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 has COVID-19.
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.