Singaporeans across the island who show clear signs of a Zika infection will from tomorrow be able to test if they have the virus at a subsidised rate of $60.
Tests, however, will remain free for pregnant women who show symptoms or have a male partner infected with the Aedes mosquito-borne virus. This has been extended to private patients, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced yesterday.
It will also no longer hospitalise those with Zika or isolate them while waiting to see if they are infected.
Instead, patients can return home to wait for their test results, and will be given advice on protecting themselves from mosquito bites. Those who test positive will be hospitalised only if their doctor thinks it necessary.
A doctor's referral is needed to qualify for free testing or a subsidised rate.
Explaining why the authorities are adjusting their strategy, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Channel NewsAsia that the Government is working on the basis that Zika is being transmitted outside the current clusters in parts of Aljunied, Bedok and Joo Seng.
That is why "we want to provide subsidy for Zika testing even for those who are not associated with existing clusters".
Till now, those living or working in Zika-affected areas and are suspected to be infected have been tested for free.
The authorities are changing tack after observing that most cases have proven to be mild.
Still, MOH added in a statement: "Pregnant women will remain a special group to whom we will make Zika tests more affordable and accessible."
Infected women in the first and early part of the second trimesters of their pregnancy have a small risk of having babies with microcephaly, or very small heads.
"Should a pregnant woman be tested positive for Zika, her doctor will follow up closely with her to monitor her health and the development of her baby," MOH added.
Patients who need the test but cannot afford the $60 can ask for assistance, such as from Medifund, said MOH. Private patients have to pay the full cost of $150.
Mr Gan stressed that moving forward, the key strategy to controlling the spread of the virus is to control the mosquito population.
"Zika is very difficult to eradicate totally from Singapore, primarily because we have a presence of Aedes mosquitoes here," he said.
"Therefore we need to work a long-term strategy in managing Zika in Singapore, and the primary focus is, of course, vector control."
As of noon yesterday, there were 16 new cases, bringing the total number to 258.
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