Retail mall, supermarket staff, and more to be included in Employer Supervised Self-Swab scheme; mandatory testing now weekly instead of fortnightly

Workers in more sectors will now have to undergo mandatory fast and easy rostered routine testing.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Singapore will expand its testing regime more aggressively to keep the Covid-19 situation under control, as the number of new infections last week doubled to more than 1,200 - up from around 600 cases the week before.

Announcing a range of measures on Monday (Sept 6), Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said workers in more sectors will now have to undergo mandatory fast and easy rostered routine testing.

Previously, only workers in higher-risk settings such as food and beverage outlets, personal care services, and gym and fitness studios needed to undergo such tests.

Moving forward, retail mall workers, supermarket staff, last-mile delivery personnel - including parcel and food delivery workers - as well as public and private transport workers such as taxi drivers, private-hire car drivers and all public transport front-line staff, will have to do so as well.

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The frequency of such mandatory testing will also be increased, from once a fortnight to once weekly, said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force handling the Covid-19 situation in Singapore.

These tests will continue to be administered primarily through the Employer Supervised Self-Swab scheme. The Government will subsidise the cost of all tests under this enhanced surveillance regime, for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, until the end of this year, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said.

More details on the enhanced surveillance regime will be released at a later date, MOH said.

The Government will also issue health risk warnings (HRW) and health risk alerts (HRA) to individuals who may have been exposed once a cluster is identified, in addition to ring-fencing close contacts of infected cases. Such warnings and alerts are not quarantine orders.

But individuals who receive a health risk warning will be required by law to get a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result for their first test. They will also be required to do an antigen rapid test (ART) thereafter, and a PCR test on the 14th day.

Individuals who receive a health risk alert are not subject to actions required by the law, but are strongly encouraged to go for a PCR test as soon as possible.

For both HRW and HRA, individuals should reduce their social interactions for 14 days, said MOH.

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"With all these measures, we hope that we can help to slow down transmission without having to go back to (a state of) heightened alert, or a circuit breaker," Mr Wong told reporters in an interview at The Treasury.

MOH said Singapore's high vaccination coverage has allowed the country to keep the rate of severe illnesses and deaths low among vaccinated individuals. But unvaccinated individuals remain susceptible - over the last 28 days, 6.7 per cent of unvaccinated cases fell severely ill or died, it noted.

Meanwhile, the number of new infection cases in the community has almost doubled to more than 1,200 cases in the week ending on Sunday (Sept 5), up from around 600 cases in the week before.

To expand testing, the Government will also distribute ART kits to companies to facilitate weekly testing of their staff over a two-month period. Each firm will get eight ART kits per employee.

"With these kits, we expect all companies to initiate weekly testing for their onsite staff," said MOH.

While these tests can be administered by individuals at home or at the work premises, MOH said, employers should put in place a process to ensure that the tests are done properly, and report the results to respective government agencies.

More details on this will be made available at a later date.

This article was first published in The Straits TimesPermission required for reproduction.