All patients 13 and above with ARI to be tested
Expanded testing aimed at early detection of virus cases that are expected to rise during phase two
From July 1, all patients aged 13 and above who have symptoms of acute respiratory infection (ARI) will be tested for Covid-19, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.
This is in anticipation of a rise in the number of cases as more activities resume and the frequency of close contacts goes up.
Mr Gan, co-chair of the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, said: "We expect the number of cases to go up probably one or two weeks after the initial opening for phase two.
"We must therefore get ready to quickly detect (and) isolate these cases to prevent large clusters from forming. To do so, we will strategically test more as we ramp up our testing capacity, so that we can pick up cases faster."
At present, testing is conducted only for patients aged 45 and above diagnosed with ARI .
For children aged 12 and below diagnosed with ARI, doctors will assess if a test is required .
An ARI refers to any infection within a group of illnesses that affects the sinus, nose, throat or lungs, regardless of whether one has a fever. A sore throat, cough or runny nose would fall under this category.
As part of Singapore's active surveillance testing, those deemed vulnerable or to have higher risk of exposure to Covid-19 - such as staff and residents of residential homes serving the elderly and all pre-school staff - have been tested.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it also plans to test front-line staff interacting with travellers as Singapore reopens its borders, as well as those living in communal facilities and shelters.
"To meet the anticipated increase in the number of individuals being tested, the Health Promotion Board will be opening more regional screening centres in the coming weeks," MOH added.
About 11,000 to 12,000 tests are conducted daily now.
Giving an update on the coronavirus situation in the dormitories, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force, said about 120,000 migrant workers have recovered or tested negative for the disease.
By the end of next month, most of the workers in the dormitories would be completely cleared and able to resume work, he added.
Despite the Covid-19 situation stabilising, Singapore will not be moving down from Dorscon Orange for a long while yet, said Mr Wong.
Noting that other countries who have exited from lockdowns still recognise that the virus has not been eradicated, he said: "We really need to understand, the fight is far from over. There is still a long way more to go."
MOH will also be providing support for Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs), such as a one-off Covid-19 grant of $10,000 to each PHPC.
An assurance grant will be provided to eligible PHPCs whose doctors contract the disease in the course of their work.
The PHPC will receive $500 a day for the duration of the doctor's recovery or quarantine period to hire a locum or cover the clinic for loss in revenue.
MOH will also provide a start-up grant of $1,200 to PHPCs under the Swab and Send Home Programme to help defray their costs.
Medical experts have welcomed the expanded testing.
Dr Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said while expanding the testing of those with ARI to almost all age groups may lead to a rise in the number of cases in the short term, it should help to control the pandemic.
He said: "Though most people with an ARI will not have the disease, some will. The more of these infections we can identify at an early stage, the fewer people they will be able to infect."
Agreeing, infectious disease expert Leong Hoe Nam said: "The number of cases will increase but that's fine. You pay the penalty now and you reap the reward later."
FOR MORE, READ THE STRAITS TIMES