May 24, 2021 - World

Rapid COVID breath test approved by Singapore

Members of a healthcare team monitor temperature screening equipment as travelers pass thermal monitors at Changi Airport in Singapore, on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.

Members of a health care team monitor temperature screening equipment as travelers pass thermal monitors at Changi Airport, Singapore, in March 2020. Photo: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A COVID-19 breath test designed to return accurate results within one minute has received provisional authorization from Singapore health regulators Monday, per a statement from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Why it matters: An accurate test like this breathalyzer, developed by NUS startup Breathonix, could play a key role in reviving the pandemic-hit travel industry, per Bloomberg.

  • NUS Professor Freddy Boey, who led the university team working with Breathonix noted in the statement: "The pandemic is likely to go on for several years. Mass, repeated testing has to be widely adopted as a key public health strategy to support the safe reopening of economies."

The big picture: Researchers conducted three clinical trials of the BreFence Go COVID-19 breath test system from June 2020 to April this year.

  • These were held at at Singapore's National Centre for Infectious Diseases, the country's Changi Airport and also in Dubai in collaboration with United Arab Emirates scientists.
  • The breathalyzer "achieved a sensitivity of 93% and specificity of 95% in one early Singapore-based pilot study that involved 180 patients," Bloomberg notes.

How it works: The breath test was developed from Breathonix's cancer detection technology and works much like a breathalyzer that can detect alcohol.

  • Breathonix CEO Jia Zhunan, an NUS graduate, said in the statement the breath test is non-invasive.
  • "Users only need to breathe out normally into the disposable mouthpiece provided, so there will not be any discomfort," Jia said. "Cross-contamination is unlikely as the disposable mouthpiece has a one-way valve and a saliva trap to prevent inhalation or saliva from entering the machine."

What's next: The manufacturers are working with the Singapore Ministry of Health to run a "deployment trial" of their technology at a land checkpoint for incoming travelers.

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