S'pore's Covid-19 labs running at over 80% capacity amid surge; up to 70,000 tests processed daily

Parkway Laboratories staff processing Covid-19 swabs on May 21, 2021.
Parkway Laboratories staff processing Covid-19 swabs on May 21, 2021.PHOTO: PARKWAY LABORATORIES

SINGAPORE - Laboratories in Singapore are operating at over 80 per cent capacity to meet the recent demand for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests amid the surge in Covid-19 testing.

As at May 25, there are 27 laboratories that conduct Covid-19 tests in Singapore and can do up to 70,000 tests daily, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said.

They support the Covid-19 PCR testing requirements in the hospitals, clinics, regional screening centres (RSCs), dormitories and all testing operations mounted for active case finding, and screening purposes. Many also support Covid-19 serological testing, which looks for antibodies in a blood sample to determine if it is a past infection.

In a reply to queries from The Straits Times, MOH said: "The utilisation of total lab capacity has significantly increased as well, from about 30-40 per cent prior to the recent clusters, to over 80 per cent in early May 2021."

The ministry said the Government has been steadily building up the national capacity to conduct tests for Covid-19.

"From an average of 2,900 polymerase chain reaction tests per day in early April 2020, we have ramped up our lab capacity to conduct between 60,000 and 70,000 tests per day from January 2021 onwards."

Private labs ST reached out to said the surge in demand for swab tests could have led to results reaching patients later than the usual 24 hours.

MOH said those swabbed as part of rostered routine testing in the community do not need to self-isolate while waiting for their PCR test result.

However, those who present with symptoms of acute respiratory infection (ARI) to medical clinics, polyclinics, emergency departments or are referred to designated RSCs are required to take both the antigen rapid test (ART) and PCR swabs.

"These individuals will be issued with at least a three-day medical certificate (MC) and be required by law to stay home for the duration of their MC, or until they receive a negative Covid-19 swab test result, whichever is sooner.

"During the period of their MC, they should only leave their home to seek medical attention if necessary," added the ministry.

It added that individuals will generally receive their test result within 24 hours of their swabs, "but this may be longer based on lab capacity and testing demands".

"We work with labs to prioritise the result turnaround times for those who test positive for ART or have ARI symptoms, as well as those tested as part of special testing operations," MOH said, adding those who receive a positive PCR test result will be isolated and sent to appropriate care facilities.