Rapid tests to be used in S'pore on top of PCR tests for quicker Covid-19 contact tracing

Singapore has relied on polymerase chain reaction tests as the gold standard for Covid-19 testing, but it has its limitations. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Antigen rapid tests (ARTs) will be used for those who have acute respiratory infection (ARI) symptoms, on top of the current polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

This will allow swifter detection of possible cases, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said in a virtual multi-ministry task force press conference on Friday (May 14).

ARTs will be used for all who present themselves with ARI symptoms at the Swab and Send Home Public Health Preparedness Clinics, polyclinics, emergency departments and regional swab centres.

This ART will be done together with the PCR test that all such patients are already subjected to. Both tests will be funded by the Government for all those with ARI symptoms.

Singapore has relied on PCR tests as the gold standard for Covid-19 testing but it has its limitations, such as the longer time required to produce results, Mr Gan said.

ARTs can produce results in around 30 minutes and can be done on site. With PCRs, the swabs have to be transported to the labs, which adds to the wait of around two hours for results.

Given that ARTs have a quicker turnaround time, using ARTs ahead of PCR tests will allow the Ministry of Health (MOH) to start contact tracing and ring-fencing at an earlier stage, said Mr Gan.

Individuals who get tested on ART will also have to take a PCR test to confirm their Covid-19 status. This is to rule out any false positives and negatives due to the lower sensitivity of ART tests.

"With ARTs, we can start the contact tracing, ring-fencing... it gives us a head start. But that is premised on the fact that those with symptoms will come forward early," Mr Gan said.

"If the patients only present one or two days later, that negates the efforts of shortening the testing period... If the result is negative, you get peace of mind; if it is positive, we give you treatment as soon as possible and start contact tracing and ring-fencing to protect your loved ones."

Health Ministry's director of medical services Kenneth Mak also added that MOH is working with labs to expand testing capacity.

"They (labs) have some reserve capacity and we are working with them to ensure they have it available in case we need to ramp up testing," Associate Professor Mak said.

"We are also expanding quarantine facility to accommodate future demand," Prof Mak added.

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