Participants in some mass events will have to take an antigen rapid test for Covid-19 and obtain a negative result before admission to the events, under a new pilot programme meant to help Singapore resume more activities safely.
Results of antigen rapid tests are out within 30 minutes and the tests can be conducted at the event venue, or off site at a separate testing facility, the Ministry of Health said yesterday.
For tests done off site, participants have to produce a certificate showing a negative test result, which is valid for a 24-hour timeframe including 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 the pilot scheme, the antigen rapid tests will be provided free of charge to 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.
From this month to December, the Government will identify the events where antigen rapid testing is required. These will include wedding receptions, live performances and sports events, as well as business-to-business events such as the Singapore International Energy Week next week, 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 - swabbing a patient, sending the sample to a laboratory and waiting for the result - can take up to two days. The tests can also be costly, and require trained personnel and specialised equipment to administer.
Antigen rapid tests, on the other hand, are point-of-care tests that look for proteins on the virus surface. They are cheaper and yield quick results.
The test being piloted involves using a nasal swab to take a sample from the lower part of the nose and should not be uncomfortable, MOH 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 test.
It noted that such tests may not be as accurate as the PCR test. For example, they may not detect some Covid-19 positive cases, or may show a positive result even though the person is healthy.
MOH said: "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, 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 PCR test to determine if they are really infected.
MOH said it has evaluated the tests used in the pilot programme and they minimally meet the recommendations set out by the World Health Organisation.
This means that the tests will be able to pick up at least 80 per cent of individuals who are infected, and identify 97 per cent of healthy individuals as being free from infection.
Participants will be informed by the event organiser on the specific requirements for each pilot event.
For instance, if testing is being conducted at the event venue, participants will likely have to arrive earlier to allow for testing.