On 29 August, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced in a press release that the Government will be expanding the COVID-19 testing regime to “identified community groups” in coming weeks.
In the statement, the MOH laid out its plan to provide testing to community groups such as taxi and Private Hire Car (PHC) drivers, food delivery personnel, key vendors servicing foreign worker dormitories, as well as stallholders at hawker centres, markets and similar F&B establishments like coffee shops.
The Ministry proceeded to reveal that the Government will bear the costs of the tests and that the individuals in the aforementioned community groups were “encouraged” to get themselves tested.
“We strongly encourage individuals in the identified community groups to come forward and utilise the tests offered. The costs of the tests will be fully borne by the government.”
The dean from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, Professor Teo Yik Ying, opined that the MOH’s move to expand the coronavirus testing would be a “good strategy” to catch asymptomatic infections.
According to The Straits Times, Prof Teo expressed that making the test mandatory would not be an “efficient way” of using Singapore’s testing capability. He elaborated that the low rate of community transmissions here would possibly result in a vast majority testing negative for COVID-19.
“Based on the present situation of community spread in Singapore, where our case counts are actually very low, making this scheme a mandatory (one) will mean (diverting) tens of thousands of tests to screen these people, where the vast majority will actually be negative.”
“Going directly to mandatory testing will not be an efficient use of our testing capability.”
He supported his view by suggesting that the voluntary scheme may be able to grasp the asymptomatic infections that were missed out in the community, especially among the “high touchpoint” groups.
By carrying out voluntary testing and believing that if the COVID-19 prevalence in the community turned out to not be low, the public health expert would suggest making tests mandatory.
“If we realise the prevalence is actually not low, then this will be a signal to make the testing more systematic, perhaps by making it mandatory.”
Prof Teo proceeded to point out that since Singapore is a smaller country as compared to others like Hong Kong, it would allow the coordination of screening to be done easier.
“Singapore is smaller, and this makes it easier to coordinate our screening. Our community transmission rates are also very low, and this makes a voluntary scheme much more relevant to understand the extent of asymptomatic infections in the community.”