Antigen rapid tests piloted for quicker detection of Covid-19 infection among migrant workers

SINGAPORE – To enable earlier detection and isolation of asymptomatic Covid-19 cases among migrant workers, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) have started piloting the use of antigen rapid tests, which can produce results within half an hour.

The effort complements the existing rostered fortnightly routine testing (RRT) of workers staying in dormitories, which has helped pick up new infections among them.

Under the RRT, workers are already tested every 14 days using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. It takes at least a day for the PCR results to come back.

The pilot programme comes as agencies work out ways to incorporate fast testing into Singapore’s Covid-19 response, including having such rapid tests available at certain mass events in the coming months.

On Sunday (Oct 25), about 500 workers residing at SCM Tuas Lodge dormitory were put through the antigen rapid test under the pilot.

The pilot, which was started on Oct 18, will involve some 1,000 workers staying there. It will run for a period of four weeks before its effectiveness and suitability to be incorporated into the RRT is assessed.

The antigen rapid test will be used as an additional test on the seventh day of the 14-day RRT cycle, to complement the PCR tests on the 14th day. This means that workers will be tested every seven days during the pilot.

Results from the antigen rapid tests are out within 30 minutes. A nasal swab is used to take a sample from the lower part of the nose.

Such tests, however, are less accurate than PCR tests, which are currently used to definitively confirm coronavirus cases and remain the most accurate tests available today.

Migrant workers who test positive can be isolated immediately and sent to a medical facility for a confirmatory PCR test, said MOM.

It added that fewer close contacts will need to be quarantined, reducing the risk of transmission and minimising work disruptions for workers and employers.

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Last Tuesday, MOH said that pre-event testing for Covid-19 will be a requirement at certain mass events in the months ahead.

Participants will have to take an antigen rapid test and obtain a negative result before they can gain entry, under a new pilot programme meant to help Singapore resume more activities safely.

These tests can be conducted at the event venue or at an off-site testing facility.

Those who test positive must self-isolate and go for a PCR confirmatory swab. They cannot leave their place of isolation until a negative result is received.

The large-scale events where rapid testing will take place will include business-to-business events, wedding receptions, live performances and sports events.

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