SINGAPORE: The small percentage of individuals with acute respiratory infection testing positive for COVID-19 indicates that the community prevalence of the coronavirus is “low”, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Friday (Sep 4).
He was responding to a Parliamentary question by Aljunied GRC MP Gerald Giam on the number of patients tested for COVID-19 after showing symptoms of acute respiratory infection and if there are plans to step up random testing in the community.
From Jul 1, people aged 13 and older who present with symptoms of acute respiratory infection at the first instance will be tested for COVID-19.
Between Jul 1 and Aug 16, 76 per cent of such patients who were diagnosed with acute respiratory infection at polyclinics and Public Health Preparedness Clinics were given a polymerase chain reaction test for COVID-19, said Mr Gan.
“Of these, a small percentage – 0.03% – tested positive, indicating that the community prevalence of COVID-19 is low,” he said.
“As clinical and scientific evidence shows that an infected person is most infectious right before and immediately after the start of symptoms, testing all individuals diagnosed with (acute respiratory infection) early allows MOH (Ministry of Health) to detect infected individuals quickly to contain further spread,” he added.
Surveillance testing will also be done for groups that are identified to be "more vulnerable" or have higher risk of exposure to COVID-19, said Mr Gan.
This includes workers living in the migrant worker dormitories, workers returning to work in the construction, marine and process sectors and workers supporting frontline COVID-19 operations. More than 200,000 of such individuals are tested every two weeks.
MOH will also be expanding testing to more community groups, including taxi and private hire car drivers, food delivery personnel, key vendors servicing foreign worker dormitories, and stallholders at selected hawker centres, markets and F&B establishments, such as coffee shops.
READ: COVID-19 testing to be offered to more community groups like taxi drivers, food delivery workers and hawkers
“While there has been no local evidence that these community groups are of higher risks of getting infected, MOH will be offering tests to them as part of our expanded testing and surveillance efforts given the nature of their working environment, such as the high frequency of interactions with members of public.
“These one-time testing operations will help to provide a better picture of population prevalence,” he said.
Incoming travellers wil also be tested on arrival or during their stay-home notice period to detect cases and reduce "onward community transmission".
In response to a question by Aljunied GRC MP Leon Perera, Mr Gan said that the mean lead time between the conduct of the swab test and when the test results are made available from the laboratories is 30 hours. The median lead time is 22 hours.
“Confirmed cases will be notified by the relevant parties expeditiously for the necessary public health actions to be taken,” he added.
Singapore’s testing strategy is focused on “active case finding” and targeted surveillance on identified groups, said Mr Gan.
“Such testing is based on a holistic and concerted strategy to detect and ring fence active infections as early as possible to prevent further transmission," the health minister added.
The TraceTogether app, which was launched in March to help with contact tracing efforts, has been downloaded by 2.4 million people since its launch, said Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean for the Prime Minister.
He was responding to a question from Mr Giam about the number of active users and the number of contacts who have been identified via the app.
About 1.4 million users actively used the app in August, Mr Teo said.
"The (TraceTogether) programme, SafeEntry and associated digital systems provide the initial list of close contacts of COVID-19 positive cases for our contact tracing teams to work on," he added.
"This has enabled us to reduce the time to identify and quarantine a close contact from four days to less than two days currently."
Since the Government switched to this "concept of operations", 118,000 close contacts have been identified, of whom 4,500 tested positive for COVID-19 during quarantine.
"The effectiveness of TraceTogether and SafeEntry relies on broad based community participation. This is how we contribute collectively to keeping ourselves, our loved ones, and colleagues safe. The more people on the system, the more effective the protection," the senior minister added.