SINGAPORE: In a statement to TODAY on Wednesday (Dec 20), MOH emphasized its commitment to inclusivity when conferring the COVID-19 Resilience Medals while maintaining stringent standards through what it referred to as a rigorous nomination process.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has since drawn increased criticism after it responded to its approach to awarding the COVID-19 Resilience Medal in response to an open letter by a group of healthcare workers who claimed that many frontliners were unjustly excluded from the honours.

The open letter, published by an anonymous group of healthcare workers on the Instagram account “@thehonesthealthcareworker,” was addressed to the MOH and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and expressed concerns about the exclusion of numerous frontline workers from the prestigious award and called for transparency in the nomination process.

Over 110,000 individuals have been honoured with the COVID-19 Resilience Medal, recognizing their substantial contributions to Singapore’s pandemic response. The awards were distributed during a carnival at the F1 Pit Building from Dec 10 to 14.

The Instagram account claimed that over 100 frontline workers contacted them, including nurses, doctors, swabbers, and social workers, expressing disappointment at being overlooked. The letter, published on Monday, pleaded for recognition of their sacrifices and urged the MOH to clarify the nomination procedures.

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MOH acknowledged that not all contributors to Singapore’s battle against the pandemic received the medal. The ministry underscored that awards bestowed upon leaders and organizations represented collective efforts within teams, highlighting that the fight against COVID-19 was a “whole-of-society” endeavour.

MOH clarified that it aimed for maximum inclusivity during the medal conferral process, with no set quotas on the number of recipients. The ministry stated that eligibility criteria required sustained contributions during the pandemic, including managing public health crises, supporting frontline operations, and addressing the economic, supply chain, and social consequences of COVID-19.

Nominations were solicited from public and private healthcare institutions and industry partners from October of the previous year to March of the current year. The nominating institutions had to justify each nominee’s exceptional contribution to managing the high workload imposed by the pandemic.

The list of awardees was initially published on May 31 in the Government Gazette and on the Prime Minister’s Office website. Between then and the end of August, MOH disclosed that additional awardees from the healthcare sector were added, responding to appeals for inclusion “in the spirit of being inclusive.” The exact number of additional awardees during this phase was not specified.

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MOH concluded by expressing gratitude to everyone who contributed to Singapore’s fight against the pandemic, acknowledging the collective effort that strengthened the nation’s resilience.

The statement, however, has only served to fan the flames of criticism even further. Singaporeans responding to the ministry’s response online called it “tone-deaf”.

Pointing out that over 100,000 COVID-19 resilience medals were issued, and it was not as though they were limited to a certain number, critics questioned why awards were issued to overseeing leaders instead of those directly involved in COVID wards.

Online commenters, including Redditors, characterized the MOH’s response as poorly executed, with some suggesting a need for a change in the ministry’s public relations leadership.

One Redditor, u/Skane1982, said, “Stop… stop doubling down. You’re making indifferent people annoyed at you and choosing a side (hint: not yours). Whoever is their head of PR needs to be fired/replaced.”

u/Sea_Consequence_6506 added, “Clown response. At this point MOH should just shut up and stop digging themselves in a bigger hole. This was a poorly executed initiative and everyone knows it. If they had just stuck to the usual National Day Awards list, which they did for SARS, they wouldn’t have had this optics fiasco.”

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In a pointed comment, u/shimmynywimminy questioned the rationale behind newly added awardees, asking whether the criteria were loosened or if the initial process overlooked deserving individuals.

They asked: “what does this even mean? did they loosen the criteria, or did they forget to include those people the first time round? because you can’t tell me you have a rigorous process and criteria, and then last minute add a bunch of names to “be inclusive”.”

The backlash online indicates growing discontent with the MOH’s handling of the Covid-19 Resilience Medal awards, as critics demand accountability and a reevaluation of the recognition process.