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Victor Yong

Although deployed around mid-May at the Department of Laboratory Medicine (DLM), Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), to aid in the national effort to contain COVID-19, it is not all-out testing from the moment Victor Yong steps into the lab. During down times, especially in the mornings, the Research Officer with the Ocular Genomics Research Group in SERI has to conduct routine maintenance, “such as disinfecting the biosafety cabinet hoods, preparing the extraction machines, and generally getting things ready for the day”.

The rush comes in the afternoon, when samples collected by the polyclinics and external sites reach DLM. Staff are split into three shifts, and must don N95 masks and disposable gowns to protect themselves. “No, we don’t wear spacesuits with helmets and ventilators on our backs,” Victor explains. Another misconception is the CSI effect — the popular TV series often showed samples requiring only 10 seconds to process, and solutions are found within a 40-minute episode. “In reality, there’s a lot of manual work involved, and even machines take time. It takes slightly more than three hours from start to finish.”

When asked how friends and family are responding to the news of his deployment, Victor shares that most friends have expressed concern and advised him to take extra care of himself. “My parents are proud and worried in equal measures,” he adds; after all, Victor’s sister, who works in an eye hospital in the UK, has also been activated to treat COVID-19 patients. He is also pleased to have a supportive landlord — “so I don’t need alternative accommodation,” he quips.

While he praises his team for always being willing to pitch in, and a trainer who has been patient in showing him the ropes, the greatest morale booster for Victor is seeing negative results. “That means people are recovering and going home — and that’s good news!”