Nationwide testing strategy to better detect unlinked coronavirus cases
A nationwide Covid-19 testing strategy is being developed, even as Singapore scales up its testing capacity, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.
This will involve more extensive community surveillance to better detect any unlinked cases in the community, he said in a ministerial statement on the virus in Parliament yesterday.
"We will also prioritise the testing of higher-risk and more vulnerable groups, like residents and staff of nursing homes and welfare homes, as well as healthcare workers that have high touch-points with the community.
"And then, we will progressively expand testing to the rest of the essential workforce and the broader community, in line with the expansion of our testing capacity."
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said, in response to Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), that there have been several constraints on Singapore's testing capacity that prevented more widespread testing earlier on.
Mr Gan said: "We will need to look at how we can source for more test kits, both manufacturing locally as well as procuring internationally, to allow us to have more capacity to do so.
"At the same time, we are also looking at materials (required) for the testing, such as the reagents that will be needed for the extraction of the RNA materials."
He said Singapore is trying its best to scale up its testing capacity from the current 8,000 tests daily to about 40,000 as quickly as possible, but also noted that there is a global shortage of test kits and the materials required to conduct the tests.
WP Non-constituency MP Leon Perera asked if the Health Ministry is looking into testing sewage for the coronavirus as the authorities in Switzerland and Australia are doing.
He also asked when the ministry expects a vaccine to be ready.
In response, Mr Gan said trials are being conducted here to see if the virus can be detected in sewage.
But there are challenges in doing so given that any viruses in sewage collected from a large population would be "significantly diluted".
On the search for a vaccine, Mr Gan said it is "still very early days" even though some progress has been made.
Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) asked what can be done to help patients who are clinically well but cannot be discharged as they continue to test positive.
Mr Gan said one limitation of the test kits is that they cannot determine if a positive sample contains viable viruses or not.
He said some patients may continue to test positive for months despite not being infectious as they may only be carrying virus "fragments" that are no longer viable.