SINGAPORE - From Wednesday (Feb 16) to March 15, Covid-19 patients with mild or no symptoms can visit a test centre to take a supervised self-administered antigen rapid test (ART) for free, and get their results reflected in their HealthHub record.
This is to ease the pressure on general practitioner (GP) clinics and polyclinics, so that they can focus on patients who need medical attention, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Tuesday.
It will first make this available at 48 combined test centres (CTC) or quick test centres (QTC) located islandwide.
By the end of the week, about 205 such centres will offer these supervised self-administered ARTs, which will be fully funded by the Government for these four weeks, MOH said.
If a person is shown to be positive on the test, he can then collect three free ART kits from a vending machine and self-isolate at home for at least 72 hours.
Members of the public can book their supervised self-administered ART at this website.
In its release, MOH said that in recent weeks, GP clinics, polyclinics and hospitals have continued to report a surge in the number of patients, many with no or mild symptoms visiting to get an ART conducted by a medical professional and officially documented in MOH's records.
The hospitals' emergency departments have similarly received many patients who are not in need of emergency medical assistance.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung revealed the news on this plan in Parliament earlier on Tuesday. He said that allowing quick test centres to do this will help take some pressure off the GP clinics.
Singapore is in the midst of an Omicron surge, with around 10,000 cases daily, and this could rise further to possibly 15,000 to 20,000 cases a day, Mr Ong said in Parliament in response to Mr Yip Hon Weng's (Yio Chu Kang) question on how the healthcare system is coping with the Omicron wave.
But he added that this is not an issue, as most people who catch Covid-19 today have mild symptoms.
There are currently 20 to 30 patients in the intensive care unit (ICU), compared with the 171 ICU beds occupied by Covid-19 patients at the peak of the Delta wave last year, he said.
"Where we face pressure now is not on the clinical side of healthcare but on the operational side of healthcare because the number of calls from patients to hotlines is increasing," Mr Ong said.
MOH is able to answer well over 90 per cent of calls from the public, with the help of government agencies, including the Singapore Armed Forces, he added.
But GPs are facing quite a bit of pressure, with long queues of patients, he said.
Mr Ong noted that people go to GPs for various reasons, for instance, to confirm their infection and get a medical certificate, or to prove that they have recovered from Covid-19 before travelling.
In Singapore, an infection episode can be considered a booster dose if a person prefers not to get the extra jab, provided he has seen a doctor so that the infection will be reflected in MOH's medical records.
While the quick test centres will ease the load on doctors, they will not be able to issue medical certificates, unlike going to a GP, said Mr Ong.