Covid-19 test lab at Changi Airport slated to open in the first quarter of 2021: Ong Ye Kung

The lab at Changi Airport will use the Resolute 2.0 polymerase chain reaction test kit.
The lab at Changi Airport will use the Resolute 2.0 polymerase chain reaction test kit.PHOTOS: ST FILE, A*STAR/DSO NATIONAL LABORATORIES

SINGAPORE - A new Covid-19 testing lab at Changi Airport is slated to open in the first quarter of 2021, and it will use a test kit that can shorten the time needed for results from 2.5 hours to 1.5 hours.

The wait may be even shorter for travellers from countries deemed to have lower risks of Covid-19 infection, as the authorities study the feasibility of introducing less sensitive but quicker tests, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Thursday (Oct 29).

Changi Airport can currently test up to 10,000 samples a day by tapping external labs, and can double this capacity if required.

Mr Ong told The Straits Times that speeding up the Covid-19 testing process was a key consideration for setting up the new lab. "You don't have to transport the samples from Changi to the lab, which saves a lot of time."

"Every minute counts in terms of airport operations."

The facility will use the Resolute 2.0 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kit that was jointly developed by DSO National Laboratories and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

PCR test kits are the gold standard in terms of accuracy for Covid-19 tests, but they are more costly and take slightly longer to process than other options such as antigen rapid tests or breathalyser tests.

On whether other options could be used to test travellers, Mr Ong said: "As long as it is high enough in terms of sensitivity, it works.

"At some point, for safer countries, it could be (testing by) breathalyser... It is already very unlikely that travellers (from these countries are infected), so this is just an added precaution."

But he also acknowledged that a breathalyser test was not as accurate as PCR tests, for example, and would thus not be applicable for use for all travellers.

Asked if the Government would look into subsidising the cost of Covid-19 testing for travellers to help revive passenger traffic, Mr Ong said: "Aviation has always been a commercial operation... For someone who chooses to travel, I think it is fair to pay for the test."