Singapore to enhance COVID-19 testing protocols for all arrivals

SINGAPORE (CNA) – Singapore will enhance its COVID-19 testing protocols for all air arrivals as part of tighter measures to deal with the Omicron variant.

Among the measures, air travellers arriving in Singapore on the vaccinated travel lanes (VTL) from 11.59pm tomorrow must take additional antigen rapid tests (ART) to reduce the importation of the new Omicron coronavirus variant and allow prompt detection and isolation of cases who might have it.

These travellers must undergo supervised self-administered ARTs at a quick test centre on Days 3 and 7 of their arrival, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a news release yesterday.

Currently, VTL travellers only need to take an on-arrival polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and self-isolate until they get a negative result.

This comes as some countries have shut borders or tightened restrictions on travellers to contain the Omicron variant, which could potentially be more dangerous than the current dominant Delta variant.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday that Singapore will freeze new VTL openings amid “major uncertainty” brought by the Omicron variant, although he acknowledged that cases with the variant could “sporadically” slip into the country as authorities continue to learn about it.

Passengers disembark from Singapore Airlines aircraft after it landed in Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang. PHOTO: AFP

This includes whether the variant is more infectious or harmful than others, its incubation and infectious period, whether ART and other tests can detect it, and how well vaccines work against it, Ong said at a COVID-19 multi-ministerial task force press conference.

“For domestic healthcare protocols, we can use the Thermo Fisher PCR to preliminary identify Omicron infections and differentiate the follow-up actions,” Ong added.

“But for border policies, there is no basis for us to do so. So, this is where we need to judge very carefully and be prepared to adjust our border measures along the way.”

COVID-19 multi-ministerial task force co-chair Gan Kim Yong said the land VTL with Malaysia will not be subjected to the additional ART tests as it is currently restricted to citizens, permanent residents and long-term passholders of either country.

“With Malaysia, we have always taken a risk management approach,” he said, pointing to how authorities implemented additional on-arrival ART tests for those entering Singapore on the land VTL once the potential threat of the Omicron variant became clear.

“So, there are various measures in place to mitigate the risk.”