SINGAPORE: To speed up the detection of COVID-19 cases, rapid antigen testing (ART) will be conducted on all individuals who seek treatment with symptoms, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Friday (May 14).
This is on top of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests that are being conducted on all people with possible COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, acute respiratory infection (ARI) symptoms, or the loss of smell or taste.
The additional testing will apply to all individuals with such symptoms who go to Public Health Preparedness Clinics with the Swab and Send Home programme, polyclinics, emergency departments and regional swab centres.
“While the ART is less accurate than the PCR test, and there will be more false positives and false negatives, the ART’s quicker turnaround time compared to a PCR test will allow us to take any public health actions more quickly for persons who test positive by ART,” said the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Test results from ART tests take typically around 30 minutes, but it can take up to 48 hours for PCR tests, as the samples have to be sent to laboratories to be tested.
Both the ART and PCR tests will be funded by the Government for all who present themselves with ARI symptoms, said MOH.
This comes amid a recent rise in COVID-19 cases within the community, with some unlinked cases, clusters at Changi Airport and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, as well as cases detected in schools.
READ: Several students who tested positive for COVID-19 linked to private tutor at tuition centre: MOH
Mr Gan, who was speaking at the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force press conference, said that the ART will allow infections to be detected more quickly so that the authorities can start contact tracing. Close contacts of infected cases can also be quarantined earlier.
"If there are false positive we can verify with PCR but in the meantime, once we have a positive result from reality, we can start the contact tracing and ring fencing and quarantine of close contacts that will allow us a head start in terms of our ring fencing of the infection," he said.
He urged those with symptoms to come forward as soon as possible.
"Even if we are able to shorten the testing time, if the patients only present themselves to healthcare institutions one or two days later, that negates the entire effort of trying to shorten the testing period," he said.
However, as this type of testing is not as accurate as PCR tests, both have to be done to ultimately confirm the infection, Mr Gan added.
Director of medical services Kenneth Mak also said that MOH is working with the laboratories to expand their capacity in case Singapore needs to ramp up testing.
"We are also working to expand our quarantine facility capacity in order to be able to accommodate the potential and future demands associated with bringing all these clusters under control," he said.
UPDATE ON VACCINATION
In an update on Friday, MOH said Singapore has administered more than 3.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
About 1.9 million individuals have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Among them, about 1.3 million have received their second dose.
“The recent cases illustrate that vaccination may not eliminate the risks of infection completely. However, it provides significant protection against infections and helps to reduce the severity of the disease and onward transmission,” said MOH.
It added that vaccination remains a “key enabler” and its ability to help Singapore reopen safely can only be felt when a high level of vaccination coverage in the population is achieved.
“We urge everyone to be vaccinated when it is offered to you. Observe all safe management measures, see a doctor, and get tested if you feel unwell,” said the ministry.
MOH also updated its safe management advice to restrict the use of face shields.
It said that research has demonstrated that face shields cannot substitute masks in protecting the wearer from droplet infection, and "do not adequately prevent" prevent droplet spread if the wearer is infected.
“Face shields should therefore not be used as a substitute for mask wear, except for medical exceptions; or where the child is 12 years or younger; or for the marriage couple during the solemnisation of their marriage,” it said.