Singapore expands COVID-19 testing capacity
In a statement released on 18th June 2020, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced its intentions to increase testing capacity to 40,000 tests per day. To achieve this new milestone, several actions have been put into place.
Testing of close contacts
Previously, MOH would quarantine only the close contacts of confirmed cases. Now, they will test all of them before the start of quarantine.If anyone tests positive, they will start contract tracing again based on this person’s activity map. In this way, MOH hope to broaden the list of suspect cases, and isolate them early to stop the virus from spreading.
Testing all individuals who are diagnosed with acute respiratory infection (ARI) at first presentation to a doctor
There is clinical and scientific evidence to show that a person is most infectious right before, and immediately after, the start of symptoms. Testing individuals diagnosed with ARI will allow the MOH to detect infected individuals early to quickly contain further spread. Since the start of June, they have done this for selected groups including seniors 65 years old and above, healthcare workers, and staff and older students at educational institutions. With more individuals returning to workplaces, testing will be extended to all individuals aged 45 and above who are diagnosed with ARI from late in the week commencing 22 June 2020, as the risks of severe COVID-19 infection increases from age 45. This will progressively be extended to more groups. MOH encourages all individuals with respiratory symptoms to see a doctor immediately so that they can be tested if necessary. COVID-19 tests ordered by the doctors at polyclinics and Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs) are fully subsidised.
More active surveillance testing in the community
In May, the Ministry completed testing of all staff and residents of the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social and Family Development residential homes, and all preschool and early intervention staff before the resumption of full preschool services. They have also started regular testing of workers returning to work in the construction, marine and process sectors, and frontline workers supporting COVID-19 operations. MOH will continue to monitor the situation, and based on their assessment of risks, will progressively expand screening tests to more groups in the community.
Setting up more Regional Screening Centres (RSC)
To make testing more convenient, more Regional Screening Centres (RSC) will be set up to support the needs of the population. This will help to bring testing services closer to people, so that individuals with ARI, or those requiring regular routine testing because they work in higher-risk sectors, can gain access to such services conveniently.
Once someone tests positive for COVID-19, the work of contact tracing begins. MOH action activity mapping and identify close contacts so as to ring-fence and contain any further spread of the virus. Technology is a key enabler to allow meticulous contact tracing in a fast and efficient manner. Digital tools like SafeEntry and TraceTogether help augment the manual contact tracing process and enable the Ministry to re-open the economy and workplaces confidently. There are currently 2 million users of the TraceTogether app in Singapore. To ensure everyone benefits from the TraceTogether Programme, MOH will be providing TraceTogether Tokens to those who do not have smartphones or the requisite smartphones for the app to work properly. These will be rolled out from end June onwards, starting with the elderly and then progressively to the rest of the population.