Sunday, 20 Jun 2021

About 40 Covid-19 testing operations over the past month, 55,000 swabs daily in second half of May: Ong Ye Kung

SINGAPORE – About 40 special testing operations have been conducted over the past month to detect and slow down the spread of Covid-19 here, with an average of 55,000 swab tests being carried out daily in the second half of May, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.

Mr Ong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, was speaking at a virtual press conference on Monday (May 31) where he gave details about Singapore’s shift towards testing becoming more preventive and large-scale.

This elaborated on the extensive “fast and easy” test strategy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about in a live national address just prior to the task force’s briefing.

“Extensive testing will give us confidence to resume larger scale events or gatherings… Therefore, you should expect that routine, large-scale, fast and simple testing to be part of our new normal,” he said.

The aim, Mr Lee said, was to isolate and ring-fence coronavirus cases and their contacts promptly, before the virus spreads further.

Mr Ong said that the past month’s mass surveillance testing, which is done when authorities detect a new cluster, has targeted housing blocks, supermarkets, malls, the seaport, airport and in schools.

“In the second half of May, we conducted on average over 55,000 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and the antigen rapid tests (ART) per day,” said Mr Ong.

The authorities will continue to step up the number of tests, he added.

Moving forward, Singapore will roll out an extensive fast and extensive testing strategy to complement PCR tests, said Mr Ong. These tests are the most accurate, but usually take a day or two for the results to be known.

ART, which returns results in about 30 minutes and is used heavily for pre-event testing, has been rolled out to almost all public health preparedness clinics and all polyclinics, Mr Ong said.

There are plans to expand this capacity and deploy them at private general practitioner clinics, he added.

Repeating what Mr Lee mentioned, Mr Ong said Singapore is also exploring self-tests that people can purchase in pharmacies and perform themselves.

“So it works, almost like a pregnancy test. And you can do so before you go to work. And that way, it is even more flexible in terms of deployment,” he said.

Ministry of Health (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak said that the ministry is working on how such a test would be done, and for what kind of circumstances is such a test appropriate.

Highlighting how Covid-19 breathalyser tests, which can process results within a minute, are already being used at the Causeway and at Changi Airport, Mr Ong and said that fast and easy test kits will be piloted for certain workers, premises or events in the coming weeks.

For instance, this could be implemented among cleaners and front-line workers, for those in hospitals and malls, and for events like weddings, conferences or religious gatherings.

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