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Singapore approves Covid breath test that gives immediate result

Bloomberg | Updated on May 24, 2021

Breathonix achieves 93-95% sensitivity

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 (NUS) 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 are compared by machine learning software against the sort of breath signature that would be expected from someone who is Covid-positive.

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 per cent and specificity of 95 per cent in one early Singapore-based pilot study that involved 180 patients.

Published on May 24, 2021

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