SINGAPORE - Participants in some mass events will have to take an antigen rapid test for Covid-19 and obtain a negative result before admission, under a new pilot meant to help Singapore resume more activities safely.
Results of antigen rapid tests could be out within 30 minutes and the tests can be conducted at the event venue or off-site at a separate testing facility, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Tuesday (Oct 20).
For tests done off-site, participants have to produce a certificate showing a negative test result, which is valid for a 24-hour timeframe that includes the duration of the event.
Participants of multi-day events will have to undergo daily testing. Those attending multiple events within 24 hours need to go for only one test.
As part of this pilot, the antigen rapid tests will be provided free of charge to the participants.
Those who test positive must self-isolate and go for a free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) confirmatory swab, said MOH. They cannot leave their place of isolation until a negative result is received.
The large-scale events will be identified by the Government from mid-October to December this year, and will include business-to-business events, wedding receptions, live performances and sports events, MOH said.
"Pre-event testing pilots will enable MOH to study pre-event testing processes and to identify a model which can be implemented more widely and allow more large-scale events to resume eventually," the ministry added.
Currently, national swabbing exercises make use of the "gold standard" PCR tests, which are considered the most accurate. They detect the presence of viral genetic material in a sample.
But the entire process - from swabbing a patient and sending the sample to a laboratory, to the release of results - can take up to two days. It can also be costly, and requires trained personnel and specialised equipment to administer.
Antigen rapid tests (ARTs), on the other hand, are point-of-care tests that look for proteins on the virus surface. They are cheaper and can yield quick results.
MOH said such tests can return fairly accurate results quickly.
The tests being piloted involve using a nasal swab to take a sample from the lower part of the nose and should not be uncomfortable, it said.
While other rapid tests are being developed, including a breathalyser-type one that can yield results in under one minute, the ministry said it is currently focusing on the antigen rapid tests.
But such tests may not be as accurate as PCR tests, noted MOH.
For example, they may not detect some Covid-19-positive cases, or show a positive case even though the person is not infected with Covid-19.
Said MOH: "For the former, as there is still a possibility that a Covid-19-positive case could slip through to attend the event, there is still a need for the same safe management measures to be put in place, including mask-wearing, safe distancing, and group size and capacity limits, to reduce the risk of transmission."
Those who test positive in the antigen rapid test will have to go for a confirmatory PCR test to determine if the person really has been infected by the coronavirus.
"As Singapore's current prevalence of Covid-19 is low, most of the antigen rapid test positive cases would test negative under the more accurate PCR test, with only a small percentage that turn out to be truly Covid-19-positive," said MOH.
It said participants will be informed by the event organiser on the specific requirements for each pilot event.
If testing is being conducted at the event venue prior to admission, participants will likely have to arrive at the venue earlier to cater time for testing.
If the testing is conducted at a separate testing facility, participants will have to visit the testing facility beforehand and produce a valid certificate showing that they have tested negative for Covid-19 within a 24-hour timeframe.
"If these pilots prove successful, MOH will assess how to make these tests available for more widespread use," the ministry added.