Routine and regular testing for Covid-19 in places like malls, schools and workplaces will be part of the new normal as Singapore shifts towards testing as part of a preventive strategy.
"Fast and easy" tests will become part of everyday life for people who appear well, to make work, social and community settings safe, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a live national address yesterday.
Testing also needs to be done faster, and more liberally and extensively to quickly isolate and ring-fence infected individuals and their contacts before the virus spreads further, he added.
Tests such as the antigen rapid test (ART), which returns results in about 30 minutes, will be used to cast a wide net in this "fast and easy" test strategy.
"We will not only test to identify infections when a new case pops up. We will also routinely and regularly test people who appear well, in normal work or social or community settings, to make these places safe," said Mr Lee.
Such extensive testing will give Singapore the confidence to resume larger-scale events or gatherings, such as religious services, football games, concerts and wedding receptions, as participants can be assured that these events are Covid-19 safe.
"Therefore, you should expect routine, large-scale, fast and simple testing to be part of our new normal," he said.
Testing also has to be conducted more widely, noted Mr Lee, given how the coronavirus has mutated to become more transmissible.
"With faster, cheaper tests, we can do routine testing at more workplaces, like offices, restaurants and shopping malls," said Mr Lee. "We can also routinely test individuals whose occupations involve close contact with many people, and could result in superspreading events."
Taxi drivers and bus captains, physiotherapists, masseurs, stage performers, sports and fitness instructors and educators are among those who could be tested regularly.
Mr Lee said this would reassure their customers, patients and students, and enable them to work safely even with Covid-19 in circulation.
The Ministry of Health said yesterday that pilot programmes using ARTs on a large scale in places like student hostels will be rolled out here progressively. It will also work with CapitaLand to run pilots at one to two selected malls for tenants and people who work there.
While less accurate than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests in diagnosing Covid-19 patients, ARTs are cheaper, faster and more convenient to administer.
They are also being piloted for use in regular surveillance testing programmes for workers in dorms, construction sites, the airport and selected marine shipyards. This is in addition to the PCR-based rostered routine testing that these workers continue to be required to take.
"This will enable us to expand the scale of testing in the wider population, allowing us to identify potential infections earlier and to trigger public health actions sooner to stem further spread," the ministry said.
MOH also encouraged all workplaces and employers to adopt regular testing using such alternative tests to keep their staff and customers safe.
Those whose rapid test returns as positive will need to take a PCR test at a Swab and Send Home Public Health Preparedness Clinic or Regional Screening Centre to confirm if they have Covid-19, said MOH. They are required to self-isolate until they receive a negative PCR test result, the ministry added.
At a virtual press conference yesterday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that about 40 special testing operations have been conducted over the past month to detect and slow down the spread of Covid-19 here.
Mr Ong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic, also revealed that an average of more than 55,000 PCR tests and ARTs per day were conducted here in the second half of last month.
ARTs have been rolled out to almost all public health preparedness clinics and all polyclinics, said Mr Ong. He added that there are plans to expand this capacity and deploy them at private general practitioner clinics as well.