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PCR tests to be reserved for those who are unwell; more ART kits to be distributed

PCR tests to be reserved for those who are unwell; more ART kits to be distributed
A healthcare worker takes a nose swab for an antigen rapid test in Singapore on Jan 25, 2021. (File photo: Reuters/Edgar Su)

SINGAPORE: In a change to healthcare protocols, most people testing for COVID-19 infection will now do so with an antigen rapid test (ART) instead of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Saturday (Oct 9).

ART will be used for people who are well, such as for community testing and for the management of contacts of COVID-19 cases, so that infections can still be detected and people can self-isolate early, MOH said.

This means that close contacts of COVID-19 cases, employees on the rostered routine testing programme and those going for pre-event testing will only have to take an ART, which typically produces results in less than 20 minutes.

“Given that ART is convenient, accurate and reliable, we have sufficient confidence to move towards a test that can be administered by the individuals in the comfort of their own home,” the ministry said.

PCR tests will be reserved mainly for people who are unwell and have COVID-19 symptoms.

"We will reserve PCR testing for symptomatic cases, so that we can focus our testing resources on those who are ill and need medical attention, said co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force Gan Kim Yong at a press conference.

MOH acknowledged that the protocols and procedures for testing and isolation that have been developed over the past months "became complex and difficult to understand".

"We will significantly simplify these procedures," it said in its press release.

Mr Gan, who is also Minister for Trade and Industry, said that the Government will continue to move towards making testing a "way of life".

"This is part of our personal and social responsibility to minimise transmissions in the community," he said.

More ART kits will be distributed by SingPost from Oct 22 to Dec 7, with each household receiving another 10 self-test kits. 

Six free ART kits were mailed to all households between August and September. Students and employees of pre-schools, early intervention centres, primary schools and special education schools also received three kits each.

"I encourage everyone to self-test regularly, and especially before visiting crowded places, visiting the elderly or children, returning to your workplace or attending school," Mr Gan said.

Those who receive health risk warnings will be able to retrieve six ART kits each from vending machines. A total of 100 vending machines have been set up across Singapore, but this will be increased to 200, MOH said. The test kits are also available for sale at retail stores.

NEED FOR PCR TEST

The PCR test, which MOH said provides for greater accuracy, will continue to be used at “the discretion of doctors” for people who have COVID-19 symptoms, and for pre-departure and on-arrival testing.

“By symptomatic, we are referring to people who may be potentially having high fever or exhibiting breathlessness,” the ministry said.

People who have more severe symptoms and unvaccinated seniors are advised to take a PCR test.

PCR tests may also be necessary for those who have been exposed to COVID-19 and require treatment to reduce the risk of getting a severe infection.

“We've taken pains to try and align our protocols simplify the protocols, and this is part of our broad mission to allow us to transit more successfully into an endemic phase, emphasising self-responsibility.”

Those who would like to do a supervised antigen rapid test may do so at a quick test centre at the cost of S$15, it said.

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Source: CNA/ja(cy)

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