Singapore is taking a major step in combating the COVID-19 pandemic with a large-scale plan that aims to determine the true extent of coronavirus infection in the island nation and identify weak links.
The National Centre for Infectious Diseases, which spearheads the initiative, uses serology tests to analyse whether or not a person has been infected through the detection of antibodies. One core objective of the programme is to learn how many people in the island nation had been infected but remained asymptomatic and thus were not tested.
The island nation is among the first to utilise the antibody test in a large scale, which could show whether or not the precautionary measures countries have taken – including safe distancing and wearing of masks – are indeed effective. As the test identifies asymptomatic cases, the entire project could also provide a glimpse of how underdiagnosed COVID-19 cases are.
“Rigorous research is critical to ensuring a coordinated, effective national-level outbreak response. In the case of COVID-19, of which much remains unknown, a swift response in clinical aspects as well as research is especially crucial to outpace the virus’s rapid spread,” said NCID executive director Leo Yee Sin, who also chairs the centre’s COVID-19 research workgroup in charge of the study.
Three studies are being done: one on health care workers, another on close contacts of patients, and finally, the rest of the population. NCID has so far shared the preliminary results from February to early April, using case figures prior to the most recent spike in cases this month. It shows that close contacts have the highest risk of infection.
The COVID-19 research workgroup will further expand the studies’ scope in the next months to help guide Singapore’s response measures to the pandemic, both in the short-term and the long-term.