New screening centres set up to support expanded virus testing

Contact tracing will also be stepped up with roll-out of new device by end of this month

More regional screening centres will be set up to ramp up Covid-19 testing. PHOTO: TEO CHEE HEAN/FACEBOOK

As more activities resume and people start interacting more freely, there could be an "inevitable" rise in the number of new Covid-19 cases in the coming weeks.

Singapore's strategy to keep the outbreak under control will hinge on testing more widely and stepping up its contact tracing efforts.

Regional screening centres will be set up progressively across the island to help test targeted groups, particularly vulnerable groups and those at higher risk of contracting Covid-19.

A contact tracing device will also be rolled out by the end of this month, the multi-ministry task force handling the outbreak said at a virtual press conference yesterday.

"We expect that there will be a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in the coming days and weeks," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force. "This is inevitable. We have seen this happening in many other countries as they open their economy and community."

But such risks can be mitigated, particularly with basic hygiene practices as well as active surveillance testing which, he said, is a key enabler of Singapore's overall efforts to reopen safely.

Testing had previously focused on groups such as pre-school staff, residents and staff of senior homes, and construction workers.

It has recently been expanded to include individuals with acute respiratory infection when they first see a doctor, starting with seniors aged 65 and above, among others.

Front-line workers supporting Covid-19 operations will also be tested.

Mr Gan said testing is critical, not just to treat the person who is infected, but also "to identify close contacts so that we can ring-fence (them) quickly to prevent the spread of the disease".

He added: "We also do screening for specific target groups, for example, those who are more vulnerable, such as the elderly in nursing homes, to prevent a cluster from forming."

To support this effort, four regional screening centres have been set up.

Two of these centres - at the Old Police Academy and The Float @ Marina Bay - started operating on June 2.

Two more centres were set up yesterday, at Bukit Gombak Sport Hall and Bishan Sport Hall, while another centre at 7 Bedok North Street 2 - the former Sepak Takraw Sport Hall - is in the pipeline.

The centres will support screening requirements for workers in industries such as construction as well as the marine and process sector.

Mr Gan said that while the number of new cases in the community has remained low, it has "increased somewhat" over the past week - the first week after Singapore ended the circuit breaker. But many of these community cases over the past week were the result of active case finding, he added.

Meanwhile, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan said the contact tracing device that will be released would complement efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19. As the Government is focusing on digital inclusion, those who do not have a smartphone will be prioritised, he said.

Explaining that the disease spreads more easily at the start of the illness, Dr Balakrishnan said digital contact tracing can speed up the identification of Covid-19 patients and those with whom they had been in close contact.

The use of such digital tools has helped to speed up the process of contact tracing from two or three days to less than a day, said Dr Balakrishnan.

He added: "Now that we are opening up, we're no longer in a circuit breaker... this ability to move and identify (contacts) quickly has become even more crucial."

Correction: An earlier version of this story, based on an MOH press release, said that an upcoming screening centre will be located at 2 Bedok North Street 2. It should be 7 Bedok North Street 2.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2020, with the headline New screening centres set up to support expanded virus testing. Subscribe