SINGAPORE – There are currently no plans to test old samples from patients who had pneumonia before January, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Sunday (24 May).
In response to media queries by Yahoo News Singapore, the ministry said its testing strategy is “focused on active COVID-19 case finding to identify, treat and isolate infected individuals early to prevent further spread of the disease”.
The comment by the MOH comes amid a warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) after a sample from a pneumonia patient treated in France last December – prior to the country’s first reported COVID-19 cases – was later confirmed to have the coronavirus following retesting.
Singapore saw its first case on 23 January.
The MOH added that since February, it has been testing all individuals whose cause of death was determined to be pneumonia, or were suspected to have died from COVID-19 complications, for the infection, if they had not been previously tested.
“Testing is also conducted as a means of general surveillance in groups at higher risk of contracting or transmitting the disease and enables us to detect signs of community spread and pick up unlinked cases,” the MOH said.
This includes tests for pre-school staff, which began on 15 May– some 15,300 have tested negative as of Sunday.
Tests for groups
Separately, testing for all 16,000 residents across 80 nursing homes here is expected to be completed by early next month. Testing for all 9,000 staff across the nursing homes have been completed, as well as that for some 4,600 staff and residents from other residential homes.
Most results have come back negative.
Tests will also be conducted for staff of non-residential care services: designated eldercare centres and day hospices, kidney dialysis centres, and home care providers.
“We will continue to monitor the situation and review our testing strategy as needed,” said the ministry.
Earlier this month, the WHO had urged countries to investigate any other early suspicious cases, following a report that the novel coronavirus had emerged in December in France, sooner than previously thought.
Chinese authorities had first reported to the WHO about cases of COVID-19 on 31 December. COVID-19 was generally not believed to have spread to Europe until January.
“This gives a whole new picture on everything,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a UN briefing in Geneva, referring to the French report.
A French hospital which retested old samples from pneumonia patients discovered that it treated a man who had COVID-19 as early as 27 December, nearly a month before the French government confirmed its first cases.
The WHO spokesperson said the man was likely connected to a person who travelled from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus had originated, before the virus had been identified or reported by China.
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