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.

The breathalyzers “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. Travelers 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.”

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 tests will sell for S$5 ($3.80) to S$20 each, Du Fang said.

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.

Editor’s Note: Derek Wallbank’s article was published in Bloomberg on 24th May 2021.

#RobrenReview: 9 | 10

Published: 5th August 2021.


1  Minute Breathalyzer Test: The Way Forward to Borders Opening, Travelling, and Living with Covid-19 Endemic