More stringent Covid-19 testing regime for flight crew, front-line workers at S'pore's borders

Flight crew serving routes from Omicron-affected places will have to take three PCR tests when they return. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Airport and other border front-line workers who may have come into contact with travellers from places affected by the Omicron variant will have to undergo the Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test for their weekly tests - instead of antigen rapid tests (ARTs) - from Thursday (Dec 2).

Meanwhile, flight crew serving routes from such places will have to take three PCR tests when they return. These tests will comprise an on-arrival test, a test three days after arrival, and another test on the seventh day.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Tuesday that the PCR-based tests will facilitate the detection of the Omicron variant, which has spread rapidly worldwide.

Other airport and border front-line workers will continue with rostered routine testing using ART kits. All workers, including those who have recovered from Covid-19, are required to undergo the regular testing regime.

"As an added precaution, such individuals presenting a positive ART will have to go for a confirmatory PCR test," said MOH.

"This will allow us to better detect potential cases infected with the Omicron variant at our border in a timely manner."

PCR tests are the gold standard for Covid-19 testing but they have their limitations, such as the longer time required to produce results.

ARTs can produce results in around 30 minutes and can be done on site.

Singapore's director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, said at the Covid-19 task force press conference on Tuesday that as the country is yet to have a case of proven Omicron infection, the authorities are focusing attention on the borders.

Beyond the possibility of travellers bringing the Omicron variant into Singapore, front-line workers at the borders are the next area of concern, he said.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the Covid-19 task force, said that the testing of front-line workers is part of several precautions Singapore will implement at the borders in response to the Omicron variant.

Other measures include putting in place more stringent testing requirements for arriving travellers.

Mr Wong noted that there are a range of options in terms of border measures.

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On one end of the spectrum, Singapore can continue with the status quo and leave things unchanged. On the other end of the spectrum, it can shut the borders and stop travel altogether.

"Of course, at this juncture, we should not under- or overreact or rush to any of these extremes," said Mr Wong.

"In fact, there are many options in the middle of the spectrum, so we should judge the situation carefully and develop our responses based on data and science, as we have been doing throughout this pandemic."

Meanwhile, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, who also co-chairs the multi-ministry Covid-19 task force, said that a PCR test supplied by American firm ThermoFisher will be prioritised for use on travellers.

The test kit can indicate if a person is likely to be infected with the Omicron variant due to a particular difference in gene dropout. This means that one of the target genes will not be detected in the PCR test in the case of an infection with the Omicron variant.

Mr Ong said: "It is not foolproof, but the indicative result allows us to act faster and differentiate the healthcare protocols between the two kinds of infections."

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