Parliament: Changi Airport to set up dedicated Covid-19 testing lab; breathalyser tests among rapid test kits being trialled

The increased emphasis on tests for air travellers will be supported by a corresponding increase in Singapore's Covid-19 testing capacity. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - A dedicated Covid-19 testing laboratory will be set up at Changi Airport in the next few months, as part of measures to reopen Singapore's borders to international travellers and revive its air hub.

Announcing this on Tuesday (Oct 6), Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said testing is the key to unlock air travel.

With the coronavirus set to persist for some time, the emerging international practice is to test travellers before they board a plane, like how they have to go through security and bag checks, he noted in his ministerial statement.

"With high-sensitivity tests, we can filter out the virus at the border, better still before the traveller boards the plane, and significantly mitigate the risk of importing and spreading the virus in Singapore," he said.

"In other words, on a selective basis, we can open up our border, do away with border closures and SHN (stay-home notice), which is a big deterrent to travel, and replace them with tests."

The new laboratory will supplement an existing facility at the airport that can swab up to 10,000 passengers a day.

Singapore has rolled out different measures - from reciprocal green lanes to unilaterally opening its borders - to boost its aviation sector, which has been battered by the pandemic.

The increased emphasis on tests for air travellers will be supported by a corresponding increase in Singapore's Covid-19 testing capacity.

Mr Ong said testing capacity is no longer a major constraint, with Singapore now testing more than 27,000 people daily using swab tests.

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It is also on track to conduct more than 40,000 tests a day by November.

This is in contrast to the 2,000 tests daily that it was able to conduct back in March.

To give such efforts a further boost, the country will also tap the private sector to develop commercial testing capacity, Mr Ong added.

"At the same time, testing technology is advancing. There are promising tests with quicker turnarounds while maintaining acceptable test sensitivity," he said.

He cited how DSO National Laboratories and A*Star have developed a test kit which halves the time needed to process and analyse patient samples to between one and 1.5 hours.

There are also trials for less intrusive tests using deep throat saliva and work to develop rapid test kits that can show results on the spot. These tests, which include breathalyser tests, will be deployed "where practicable", said Mr Ong.

He told the House that the virus situation in Singapore is now largely under control, which will help the country in reopening borders.

This is shown in the number of new community cases remaining stable at an average of one a day in the last two weeks, a fatality rate that is one of the lowest in the world, and how no Covid-19 patients have been admitted to intensive care in the last few weeks.

"This track record matters greatly to countries and regions seeking partners to restore aviation links," said Mr Ong.

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