Daily Covid-19 testing capacity in Singapore to be ramped up

As at Feb 1, the average daily number of swabs tested over the past week was now over 34,000.
As at Feb 1, the average daily number of swabs tested over the past week was now over 34,000.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Singapore plans to tap the private sector to significantly ramp up its capacity to test for Covid-19 infections.

This will enable it to carry out more than 21,000 tests daily in dormitories and regional screening centres, amid ongoing efforts to vaccinate the country's population and avoid subsequent outbreaks.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) wants to appoint vendors to administer Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab tests in 41 foreign worker dormitories and 16 regional screening centres, tender documents seen by The Straits Times show. They will also have to carry out the testing of samples with licensed laboratories to perform antigen rapid tests (ART) and provide phlebotomy services, or serology tests.

PCR tests are the most accurate, but usually take a day or two for the result. The less accurate ART returns results in about 30 minutes and is used heavily for pre-event testing, while serology tests detect the presence of antibodies and can show if a person might have been infected in the past.

Testing is one of Singapore's key strategies to contain the spread of the virus, as it allows for early detection and ring-fencing of cases.

The Ministry of Health said on its website yesterday that as at Feb 1, the average daily number of swabs tested over the past week was now over 34,000 - but did not provide the breakdown of how many were from the dorms and regional screening centres.

An HPB spokesman told The Straits Times: "As the Ministry of Health has expanded its testing availability to allow approved private clinic providers to provide Covid-19 testing from Dec 1, we have started this tender exercise to bring in private sector resources to supplement our current and future testing operations."

The vendors appointed by HPB will have to conduct testing in two phases. For the first phase, they will have to test about 2,500 at two regional screening centres and about 3,000 in five dorms. In the second phase, they should administer tests for more than 15,000 at 14 regional screening centres and 6,000 in 36 dorms.

These centres include places like the Singapore Turf Club, and Civil Service Club Changi, which HPB said are projected to each be able to test 1,800 people daily. The vendors will also have to organise mobile teams to conduct test services outside the designated locations.

The document said the vendors of the first phase will be appointed for six months from April tentatively, with an option to extend for another six months, subject to their performance. It did not specify when the second phase would start, but chosen vendors of phase one sites will be given the option during the contract period to provide services for the second phase.

The tender is non-exclusive, meaning it may be awarded in whole or in parts to one or more vendors.

More than 59,000 people here have been infected with Covid-19 so far, the bulk of whom were found last year to be foreign workers staying in dorms. Since then, Singapore has stepped up its testing efforts for dorm residents and has successfully managed to keep the virus spread under control.

From last Friday, all arriving foreign domestic workers and confinement nannies have had to take a serology test on arrival, in addition to a PCR test that has been mandatory since Jan 24. Foreign workers in the construction, marine and process sectors have already been subject to PCR and serology tests on arrival in Singapore since Jan 18.

HPB, the national agency to support Covid-19 testing, has been setting up regional screening centres here since the middle of last year, where persons who are unwell or have been diagnosed with acute respiratory infection can get tested.

Appointments to get tested have to be made at these centres, where companies can also get workers regularly tested, using the online swab registration system.