Singapore must 'test a lot more' for COVID-19 before circuit breaker can be lifted: Gan Kim Yong

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong at the live virtual press conference on Tuesday (21 April).
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong at the live virtual press conference on Tuesday (21 April).

SINGAPORE — Before the partial lockdown of the country can be lifted, Singapore will need to greatly increase its capacity to test for COVID-19, in order to ensure that there is no more community transmission, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Tuesday (21 April).

“As we progress in opening up our circuit breaker measures, we will need to increase our testing capability, because we need to make sure that there's no transmission in the community, and in order to make sure... we need to test a lot more,” added Gan, who was addressing a virtual press conference by the multi-ministry taskforce on the coronavirus outbreak.

The press conference was held on the same day that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the extension of circuit breaker measures for an additional four weeks, till 1 June.

Addressing the nation, Lee also said that Singapore needs to scale up testing for COVID-19 substantially. In order to do so, the Republic is procuring test kits and equipment from other countries, as well as developing and manufacturing its own test kits.

In this regard, Gan was asked why Singapore is buying coronavirus test kits when it has the capacity to make its own. In response, the minister said it was so that the country can keep its options open with different test kits and different ways of testing

He added, “We have to bear in mind... that our testing is not just for now. For the moment, we are focusing on foreign workers in our dormitories, as well as our essential workers. Going forward, we need to think about (Singaporeans as well).”

Testing of foreign workers

Responding to questions on the country’s testing capacity and how many foreign workers have been tested for the coronavirus, director of medical services Kenneth Mak revealed that the Health Ministry has been testing as many as 3,000 workers a day.

“Just in the foreign worker setting alone, we’ve been testing anything between1,500 (and) perhaps about 2,500. The number varies from day to day, in part also because on certain days, we ramp up testing in the dormitories, including active case finding.”

Assoc Prof Mak added, “We also test across other settings, as you know, for other people who may have infection or suspect cases in the community, and therefore the number sometimes would rise as close to 2,800 or even 3,000 in a day.”

Testing has been prioritised for workers who are contributing to Singapore through the provision of essential services. “And that testing is, is to show us, not just those of us within the taskforce but also the public, that the workers that are continuing to contribute are in fact not infected and they are not at risk of transmitting infection,” said Prof Mak.

Earlier Tuesday, Singapore confirmed 1,111 new cases of COVID-19 infection, bringing the total to 9,125 – the highest recorded in South-East Asia. A majority of the new cases are linked to foreign workers living in dormitories, while 20 are Singaporeans and permanent residents.

At least 35 clusters linked to foreign worker dormitories have been identified thus far, including the largest cluster so far linked to S11 Dormitory@Punggol, as well as Sungei Tengah Lodge. Both are among the 18 dorms that have been gazetted as isolation areas.

Some 300,000 workers live in dorms in Singapore.

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