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COVID-19: Singapore to pilot pre-event rapid testing from mid-October so more events can safely resume

COVID-19: Singapore to pilot pre-event rapid testing from mid-October so more events can safely resume

A community COVID-19 screening centre in Ang Mo Kio on Oct 16, 2020. (Photo: Facebook/Lee Hsien Loong)

SINGAPORE: Singapore will pilot pre-event testing from mid-October to December to identify a model that can be widely implemented so that more large-scale events can safely resume, announced Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong on Tuesday (Oct 20).  

This means that participants going to an event or activity will be tested either at the event venue or at a separate testing facility, and only participants who have tested negative will be allowed to participate in the event. 

These events could include business-to-business events and wedding receptions, added Mr Gan. For example, pre-event testing will be piloted at Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) next week. 

Antigen rapid tests (ARTs) will be used for the pre-event testing, which can return “fairly accurate” results within about half an hour, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a factsheet. 

READ: Nightlife industry a 'higher risk' setting, activities unlikely to resume even at start of Phase 3 - Lawrence Wong

Although polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are currently used as the “definitive test” for confirming COVID-19 cases, the results take about one to two days, which is not feasible for pre-event testing, the ministry noted. 

The ART results will be valid for 24 hours from the time of the swab, and it must be valid at the point of entry until the end of the event, said MOH in a technical briefing on Tuesday. 

READ: COVID-19 - Social gatherings of up to 8 people may be allowed in Phase 3, says Gan Kim Yong

“If you go for a multi-day event, you would then require daily testing, with that cert being valid for 24 hours. However, if you’re attending multiple events within a 24-hour window, that same cert will gain you access to multiple events if you’re negative.” 

Individuals who have been infected with COVID-19 and have recovered will be exempted from the pre-event testing within “a recent enough window” that ensures they are likely to be immune or protected from infection - for example, 180 days from the first positive PCR test, said MOH at the technical briefing. 

Individuals who test positive on the ART at pre-entry testing must self-isolate and go for a PCR confirmatory swab, receiving referral forms that can be used to redeem the swab free of charge at clinics and regional screening centres, said the ministry. They also must not leave their place of isolation until they receive a negative PCR result, except to go for the test or seek medical attention. 

For the ARTs that are being piloted, a nasal swab will be carried out to obtain a sample from the lower part of the nose and this should not be uncomfortable, said MOH. As part of the pilot, the ARTs and the PCR tests, where required, will be provided free of charge to the participants. 

Depending on the event, participants will be informed by the event organiser on the specific requirements of the pre-event testing, as different processes will be tested for each pilot. 

“For example, if the testing is being conducted at the event venue prior to admission, participants will likely have to arrive at the venue earlier to cater time for testing before attending the event,” said MOH in the factsheet. 

“If the testing is conducted at a separate testing facility, participants will have to visit a separate testing facility beforehand and produce a valid certificate showing that the participant had tested negative for COVID-19 within a 24-hour timeframe from the end of the event, before being allowed to enter the event.”

READ: Singapore reports 6 new COVID-19 infections, including 4 imported cases

Pre-event testing, however, does not mean Singapore can "throw caution to the wind" and ignore safe management measures at these events, said Mr Gan. 

"In fact, despite the tests, there is always a possibility that an infected person may not be detected. So even if the test results are negative, safe management measures will still have to be strictly adhered to at these events," he added. 

“The tests are meant to reduce the chance or the probability that a COVID-19 case might enter that particular venue ... If a COVID case enters the event, it is really up to the SMMs (safe management measures) to prevent any clusters from following,” said MOH at the technical briefing. 

Singapore has “made arrangements to procure supplies coming in” and currently has a “sufficient” number of tests to conduct the pre-event testing pilots, the ministry added. 

“We have made arrangements for further supplies of these test kits to come into Singapore as well, so there should be sufficient (numbers) of these tests available once we expand the applications for these tests.” 

MOH is “working out the costs involved” in bringing these tests into Singapore, said MOH.

“The design of these pilots is also intended to inform us of what the associated logistics will be, and some of these logistics will impact the actual cost for running this pre-event testing as well,” said the ministry.

“It’s not just the cost of a test kit, but there will be some associated costs based on the operational processes that need to be put in place for pre-event testing to take place.”

MOH is "quite confident" that the cost of the use of ARTs in pre-event testing would be much lower than what it would be for PCR testing, said director of medical services Kenneth Mak. 

"But where the final landing point is in terms of the actual costs incurred using this antigen rapid testing for pre-event settings hasn't been finalised yet," said Associate Professor Mak. 

"Certainly for the pilots we are doing we have committed to making sure that these are provided free, we will be paying for these for the pilots themselves, but once we've completed that we will be providing further updates whether or not testing in the pre-event setting will be charged once we scale this as a mainstream activity."

Adding that the Government is exploring different types of COVID-19 tests, Minister for Education Lawrence Wong said: "There are some that are more readily available, it's already been done overseas and we're bringing them into Singapore, and we'll be able to roll them out quite soon. There are some that are still being piloted and so the deployment time will take a bit longer. 

"But I think this full range of different rapid test kits will complement the PCR tests. And together with the scaled-up contact tracing ... this enhanced testing regime, PCR plus rapid test kits, will allow us to enter Phase 3 safely." 

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Source: CNA/hw(hs)


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