Coronavirus: Singapore

Experts see less need to test healthy workers

Migrant workers who do not show any symptoms of illness may not need to be tested regularly for Covid-19 as Singapore moves towards living with the virus, infectious diseases experts said.

This comes after a surge of Covid-19 cases in the dorms that coincided with updated health protocols to make living with the virus less onerous.

Professor Dale Fisher, who is from the National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, said it was not surprising that the dorms remain centres of transmission, with conditions there not significantly improved. Workers are also being tested regularly so many asymptomatic infections are detected.

"This is the future norm: the virus will transmit quite freely but cause severe disease rarely once it is endemic. It is not helpful to continue to test asymptomatic people as it just leads to unnecessary quarantine with the social and economic impacts this causes," he said.

The Ministry of Manpower said on Oct 2 that it would shift to using only antigen rapid tests (ARTs) for rostered routine testing. These return results in about 30 minutes but are less accurate than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which usually take a day or two to process.

Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said that it is "not clear" that there is a need to try and contain the spread of the virus within the dormitories, especially since the residents are working-age men with high background immunity from infection last year and vaccination this year.

"That strategy may have made sense when we were buying time to vaccinate the population. It does not gel, though, with the declared intent to move into the endemic era," he said.

Fully vaccinated workers who test positive for the virus but have no symptoms can now isolate and recover in a dedicated facility within the dormitories for up to 10 days. They can be discharged after day three upon receiving a negative ART result.

"If people are vaccinated, have no symptoms, and are ART-negative, then it's very reasonable to let them carry on because the world has to go on, and it's consistent with the national strategy," said Associate Professor Jeremy Lim from the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 17, 2021, with the headline 'Experts see less need to test healthy workers'. Subscribe