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In Singapore, provisional nod to a 60-second covid-19 test

The covid-19 breathalyser test achieved more than 90% accuracy in a Singapore-based pilot clinical trial

A staff member demonstrates the usage of Breathonix breathalyzer test kit developed by Breathonix, a start-up by the National University of Singapore, able to detect COVID-19 within a minute. (REUTERS)

Singapore, Reuters: Singapore authorities have provisionally approved a COVID-19 breathalyser test that aims to show whether someone is infected with the coronavirus in under a minute, according to the local startup that developed the product.

Breathonix, a spin-off company from the National University of Singapore (NUS), said it is now working with the health ministry to run a deployment trial of the technology at one of the city-state's border points with Malaysia.

The breath analysis will be carried out alongside the current compulsory COVID-19 antigen rapid test or ART. ARTs produce results in around 30 minutes and can be done on site. Meanwhile, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, considered to be the gold standard for testing, take a few hours. Swabs for PCR tests also have to be transported to labs, a Press Trust of India report explains.

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The tests would be sold for between S$5-S$20 ($3.76-$15.03) each, depending on the number purchased, said a company representative. The breath test achieved more than 90% accuracy in a Singapore-based pilot clinical trial, the company said last year.

The Health Sciences Authority's website confirmed the approval, which the company said was the first such system to secure provisional authorisation in Singapore.

Residents of a public housing estate queue up for their mandatory COVID-19 swab tests after some residents were tested positive for the virus, in Singapore May 21, 2021.
Residents of a public housing estate queue up for their mandatory COVID-19 swab tests after some residents were tested positive for the virus, in Singapore May 21, 2021. (REUTERS)

The system uses disposable mouthpieces and is designed to ensure there is no cross-contamination. After blowing into the device, the technology assesses the chemical compounds of the breath to determine whether or not a person is infected.

Any individual screened as positive will need to undergo a confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 swab test, the company said.

Breathonix said it is in discussion with several local and overseas organisations to use the system, citing strong commercial interest. Other countries, including Indonesia and the Netherlands, have rolled out similar breath tests.

According to the Press Trust of India report, Breathonix was founded by three NUS graduates -- Dr Jia Zhunan, Du Fang and Wayne Wee -- along with India-born Professor T Venky Venkatesan. It is supported by the NUS Graduate Research Innovation Programme, a scheme that encourages talented NUS graduate students and research staff to establish and run high potential start-ups based on deep technologies.

After recording almost zero or single-digit daily coronavirus tallies locally for months, Singapore has seen the number of infections grow recently and include variants such as more contagious strains first detected in India.

Singapore, which reported 24 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases on Monday, has re-imposed for a month the toughest restrictions on social gatherings since exiting a lockdown last year in a bid to contain the outbreak.

(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan and Chen Lin in Singapore; Editing by Ed Davies for Reuters)

With inputs from Reuters and PTI

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