Singapore approves Covid breath test with one-minute result


A staff member demonstrates the usage of Breathonix breathalyser test kit that works much like a standard breathalyser 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 are compared by machine-learning software to the sort of breath signature expected from someone who’s Covid-positive. — Reuters

A breath test designed to detect Covid-19 and give accurate results within one 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 breathalyser 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 to the sort of breath signature expected from someone who’s Covid-positive.

Accurate tests at that speed could be key to unlocking a travel sector that’s crucial for Singapore’s economy but has slowed to a crawl during the pandemic. Even as the US 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 breathalysers “may potentially facilitate opening the borders in the longer run, but of course that’s up to the ministry’s assessment”, said Du Fang, the company’s chief operating officer. Travellers from countries defined as low-risk “can just simply do a breath test, and then they can easily enter into Singapore and we can open the borders to those green countries sooner”.

Trial run

Singapore will use the breathalysers in a deployment trial to screen some incoming travellers from Malaysia, 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 breathalysers.

The tests will sell for Sg$5 (RM15.60) to Sg$20 (RM62.30) each, Du Fang said.

The Breathonix test so far has undergone two clinical trials 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. – Bloomberg

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