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Singapore approves Covid breath test that gives immediate result

The test, developed by NUS spin-off startup Breathonix, works much like a standard breathalyzer test that police might use to see if an erratic driver is drunk.

By: Bloomberg |
May 24, 2021 10:26:24 am
People wearing face masks cross a road amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore May 14, 2021. (Reuters)

A breath test designed to detect Covid-19 and give accurate results within a minute has been approved for use in Singapore, the National University of Singapore said in a statement.

The test, developed by NUS spin-off startup Breathonix, works much like a standard breathalyzer test that police might use to see if an erratic driver is drunk. A person blows into a one-way valve mouthpiece, and compounds in the person’s breath — think of it as a breath signature — are compared by machine learning software against the sort of breath signature that would be expected from someone who’s Covid-positive.

Singapore will screen incoming travelers from Malaysia at the Tuas Checkpoint on the western side of the island in a deployment trial of the breathalyzers, the Straits Times reported. Anyone who tests positive in the breath test would be screened in a confirmatory PCR swab test. Singapore currently screens entrants with antigen rapid tests, which would continue alongside the breathalyzers.

Accurate tests at speed could be key to helping unlock a travel sector that has slowed to a crawl during the pandemic. Even as the U.S. and parts of Europe begin to reopen with higher viral caseloads, Singapore and other “Covid-Zero” countries in Asia have been hesitant to open borders and have cracked down harshly on any sign of flare-ups.

The Breathonix test has so far undergone three clinical trials, two in Singapore and another in Dubai. It achieved a sensitivity of 93% and specificity of 95% in one early Singapore-based pilot study that involved 180 patients.

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