SINGAPORE - From Tuesday (Dec 1), anyone who needs a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test will be able to get one from approved private clinics.
Those seeking tests could include companies and people requiring pre-departure testing before travel. The latter group will no longer be required to seek approval from the Ministry of Health for such a test.
Before this, members of the public who were not unwell and did not need to meet specific testing requirements, such as pre-departure and pre-event testing, could not request to get tested for the coronavirus.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong had earlier said on Nov 10 that the expanded testing availability is part of efforts to support a larger range of needs as Singapore resumes more economic and community activities.
At the same virtual press conference, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said that the higher number of activities in phase three of the country's reopening is likely to lead to an increase in the number of community cases.
"We have to be mentally prepared for that and be ready to ensure that even if the local cases in the community were to rise, they do not form large clusters that are out of control. The key to doing that is to step up our testing capabilities, which we are doing and now we are making testing more accessible to everyone," said Mr Wong, the co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 along with Mr Gan.
The list of approved testing partners can be found here.
Those who request tests at these providers under the new arrangements will have to call the clinic ahead of time to book an appointment for their swab.
They will also have to pay for the tests, which will not be subsidised.
Mr Gan said: "We hope that through making available testing capacity from the private sector, there will be competition and there'll be more supplies available. And by doing so, we will ensure that the price they offer will be competitive, and that (it) will reflect the true cost of the test."
Doctors told The Straits Times they would be charging rates of about $200, including GST, for the test.
Dr Dale Lim, family physician at The Tenteram Clinic in Toa Payoh, said that he is not expecting an increase in demand for the tests until more people need to travel.
Dr Lim's clinic has conducted about 30 swabs each week under the Swab and Send Home programme (Sash). The Sash programme was implemented at around April this year, allowing patients who met certain criteria to be swabbed at polyclinics and some private clinics. Previously, all swab tests for Covid-19 were done at hospitals.
However, Dr Aziz Noordin, a family physician at Tampines Family Medicine Clinic, said his clinic has stocked up on kits in anticipation of a rise in demand.
This will come as more people begin to take part in activities such as clubbing and social events as Singapore opens up.
"I expect people will come for testing for peace of mind, but... the price may also be a barrier," he said.
Meanwhile, Healthway Medical Group has made testing available at 38 clinics, up from five in August.
Dr John Cheng, head of primary care and family physician at the group, said it has already seen a 40-50 per cent increase in patients coming in for swabs since August, and has been working closely with major laboratory providers to ensure an adequate supply of test kits over the last few months.
"Having anticipated this surge in demand for testing facilities in the months ahead, we are adequately stocked and prepared for a higher demand for PCR tests. We will also continue to monitor the response and restock accordingly," he said.