Coronavirus: Travellers with symptoms face quick test on arrival in Singapore

Travellers entering Singapore will undergo temperature screening at checkpoints. Those with fever or respiratory symptoms will then be referred to a health screening station, where they may be asked to do a nasal swab test for the coronavirus.
Even travellers not considered clinical suspect cases may be asked to undergo a Covid-19 swab test.
Even travellers not considered clinical suspect cases may be asked to undergo a Covid-19 swab test.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Travellers to Singapore who have a fever or display signs of respiratory illness may need to undergo a nasal swab test for the coronavirus at all air, land and sea checkpoints, even if they do not meet the clinical definition of being suspect cases.

The samples - one from each nostril - will be couriered to the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) laboratory at Pasir Panjang Scanning Station as soon as they have been collected.

The lab, which will be staffed round the clock by a team of about 20 scientists, will test the sample. It can test up to 200 samples a day.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Home Affairs gave reporters a look at how new precautionary testing measures, which have been deployed at all checkpoints, will be implemented. They will apply to those entering Singapore, but not those who are transiting here.

When they arrive, travellers go through a temperature screening area, which is manned by healthcare assistants. Such screening areas have been progressively set up since January.

Those who have a fever or other symptoms of respiratory illness will be referred to a health screening station at the checkpoints, where they will be assessed by nurses or a doctor, and they may be asked about their travel history.

Anyone considered a clinical suspect - suffering from pneumonia or severe respiratory infection with breathlessness who has visited areas severely hit by the virus over the past 14 days before the onset of symptoms - will be referred to a hospital.

Even those not considered clinical suspect cases may be asked to undergo a Covid-19 swab test.

Once the swab test has been completed, the traveller can immediately carry on with his journey but is advised to minimise contact with others. He will be required to leave his contact details and will be informed of his test results. Those with positive results will be sent to hospital in an ambulance.

A Ministry of Health spokesman said that if someone leaves Singapore before receiving positive test results, MOH will obtain information on where he has travelled to.

"As per World Health Organisation regulations, MOH is obliged to inform relevant counterparts in other countries, who will commence contact tracing according to their jurisdiction."

The Covid-19 test kit deployed at all checkpoints is the result of a collaboration between HTX and Veredus Laboratories, a Singapore-based biotech firm, HTX said.

Development of the test kit started in January and was completed in about three weeks, said Ms May Ong, director of HTX's Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Centre of Expertise. It has an accuracy of more than 99 per cent, and is able to test for a result in three hours.

A scientist showing how a sample is extracted for the coronavirus test in a laboratory in Pasir Panjang. Since yesterday, travellers with a fever or respiratory illness symptoms may be required to undergo a swab test. A new test kit used at checkpoin
A scientist showing how a sample is extracted for the coronavirus test in a laboratory in Pasir Panjang. Since yesterday, travellers with a fever or respiratory illness symptoms may be required to undergo a swab test. A new test kit used at checkpoints can complete screening in three hours, compared with the six to 10 hours needed in some other tests used in hospitals. This is because hospitals also test for the severity of the virus. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

"This kit has a different technological platform as compared with what is typically used in hospitals. This is meant to be a rapid screening process, as the responsibility of my team is to safeguard the border... so, we will typically use a faster method," said Ms Ong.

 
 
 

Other Covid-19 tests in hos-pitals may take six to 10 hours. This is because hospitals test not just for the presence of the virus, but also its severity.

As of noon yesterday, the HTX lab had conducted one test since the new measure kicked in on Wednesday night. It was not able to share details of the test results.

A new ban on the entry or transit in Singapore of travellers who have been to northern Italy, South Korea and Iran also kicked in at 11.59pm on Wednesday. As of 3pm yesterday, entry had been refused to one traveller with recent travel history to South Korea and two travellers with recent travel history to northern Italy.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2020, with the headline 'Quick test for travellers with symptoms on arrival in S'pore'. Subscribe