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

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

Nasal swab worker dormitory Singapore
A healthcare worker dressed in personal protective equipment collects a nasal swab sample from a migrant worker for COVID-19 testing at a foreign workers' domitory in Singapore on Apr 27, 2020. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: It is not true that authorities have reduced the volume of COVID-19 testing for migrant workers, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Monday (Apr 27).

“Our testing capacity for migrant workers is about 3,000 a day. We have not reduced it. Instead, we have been increasing the capacity of testing of our migrant workers. The rate of testing has not slowed,” Mr Gan said at a COVID-19 multi-ministry task force press conference.

He also said that every positive test is added to daily numbers.

Infectious diseases expert Professor Dale Fisher had said in an interview with CNA over the weekend that at some dormitories, the infection rate for COVID-19 is so high that there is no need to test anymore. Once a person has clinical respiratory illness, that person is almost certainly deemed to have COVID, so those people are put into isolation straightaway, he said.

The Health Minister said a total of 21,000 migrant workers living in dormitories have been tested since the start of the outbreak.

“This means that one in 15 migrant workers in dormitories have been tested. This is far higher than the testing rates seen in other countries like Korea, which is one in 90, as well as other countries like the United States, United Kingdom, or even Hong Kong,” Mr Gan said.

AUTHORITIES DOING AGGRESSIVE CONTACT TRACING

The authorities started testing at dormitories where there were a high number of cases detected, and now are actively testing at other dormitories as cases emerge, including at factory-converted dormitories, he said.

“We are also actively testing around confirmed cases in these dormitories, where new cases are starting to emerge in an effort to isolate cases, and contain further transmission,” he said.

He added that for dormitories where the assessed rate of infection is “extremely high”, efforts are focused on isolating those who are symptomatic, even without a confirmed COVID-19 test.

“This allows us to quickly provide medical care to these patients,” he said.

He said that at certain dormitories, the authorities conduct proactive case finding, which means they do "quite aggressive contact tracing". 

"Some of the cases, even before they have a significant symptoms, we identify them and we have tested them, and therefore the time period between symptoms and diagnosis is significantly shorter within the dormitories," he said.

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

Testing serves important objectives such as diagnosing patients, to provide them with appropriate treatment and care and carrying out contact tracing so to limit and control the spread, he said.

There were 799 new cases of the coronavirus in Singapore as of noon on Monday, according to the preliminary figures from the Health Ministry. Most of them were work permit holders staying in dormitories. Fourteen were Singaporeans or permanent residents.  To date, there have been 14,423 cases of COVID-19 in the country. 

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

INTERACTIVE: COVID-19 cases in Singapore's foreign worker dorms

Mr Gan said authorities have been steadily building Singapore's capacity to conduct tests for COVID-19 over the past few months.

"Compared to conducting an average of 2,900 cases, a tests previously, we are now able to conduct more than 8,000 tests, a day, and we will continue to expand our capacity," he said.

Mr Gan added that the authorities conduct targeted testing for selected groups, such as foreign workers in essential services and staff in nursing homes. 

They intend to gradually expand testing to a wider pool of essential workers, he added.  

"Testing remains a key prong of our strategy in this war against COVID-19. What is more important than testing is for everyone to play our part to prevent transmission," he said. 

Co-chair of the task force, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, said that a "key enabler" is to have a scaled up testing capacity. 

"This capability to ramp up, build up more testing capacity is critical, as we seek, eventually, to resume and restart our economy," he said, while stressing that equally important are personal responsibility and safe distancing measures. 

Singapore is nearly three weeks into its "circuit breaker" period to try and break the COVID-19 cycle of transmission. Initially scheduled to end on May 4, the circuit breaker will now only end on Jun 1. During this time, all non-essential businesses have to remain closed and residents are required to stay home except for buying food and exercising alone. 

Watch the full press conference:

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Source: CNA/hs

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