The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is trialling less-invasive methods of collecting samples for Covid-19 testing and tests with rapid results as more training resumes.
Self-administered saliva collection and nasal swabs that are less uncomfortable as they reach only partially up the nose are among the methods being trialled in active SAF units, along with antigen rapid tests.
Antigen rapid tests are also being trialled at mass events such as conferences. Participants must register a negative result before being admitted.
Such tests are suited for large-scale events, where faster turnaround is critical. These include basic military training graduation parades, which are currently held without invited guests.
From this month, all operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) from the army, as well as their regular trainers, have to undergo weekly polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests through the usual nasal swabs during in-camp training (ICT).
Senior Minister of State for Defence Zaqy Mohamad said yesterday that making use of new tests as they become available provides NSmen with the assurance that the SAF is doing its utmost to keep training safe, while allowing them to achieve training objectives.
"We want to create that safe atmosphere and environment for our troops to train. But I think what's more important is that if we're able to provide that safe environment, we're able to train at a much larger scale," he said, when responding to a question on weekly routine testing by the SAF.
He added that there is no timeline yet for implementing the less-invasive methods and rapid tests as different methods may require different considerations.
Mr Zaqy was speaking to reporters after a visit to the Infantry Training Institute at Jurong Camp II, where he met NSmen from the 791st Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (791 SIR).
Antigen rapid tests can give results more quickly, are cheaper and are easier to administer than PCR tests, although the latter are more accurate and remain the gold standard for confirming whether a person has Covid-19.
About 300 full-time national servicemen and regulars have taken antigen rapid tests since last month. About 400 have undergone the saliva collection trial.
The trial for oropharyngeal or mid-turbinate swabbing, in which a sample is taken from the back of the throat or partially up the nose, is in the pipeline.
When asked about the use of antigen rapid tests, Mr Zaqy said military graduation ceremonies or passing out parades could be possible events for applying the tests.
"How far, how soon, I think it's still something we are evaluating - these trials are under way... But before we roll out (a test), I think we have to make sure that it is effective and meets our purposes."
Mr Zaqy disclosed that the SAF has not had any Covid-19 infection during ICT so far.
It will continue to resume more of such training as testing capacity improves, he said, adding that the number of ICTs is now at about 50 per cent of the usual level.
About 600 NSmen from 791 SIR took the routine nasal swab test as they booked into camp for their two-week training which began on Monday.
Corporal First Class (NS) R. Hariprasath said that when he was first called up, he was a little worried about safety. But he felt reassured after seeing the measures in place.
"I've never tried the newer collection methods, but I think they are good ideas because the processes are easier than having to be swabbed through the nose," said the 25-year-old logistics executive.