Scaling up COVID-19 testing capacity 'critical' for Singapore to move beyond circuit breaker period

Scaling up COVID-19 testing capacity 'critical' for Singapore to move beyond circuit breaker period

A man walks past taped up tables and stools, during the "circuit breaker" measures to cur
A man walks past taped up tables and stools, during the "circuit breaker" measures to curb the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), at a food centre in Singapore's Chinatown April 17, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su

SINGAPORE: Scaling up the capacity to test for COVID-19 will be a “key enabler” for Singapore to move beyond the “circuit breaker” period, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong on Monday (Apr 27).  

Already, authorities are starting to more regularly test workers in the essential sectors, such as healthcare workers, employees of nursing homes and frontline officers who come into close contact with confirmed cases.

"Each time we do these tests, it will help us to detect early and also to prevent any clusters from forming through this early detection," said Mr Wong at a press conference by the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce.

Describing this aspect of testing as “critical” as Singapore plans for a phase beyond the circuit breaker, Mr Wong said: “Eventually we will want to gradually relax our restrictions as our community cases come down and resume activities. This needs to be done in a safe manner without us risking new infection clusters from forming.  

“All countries are grappling with this as they move out of their lockdowns, relax measures - how to go about doing this in a safe manner. And the key enabler for this is really to have a scaled-up testing capacity.”  

READ: COVID-19: 'Not true' Singapore has reduced testing among migrant workers, says Gan Kim Yong

This is why Singapore is ramping up its testing capacity, said the authorities. Apart from the existing polymerase chain reaction tests, authorities are also looking into new technologies that might be available, including point-of-care test kits that can be scaled up more rapidly. 

Mr Wong stressed, however, that testing “cannot be a substitute” for personal responsibility like practising good hygiene and taking safe distancing measures seriously.

For essential workers, they must continue to take precautions, he added. This includes minimising contact with colleagues throughout the day. 

"Don’t go to work and end up socialising during lunch break or during break times at the pantry or outside the workplace," Mr Wong stressed.

MANAGING RISKS

At the press conference, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong noted that the continued presence of unlinked cases means that there is still underlying COVID-19 transmission in the community that has not been detected. 

“Because these cases have to come from someone, and that someone has not been identified. And therefore, we have to bear in mind that there will always be transmission that is ongoing in the community," he cautioned, adding that Singapore has to manage and reduce the risk before the circuit breaker measures can be reduced.

“Even as we remove the circuit breaker measures, we need to do it progressively. We need to do so in a safe way to prevent the resurgence of new cases and new clusters, which will be another problem again,” said Mr Gan. 

READ: 15 people contract COVID-19 at Acacia welfare home 

As part of stricter measures announced last week, more shops and food and beverage outlets in Singapore have had to suspend operations. These include home-based F&B businesses, some of whom have raised concerns about the new restrictions. 

“There will be some sacrifice. It is not easy but we really call on everyone to hunker down on this final stretch at least until May 4, because we do want to bring the community numbers down decisively,” said Mr Wong when asked about these home-based businesses.

“The current rules do not allow for home-based F&B, we’ve made that very clear. But if and when the community numbers do continue to come down, as we said, we are going to review the measures and if the numbers have been brought down, we may very well relax some of the restrictions, ease up on some of these restrictions."

READ: Singapore reports 799 new COVID-19 cases, taking total past 14,000

HOLISTIC STRATEGY

Mr Wong added that authorities are trying to get the number of community cases down to a single digit. 

"It is not there yet - not just single digit in one day but consistently over a period of time," he said. "If we all do our part, I am confident we can achieve this. When this happens, we will gradually ease up measures and resume activities."

Mr Wong also stressed that individuals still need to exercise personal and social responsibility even after the circuit breaker, as part of a "holistic strategy" to suppress the virus.

“We should still try very hard to minimise our social interactions because it only takes one person, interacting in a group in close quarters with many people to cause another cluster from happening,” he said. 

“While we can do more tests and we want to do more regular tests, testing is never going to be 100 per cent,” Mr Wong added. “It only takes that one person, that one missed test, that may be infected to cause new clusters from happening.”

“As we plan for beyond circuit breaker, opening up, relaxation of some measures, opening up of some activities, let’s still bear in mind the importance of all of us exercising individual responsibility when it comes to (the) wearing of masks, safe distancing, good hand hygiene and personal hygiene,” he said. 

“All of these things are still of utmost importance in order for us to be able to sustain this fight against the virus all the way through the end of the year and maybe even beyond the end of the year.” 

Watch the full press conference:

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Source: CNA/hw(gs)

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