More than 500 truck drivers have been tested for Covid-19 at Singapore's two land checkpoints since a new requirement kicked in at 9am yesterday, with all results coming back negative, said the Ministry of Health's (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak.
Compulsory antigen rapid tests (ART) were rolled out at the Tuas and Woodlands checkpoints for cargo drivers. Tests will be conducted at random in this initial phase, and extended to all truck drivers and those accompanying them in the coming weeks. Only those who test negative can enter Singapore.
Associate Professor Mak was responding to a question which cited reports of delays at the checkpoints on the first day of testing, at a media conference by the multi-ministry task force for Covid-19 yesterday.
Prof Mak said testing operations had been observed as being conducted relatively smoothly. The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and various sector leads will continue to refine processes to ensure minimal disruption to businesses and drivers, and for testing to continue without causing too much delay at the checkpoints, he added.
The new requirement is in line with Singapore's strengthened border controls in response to new virus variants and a worsening global situation. All travellers - including Singapore citizens and permanent residents - must take a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test when they arrive in Singapore, with effect from tomorrow.
PCR tests are slower but more sensitive compared with the ART being carried out on truck drivers, which can return results in about 30 minutes.
As ARTs are less accurate, drivers will be advised to take a confirmatory PCR test within 72 hours of returning home if the ART is positive. If this PCR test is negative, they can re-enter Singapore.
Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force, reiterated yesterday that the authorities were taking no chances at Singapore's borders. He acknowledged that the number of imported Covid-19 cases in recent days was quite high.
Since mid-December last year, the daily figure has been in the double digits, compared with fewer than 10 imported cases a day between October and November last year.
Scientists have said this was to be expected, with Singapore lifting border restrictions and the success of measures to screen out infections.
Visitors from Brunei, China, New Zealand, Vietnam, Australia and Taiwan have been gradually allowed into the country in an easing of restrictions, which was also extended to new work permit and S Pass holders across all sectors to alleviate the manpower shortage faced by businesses.
But Mr Wong said the spike in imported cases was not due to more travellers coming into Singapore - a number which has stayed relatively constant.
"It is a reflection of the increase in the infection rate around us," he explained. "Because of the higher prevalence, we are seeing a higher incidence of cases amongst the number of travellers who come through our borders.
"We have put in place a pre-departure test to screen out some of them, but that is still not effective enough because the virus may be incubating. They may test negative overseas but when they come through, they turn positive."
Mr Wong added: "For those travellers who are coming in, we continue to keep the measures tight by having the stay-home notice requirement and making sure that they are in quarantine, and then testing them at the tail end of the quarantine. So, those border measures remain tight, remain secure."