Airport's test facility can swab 10k people each day

The increased emphasis on tests for air travellers will be supported by a corresponding increase in Singapore's Covid-19 testing capacity.
The increased emphasis on tests for air travellers will be supported by a corresponding increase in Singapore's Covid-19 testing capacity.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Changi Airport has set up a facility that allows it to swab up to 10,000 passengers a day, as it prepares for the reopening of Singapore's borders.

This will be supplemented by a dedicated Covid-19 testing laboratory at the airport in the next few months, as part of measures that Singapore is taking to reopen its borders to international travellers.

Announcing this yesterday, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said testing is the key to unlocking air travel.

With the coronavirus set to persist for some time, the emerging international practice is to test travellers before they board a plane, like how they have to go through security and bag checks, he noted in his ministerial statement.

"With high-sensitivity tests, we can filter out the virus at the border, better still before the traveller boards the plane, and significantly mitigate the risk of importing and spreading the virus in Singapore," he said.

"In other words, on a selective basis, we can open up our border, do away with border closures and SHN (stay-home notice), which is a big deterrent to travel, and replace them with tests."

Singapore has rolled out different measures - from reciprocal green lanes to unilaterally opening its borders - to boost its aviation sector, which has been battered by the pandemic.

The increased emphasis on tests for air travellers will be supported by a corresponding increase in Singapore's Covid-19 testing capacity.

Mr Ong said testing capacity is no longer a major constraint, with Singapore now testing more than 27,000 people daily using swab tests.

It is also on track to conduct more than 40,000 tests a day by next month.

This is in contrast to the 2,000 tests daily that it was able to conduct back in March.

To give such efforts a further boost, the country will tap the private sector to develop commercial testing capacity, Mr Ong added.

"At the same time, testing technology is advancing. There are promising tests with quicker turnarounds while maintaining acceptable test sensitivity," he said.

He cited how DSO National Laboratories and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research have developed a test kit that halves the time needed to process and analyse patient samples to between one and 1.5 hours.

There are also trials for less intrusive tests using deep throat saliva and work to develop rapid test kits that can show results on the spot. These tests, which include breathalyser tests, will be deployed "where practicable", said Mr Ong.

Industry group International Air Transport Association said yesterday that it welcomes Singapore's approach to use Covid-19 testing in place of quarantine periods.

It said a survey it conducted recently showed that 88 per cent of travellers were willing to take Covid-19 tests in order to travel. Conversely, 83 per cent of travellers said they would not travel if there is a chance they might be quarantined at their destination.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2020, with the headline 'Airport's test facility can swab 10k people each day'. Print Edition | Subscribe