SINGAPORE - You walked through a hawker centre that was just identified as a cluster. Or you are taking a flight or heading on a cruise so a pre-check before you leave home would offer some peace of mind.
Your child wakes up with a sore throat and you want to be sure it is just a cold. You have an unvaccinated elderly person at home, so you want to be extra cautious with visitors.
In all these cases, the answer is a Covid-19 antigen rapid test (ART) self-test kit. As of June, five products have been approved by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), so using any of these should give trusted results.
The Straits Times tested four of the five products.
The Abbott Panbio Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test and the Quidel QuickVue At-Home OTC Covid-19 Test are available at major chains Watsons and Guardian. The SD Biosensor Sars-CoV-2 Antigen Self Test Nasal and the SD Biosensor Standard Q Covid-19 Ag Home Test are available at selected outlets and also online, at stores like Qoo10.
The distributor of the fifth product, BD Veritor At-Home Covid-19 Test, says that, for now, it is focused on corporate sales.
The cost difference between the brands is not great. There is no cheap basic version or pricey premium version. Most fall between $8 and $13 a kit, with the per-kit price dropping for larger packs.
To check ease of use, the kits were assessed on how well-illustrated and concise the paper instructions were and also if there was a QR code that directed users to a how-to video.
They were also checked on how the items were packed as neatness makes the steps look clearer.
The products have flaws in common. For example, instructions are available only in English. Even the ones with how-to videos require users to read text overlaid on screen. The handling of small tubes and liquids might be tricky for some.
No one is using colour-coded or numbered packets yet to make following instructions easier.
The Straits Times recommends:
For repetitive use or when testing more people at a time
The SD Biosensor Standard Q Covid-19 Ag Home Test has a test routine that gets rid of the step of filling the tube with the test solution, as the tube is pre-filled.
It has a well-made video explaining the procedure. The five-test kit has extra mini instruction sheets to hand out and waste bags for disposal.
Because it uses a plastic testing device instead of a strip, identity tags or names can be written on it.
The five-test kit does not come with a tray, though. Not a major issue, but an annoyance.
For users who like neatness and organisation
The Abbott Panbio and the Quidel QuickVue come in boxes with sturdy moulded plastic trays.
These hold the unused items neatly, but also serve as holders for items while testing is in progress.
The printed instructions for both are also superior.
The drawback of the Abbott Panbio is that the test tubes do not come pre-filled, so users have to fill it themselves from a dispenser.
For outdoor use
The Quidel QuickVue has the best instruction sheet. It is printed in a readable font, in full colour and on heavier, water-resistant paper that is harder for the wind to blow away.
The pull-out tray is sturdy and holds items neatly.
The tubes are also pre-filled, which cuts out the filling step.
However, this product has two steps that require precise timing, while the other products need just one.
Remembering to pause in the middle of the procedure requires presence of mind, so do not use this in a rush.
For the less agile
The Quidel QuickVue is the winner. No droppers or nozzles or counting droplets needed here. The test tubes are pre-filled with solution. Into the tube goes the swab and, after a pause, the test strip goes in too.
The strip clearly shows results in two colours - pink and blue.
The trade-off for this convenience is there needs to be a timed pause midway through the procedure, which other products do not require. Also, some might find the test strips fiddly, compared with larger plastic test devices.
For delegating the job
The SD Biosensor Sars-CoV-2 Antigen Self Test Nasal and the SD Biosensor Standard Q Covid- 19 Ag Home Test are good if you cannot be around to supervise.
The QR code on the sheet leads to a how-to video, the tubes come pre-filled with solution and there is only one timed step.
Because results are shown on a plastic test device instead of a strip like the Quidel QuickVue, the date, identity tags for the test or the test subject can be written on it.
Pros and cons of each product
1. Abbott Panbio Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test
Distributor: Unison Collaborative
Where to buy: Most pharmacies, including Guardian and Watsons
Price: One-test kit, $11.50 (discounted from $13); 10-test kit, $90.90 (discounted from $107); 20-test kit, $174.60 (discounted from $201.30), from Guardian Health And Beauty
• A narrow box opens from the top, showing a plastic tray holding the items neatly
• Instructions are well-illustrated in colour and printed on just one side, so there is no need to flip
• Test-tube screw cap is a clear blue, making it easy to see
• The swab tip breaks off in the test tube, making disposal easier
• One-test kit comes with waste disposal bag
• Only one timed pause, at the end of the liquids procedure
• Test tubes are not pre-filled and an additional step is needed to fill it with buffer solution
• Thin, flyaway paper instructions
• QR code leads to website with more product information, but no how-to video
• Care needs to be taken to squeeze out the right number of drops into test device
2. Quidel QuickVue At-Home OTC Covid-19 Test
Distributor: Quantum Technologies Global
Where to buy: Most pharmacies, including Guardian and Watsons
Price: Two-test kit, $18.70 (discounted from $21.40); 25-test kit, $218.70 (discounted from $267.50), from Guardian Health And Beauty
• Big sturdy tray that slides out showing neatly arranged items
• Large, glossy, water-resistant colour instructions are the best of the lot
• Very little liquid handling - no droppers, nozzles or counting droplets need to be squeezed
• Results are shown in two colours - pink and blue - instead of two bands of the same colour on other products
• QR code leads to product page with a good how-to video, with American English voiceover that shares tips on how to test children
• Requires a mid-test pause to let swab soak in solution; failure to pause might lead to invalid results
• Instructions printed on two sides instead of one, requiring a flip
• Test strips too small to carry writing for dates and identity
3. SD Biosensor Standard Q Covid-19 Ag Home Test
Distributor: SPD Scientific
Where to buy: Watsons, Guardian and Unity pharmacies, Sheng Siong Supermarket and online at Shopee, Qoo10 and foodpanda
Price: One-test kit, $13; two-test kit, $21.50; 25-test kit, $237.50 (kits sent free to The Straits Times by distributor)
• Big, clear instruction sheet printed on one side
• Test tubes are pre-filled with solution
• Instruction sheet has QR code that leads to well-made how-to video that uses text instructions, so no need to listen; useful in noisy conditions
• Plastic test device can be written on for identity
• Five-test kit comes with extra mini instruction sheets as handouts
• Some dexterity needed to snap the nozzle cap onto the test tube
• Need to count droplets for test device
• The one-test kit uses the box it came in as a tray for the tube, but the five-test kit does not have a tray
4. SD Biosensor Sars-CoV-2 Antigen Self Test Nasal
Distributor: Roche Diagnostics Asia Pacific
Where to buy: NHG Polyclinic Pharmacy outlets, BHG Departmental store (also online), Sumang Pharmacy, Pharmex Healthcare (also online)
Price: Five-test kit, $51.50, from Pharmex Healthcare
• Plastic test device is large enough to carry writing for identity
• QR code takes user to product page and a how-to video which uses clearly drawn graphics instead of live demos
• Text-heavy instruction sheet
• QR code for how-to video is printed on the inside of the box lid, making it easy to miss
• Needs dexterity to snap nozzle cap onto the tube
• Need to squeeze correct number of droplets onto test device
• Box for five-test kit comes with a flimsy tube holder
• How-to-video moves quickly, with rapid-fire narration