As has been widely reported, the UK in December discovered a mutation of the virus that it believes is far more communicable than earlier strains of the coronavirus.