Asia Gradual lifting of circuit breaker depends on mass testing

Gradual lifting of circuit breaker depends on mass testing

Singapore in good position but will have to ramp up ability exponentially, says expert

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Singapore — A gradual lifting of the current circuit breaker measures will depend on the country’s ability to do mass testing, according to an article in straitstimes.com on Thursday (April 30).

In an interview, the director and chief scientist of Singapore biotech firm Acumen Research Laboratories (ARL), Dr Ong Siew Hwa, shared that: “We are in a good position to do mass testing.”

Singapore’s testing ability has grown from 2,900 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to 8,000 tests daily. While this might sound like a large number, it will have to be ramped up exponentially if the country wants to move forward and out of the ongoing circuit breaker measures, which have been enhanced till June 1.

As mentioned in the article, the PCR tests work by identifying the genetic material of the virus from the sample that a person gives in order to tell whether they are infected with it or not.

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ARL, known for its work in infectious disease diagnostics, managed to develop and manufacture its own Covid-19 detection tests in January, and it now can administer up to 20,000 tests per day.

The company has been making and selling the kits to different countries in the nearby regions. However, due to the increase in the number of Covid-19 positive cases in Singapore, it is now looking into working locally for the most part. It is also hoping to begin reviewing patient results within its laboratory.

And it is not only ARL that has come up with its own test kits, but a number of other companies that the Government is attempting to reach in order to achieve mass-testing capacities in the country.

Dr Ong mentioned that if mass testing is to go under way, there needs to be a joint effort among both private and public institutions. She explained: “Some smaller companies, like us, have the expertise but may not have the financial resources and strong infrastructure of large healthcare groups to scale up production and testing capabilities.”

She continued: “Hence, there needs to be a marriage between these two types of companies to allow for large-scale testing.”

She also iterated that the entire world is racing to do mass testing, which means that certain chemicals required to do analysis may end up in a global shortage, prompting Singapore-based companies to create these reagents locally.

Dr Ong stressed: “There remains a need for us to be more self-sufficient in this aspect. This, as well as the production of masks, may not be the most profitable business during peacetime. But moving forward, people should explore new business models and possible policy changes so that businesses which are traditionally unprofitable during peacetime can survive, allowing us to be more prepared for future pandemics.”

She added: “We hope to be able to contribute to this national effort — to let the science, data and technology guide our decision-making.”

Dr Ong is not the only one to think this way either. The article also mentions Professor Edison Liu, who was the head of the Genome Institute of Singapore at the time the country battled Sars. He shares his sentiments in Singapore’s abilities to battle this novel coronavirus due to being “advanced and organised” in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He stated: “I am honoured to have had a role in shaping (Singapore’s) strategic approach to pandemics in the past and know full well Singapore’s capabilities. Singapore’s small size and compact geography also is an advantage.” He also said that “viral testing will be the most important tool in the control of the pandemic until a vaccine and antivirals can be developed”.

Until a vaccine is found, the only fight the world has against Covid-19 is basically testing the public in order to quickly detect who is positive with the virus. That way, they can be kept in quarantine so that they do not continue spreading the virus to others. /TISG

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