SINGAPORE: From Dec 1, any company or person who requires a COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test will be able to get one at approved providers, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Tuesday (Nov 10).
This includes individuals who need pre-departure testing before they travel. They no longer need to seek approval from MOH for pre-departure tests, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said at a multi-ministry task force press conference.
There are currently about 600 general practitioner clinics and private healthcare providers that can provide PCR testing, said Mr Gan. Companies can also procure such services from the approved providers.
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“We know that timely COVID-19 testing, when complemented with safe distancing and safe management measures, is a formidable weapon against the pandemic. Testing is therefore a critical enabler and key strategy in our fight against COVID-19,” the health minister said.
“Over the months, we have been enhancing our testing capabilities and extending testing to more community groups. To support a wider range of needs as we resume more economic and community activities, we will now make COVID-19 testing more accessible.”
MOH said in a press release it will continue to increase the number of clinics and providers that can administer the tests.
Laboratories, clinics and swab service providers who are interested to provide such COVID-19 testing services at premises beyond a licensed clinic, laboratory or hospital can apply for an off-site COVID-19 testing application, the press release read.
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Mr Gan also spoke about the use of antigen rapid tests (ART) in the pre-event testing pilots announced in October.
“We will continue to pilot different workflows in various settings, such as at more business-to-business events, live performances, as well as spectator sports, and pre-event testing can form part of our defence strategy against COVID-19,” said the health minister.
COST OF TESTS
Responding to a question about whether the cost of antigen rapid tests can be reduced, Mr Gan said they are in discussions with laboratories and suppliers to “fine-tune” the pricing.
“This also is an issue relating to volume. I would imagine that with more testing being applied, with volume being driven up, the pricing can probably come down somewhat," said the health minister.
"But we also have to bear in mind that in addition to the cost of the testing, there's also significant costs involved in the setting up of the testing facility."
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For example, if a testing station is set up at certain events, the necessary precautions and the employment of trained personnel who are able to administer the tests will add to the cost of administering the tests, said Mr Gan.
“So the test itself has certain costs, and we are discussing with the supplier to see whether we can make it more affordable as time goes on. With the volume, we hope to be able to reduce the overall costs," he added.
“But there is also administration costs, the setting up cost of the testing process itself. And this is also part of the pilot and we want to see what kind of setup will be more economical, more efficient and more cost-effective."
With more activities expected to resume in Phase 3, Singapore should expect the number of community cases to go up, “perhaps to the low teens, maybe even to the 20s, or upwards in the 30s”, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force with Mr Gan.
“We have to be mentally prepared for that and be ready to ensure that even if the local cases in the community were to rise, they do not form large clusters that are out of control. The key to doing that is to step up our testing capabilities, which we are doing, and now we are making testing more accessible to everyone,” he added.
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While one case in the community currently “may not have much of a chance” to cause a large COVID-19 cluster, there will be “a lot more” activities in the community when Singapore enters Phase 3.
“People dining in groups of eight, weddings of larger sizes, places of worship with larger gatherings, events with a larger (number of) people coming together. With all of these activities in Phase 3, the risks of clusters forming will go up. It is inevitable, as we have seen in countries everywhere around the world.”
Watch the full press conference: