BANGKOK – Singapore celebrated on Sunday its National Day, commemorating its independence from Malaysia in 1965, with a series of events amid restrictions imposed to combat the COVID-19 epidemic.
The day began with a military parade at the Padang, traditionally the main event of the celebrations that are usually held in the evening.
The ceremony this year was reduced in size on account of the pandemic, with only 150 spectators and four contingents of soldiers, all wearing masks, instead of 38, according to local media reports.
“In good years, our parades rejoice in our progress, and look forward to a better future together. In difficult years, we still hold National Day parades, to renew our resolve to weather the storm and take Singapore through to better days,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a televised address.
“This year, National Day falls amidst COVID-19. We are not able to celebrate in our usual way, but we are determined still to hold the parade as a symbol of our unity as a nation, like we have done every year since independence.”
Celebrations for the 55th anniversary of the city-state’s independence will continue into the night with fireworks and dance performances, among other events.
The tiny but prosperous nation of 5.6 million inhabitants was one of the first countries outside China, where the pandemic originated, to detect COVID-19 cases.
The government imposed strict containment measures, which earned it the praise of the World Health Organization and allowed it to contain the spread of the virus among the local population.
However, Singapore experienced a second wave of infections largely driven by an outbreak among migrant workers living in cramped dormitories on the outskirts of the city, which have been cleared over the past week.
Singapore currently has 54,929 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The epidemic has, however, dealt a severe blow to the country’s economy, which will suffer its worst-ever recession this year, with a contraction of between 4 and 7 percent of its gross domestic product, the government said in May.
On July 11, the city-state held early elections for a stronger mandate to combat the pandemic until a vaccine is developed, according to the prime minister.
The ruling People’s Action Party won its 15th consecutive election since 1959 in Singapore, consolidating its grip on power in the city-state, even though the opposition achieved its best results in decades.
Singapore, which was a British colony until 1963, gained independence from Malaysia two years later and, under the strict control of its founder, Lee Kuan Yew, father of the current prime minister and who passed away in 2015, became a prosperous city-state and global financial center with a mix of economic liberalism and political authoritarianism.