Covid-19 testing to be extended to those aged 13 and above with acute respiratory infection from July 1

A clinic employee attending to people on June 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - From July 1, all patients aged 13 and above who show up at clinics with signs of acute respiratory infection will be tested for Covid-19, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong announced on Thursday (June 25).

Speaking at a virtual press conference, Mr Gan said that this is part of measures to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, as cases are expected to rise with Singapore gradually reopening its economy.

He said: "As more activities resume, the frequency of close contacts will rise (and) we expect the number of cases to go up probably one or two weeks after the initial opening of phase two.

"We must therefore get ready to quickly detect and isolate these cases to prevent large clusters from forming. To do so, we will strategically test more as we ramp up our testing capacity, so that we can pick up cases faster."

Currently, those aged 45 and above who have symptoms of acute respiratory infection are tested for Covid-19 when they first visit the doctor.

The Ministry of Health's (MOH) director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, who was also at the press conference, said that there is currently no need to test those who are campaigning in this year's general election.

But he added that candidates and their supporters must observe safe distancing measures to protect the health and safety of the public.

Prof Mak also clarified that there are no plans to lower the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) level just yet.

He said: "We're in a better situation now... but we would prefer to continue to watch the situation closely before bringing it any lower than what it is now."

He added that the authorities do not want to risk making the public complacent by lowering the level, and that it is still "premature" to make a decision on it at the moment.

"De-escalating Dorscon isn't the most important thing right now, but paying attention, discipline, is," he said.

In addition to expanding the testing criteria, Mr Gan said that the authorities will be providing a series of grants to support healthcare partners that have been helping to fight the spread of the disease.

More than 900 Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs) will be given a one-off grant of $10,000 to support them in their efforts to care for patients, as well as defray any additional costs they may have incurred in the line of duty.

MOH will also be providing a one-time Swab and Send Home (Sash) start-up grant of $1,200 to PHPCs in the Sash programme to help defray their start-up costs.

All PHPCs that come on board the Sash programme will be eligible for the grant, and can expect to receive the grant after about three months on the programme, with payments starting in September.

Finally, an assurance grant will be provided to PHPCs whose doctors contract Covid-19 and are placed under a quarantine order in the course of their work.

Eligible PHPCs will be given $500 per day for the duration of their doctor's recovery or quarantine period, allowing them to employ a locum and helping to cover any loss in revenue.

Mr Gan said: "We hope that these initiatives will help us reassure our GPs as they continue to take care of our Covid-19 patients.

"At an individual level, we can each play our part to prevent ourselves from getting infected and to keep one another safe.

"Let us all continue to be socially responsible, stay vigilant and not let our guards down."

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