Despite the Covid-19 pandemic still raging in the US, Miss Bernadette Belle Ong is risking it all to compete in the Miss Universe beauty pageant, which is taking place on May 17 in Miami, Florida.
The 26-year-old model-actress-host joined Miss Universe Singapore (MUS) 2019, where she won the Miss Charm subsidiary award.
When the local event could not be held last year because of the pandemic, she was handpicked by MUS national director and 2011 winner Valerie Lim to be Singapore’s delegate last December.
Miss Universe will be held at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, located in the city of Hollywood in southern Broward County, which currently records a daily average of more than 400 cases, while the state of Florida has more than 3,000 daily infections.
When asked why she decided to go ahead amid a global crisis, Miss Ong told The New Paper in an e-mail interview from the venue: “Miss Universe is a platform that empowers, inspires and spreads goodwill to communities around the world.
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“In difficult times like this, even more so, we need an anchor that can provide a source of hope. As ambassadors of our countries, we can exchange ideas on how to do good and bring light to where it is needed.”
But her journey has not been smooth.
Her catwalk and question-and-answer training, which was supposed to take place in the Philippines, was moved online via Zoom.
Additionally, to adhere to the “tricky” travel precautions and restrictions, Miss Ong’s route to Miami consisted of three long-haul flights.
It was further prolonged when she missed her connecting flight and had to spend 24 hours in an airport lounge in Istanbul, Turkey.
Describing it as “exhausting” on her Instagram, she said “everything that could go wrong did go wrong”.
However, she remained positive, adding: “So many unfortunate events have played out to prevent me from starting my training sooner, but you know what they say: Diamonds are made under extreme pressure. So maybe I will come out of this going into Miss Universe ready to shine.”
Departing Singapore on April 30 and finally arriving in Miami on May 5, Miss Ong, who was fully vaccinated, took a polymerase chain reaction test and served a one-day quarantine while waiting for the result.
The guard against the coronavirus has not been let down as contestants, stylists, photographers and crew members are seen wearing masks in her posts, and are separated into smaller groups for meals.
She also keeps her mask on at all times, except when she is eating or doing photo shoots.
Miss Ong’s national costume – which will be unveiled during the National Costume Segment on Miss Universe’s YouTube channel on May 14 – is inspired by the Singapore flag, and she will be “bearing its colours loud and proud”.
The finals will be airing exclusively on the iQiyi app and iq.com on May 17.
She said: “Respect and harmony among all are interwoven in Singapore’s social fabric, and I want to embody these values by making a bold statement that addresses prejudice.
“In light of the challenging times we are facing during the pandemic, I hope to convey the message and a reminder that there is strength in unity.”
This article was first published in The New Paper.