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COVID-19 home testing in Singapore: What you need to know

COVID-19 rapid antigen home testing is here in Singapore. Here's what you need to know, including how it works, how much it costs and how you can obtain it.

With rapid antigen tests kits, Singapore residents are now able to conduct home tests for COVID-19 instead of going to a clinic. This is likely to be a requirement for travel once Singapore opens up its borders, even if you’re fully vaccinated. It will also ease the economic burden of running hundreds of testing locations around the country.

So, how do these tests work? Are they as effective as a standard PCR test? And how much do they cost?

Here’s everything Singapore residents need to know about COVID-19 rapid antigen home testing.

How does COVID home testing work?

Rapid antigen tests are essentially a screening tool that helps detect traces of COVID-19 in people without any symptoms (asymptomatic) by looking for virus proteins in the body. According to the Ministry of Health (MOH), they are quicker and easier than a standard PCR test but also less effective.

The test involves placing a saliva sample or nasal swab into a chemical solution. It provides results within around 20 minutes.

Another benefit of rapid antigen testing is that the test does not require an intrusive procedure. Unlike a clinic test, you don’t need to shove anything down your throat or up your nose.

How to conduct an ART home test: A step-by-step guide

While the test kits are typically similar, their instructions may vary depending on their designs and manufacturer. So it’s important to read the instruction sheets provided by the test kits you’re using carefully to avoid getting an inaccurate result.

For this guide, we’ll be using the SD Biosensor Antigen Rapid Test Kit as an example.

What’s in the test kit?

The SD Biosensor Antigen Rapid Test Kit consists of the following components:

  • A swab stick
  • A test device
  • A sealed extraction buffer tube
  • A nozzle cap

Swabbing procedure

Here is a simplified version of SD Biosensor Antigen Rapid Test instructions, which is largely similar to the rest of the HSA-approved test kits:

  1. Insert the soft end of the swab into the nostrils (~2cm) and rotate gently along the insides of the nasal passage approximately 10 times. Do this for both nostrils.
  2. Insert the swab into the buffer solution tube to mix. Swirl it in the fluid ~10 times while squeezing the end of the buffer tube. When you’re done, pinch the swab tip through the tube walls to remove any remaining fluid and remove the entire stick. Secure the top of the tube tightly with the nozzle cap provided. Gently tap the side of the tube to ensure that the solution is mixed well.
  3. Remove the test device from its protective package. Squeeze 5 drops of liquid from the tube into the round sample well on the test cartridge.
  4. Keep the cartridge on a flat surface and wait 15 minutes before reading the result.

How to read the results on the test cartridge:

There are 2 positions on the test cartridge: Control (C) line and the Test (T) line.

Here’s how to read the results on the test cartridge:

  • Positive: COVID-19 is detected if a line appears at BOTH the C and T positions.
  • Negative: COVID-19 is not detected if only a single line appears at the C position.
  • Invalid: If a line appears at only the T position, the test is deemed invalid. Please repeat the process on another test kit.

Here’s a video demonstration of a testing kit:

Are COVID-19 home testing kits available in Singapore?

As part of Singapore’s COVID-19 testing efforts, a package of 6 DIY antigen rapid test (ART) kits was distributed to all households between August 28 and September 27.

According to Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, the MOH will be conducting another round of COVID-19 ART kit distribution from October 22 to December 2021.

If you require more test kits, they can also be purchased from various retail pharmacies, major supermarkets, general retail shops as well as e-commerce platforms.

How much do COVID-19 home testing kits cost?

The retail prices typically range from $10 to $13 per test kit, as recommended by the Ministry of Health (MOH). However, it’ll be cheaper if you purchase the tests in boxes of 10 or more.

How do I know if a home testing kit is legit?

All COVID-19 testing kits must be approved by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) in order to be legally supplied in Singapore. To ensure test results are as accurate as possible, make sure you’re buying one of these HSA-approved test kits:

Self-test kitDistributorAuthorisation dateWhere to buyBest Price
Abbott Panbio COVID-19 Antigen Self-TestUnison Collaborative Pte Ltd31 May 2021Amazon, Lazada, Shopee, Watsons$4.90
Quidel QuickVue At-Home OTC Covid-TestQuantum Technologies Global Pte Ltd2 June 2021Amazon, Lazada, Shopee, Watsons$18.70
SD Biosensor SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Self-Test NasalRoche Diagnostics Asia Pacific Pte Ltd9 June 2021Amazon, Lazada, Shopee$35.98
SD Biosensor Standard Q COVID-19 Ag Home TestSPD Scientific Pte Ltd9 June 2021Amazon, Lazada, Shopee, Watsons$5.70
BD Veritor At-Home COVID-19 TestBecton Dickinson Holdings Pte Ltd15 June 2021BD Veritor
BD Kit for Rapid Detection of SARS-CoV-2Becton Dickinson Holdings Pte Ltd12 August 2021Amazon, Lazada$25.00
Lucira Check It COVID-19 Test KitLabgistics Asia Pte Ltd30 September 2021Lucira Check It$75.00
Abbott Panbio COVID-19 Ag Rapid Test Device (Nasal)Unison Collaborative08 October 2021Shopee, Lazada

Note: Information provided is accurate as of 21 October 2021.

Is home testing as effective as going to a clinic?

No. The chief benefit of rapid antigen testing is speed and simplicity. Unlike PCR testing, they offer a quick turnaround time (~15-30 minutes), are scalable and do not need to be administered by a medical professional or sent to a lab.

On the downside, they aren’t as successful at detecting the virus and have a higher potential of providing a “false positive” in individuals with low viral load, making it less accurate compared to PCR testing, which looks for the genetic material (RNA) of the virus.

What should you do if you test positive on an ART self-test?

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has provided a set of healthcare protocols for individuals who have tested positive on an ART kit:

Tested positive but feel well

As explained on the MOH website, if you get a positive rapid antigen test result but feel well, you will need to:

  1. Self-isolate for 72 hours and monitor your health. There’s no need to head to the hospital unless you’re feeling unwell
  2. Take another ART self-test after 72 hours
  3. Continue to isolate and rest if you’re tested positive
  4. Resume normal activities whenever your next ART is negative

Tested positive but feel unwell

If you get a positive on your ART self-test and feel unwell, you’ll need to visit a Swab And Send Home (SASH) clinic via private transport for a professional assessment to confirm the results. You’ll be advised on your next steps.

Avoid going to the hospital emergency department unless you’re experiencing serious symptoms.

Rapid antigen test vs PCR test

Need more information? Here are the main differences between PCR tests (the type you receive at clinics) and rapid antigen tests (for home testing).

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test

Molecular or nucleic acid-based tests (also known as PCR tests) are the most accurate way to test for COVID-19 and are usually carried out by specialised laboratories.

  • How it works. It detects the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material (RNA) in respiratory samples to determine if COVID-19 is present.
  • What it tests. It tests for a current COVID-19 infection (usually within 1-2 days).
  • How samples are collected. Samples are collected through a nose, throat or oral swab.
  • Turnaround time. It usually takes 1-2 days to process the results.

Antigen rapid tests (ART)

Antigen tests are rapid COVID-19 tests that produce quick results when you test for COVID-19 at doctors’ offices, pharmacies or in workplace/academic settings.

  • How it works. Samples are placed in an extraction buffer or reagent and tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2-specific virus proteins (also called antigens).
  • What it tests. It tests for a current COVID-19 infection (usually within 15 minutes).
  • How samples are collected. Samples are collected through a nose, throat or oral swab.
  • Turnaround time. It usually takes 15 minutes to an hour to process the results.

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