Coronavirus: SCDF officers conduct swab testing at quarantine facilities

A Singapore Civil Defence Force officer enters a room to conduct swabbing operations on people serving quarantine orders at the government quarantine facility at the National Community Leadership Institute in Buona Vista on Feb 10, 2020.
A Singapore Civil Defence Force officer enters a room to conduct swabbing operations on people serving quarantine orders at the government quarantine facility at the National Community Leadership Institute in Buona Vista on Feb 10, 2020.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) were deployed on Tuesday (Feb 11) to help conduct swab testing on people who are suspected of having the novel coronavirus at government quarantine facilities.

One of the five teams on the ground went to the government quarantine facility at the National Community Leadership Institute in Buona Vista.

Before entering the rooms, the team of medical officers don personal protective equipment that includes headgear, gowns, surgical gloves and surgical masks.

During the procedure, a swab is inserted into the back of a quarantined person's nose - or the nasopharynx - and a mucus sample is extracted from the cavity.

The sample is then placed inside a vial containing a medium for transportation to the labs for testing. The medium, a reagent inside the vial, is used to keep the virus in the sample in a live state.

Once the procedure is completed, the personnel exit the quarantine room and undergo a decontamination process, where they remove the protective gear and sanitise their hands.

The swabbing operations are conducted when quarantined persons first arrive at the facility. Those who are at the tail end of their quarantine undergo the swab testing again to make sure they are free of the virus.

Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam visited the facility on Tuesday and witnessed the swabbing procedure.

He said many frontline officers have been working round the clock to help out during the coronavirus outbreak, and that "it's been a big strain".

 
 
 

"It's not going to be possible to carry on at this pace for a long time, so we have to look at how to make it sustainable," he added.

On Monday (Feb 10), a Certis Cisco officer who had served quarantine orders to two people from Wuhan who were subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus was found to be infected with the virus as well.

Asked what is being done to safeguard personnel battling against the virus on the frontline, Mr Shanmugam said: "It depends on the nature of the work. The medical officer who was taking the swabs was fully kitted out with a gown, masks, personal protective equipment. The officers who were outside but nearby were kitted out with masks and gloves. But not the others...So it's a question of where exactly you are and what you're doing."

He added that the key thing is to emphasise to all officers the risk of putting their hands to their face.

 
 
 

"You are touching things and then you are bringing your hands to your face. This is instinctive. Studies have shown that each of us touches our face once in every two minutes on average, and that's how one gets it," he said.

"So you have to really keep your hands clean. That has got to be emphasised to our officers, and depending on what they are doing, we need to make sure that they are adequately protected."

As of noon on Tuesday, the Ministry of Health said it has identified 1,124 close contacts. Of the 1,021 who are still in Singapore, 989 have been contacted and are being quarantined or isolated. Efforts are ongoing to contact the remaining 32 close contacts.