Singapore has approved a breath test designed to detect COVID-19 and give accurate results within a minute, 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, which can be considered as a breath signature, are compared by machine learning software against the sort of breath signature that would be expected from someone who’s COVID-19-positive. The device uses a disposable mouthpiece and is devised to ensure there is no cross-contamination.
The invention is a fresh take on cheap, fast and highly accurate COVID-19 tests the world is striving for as an alternative to the invasive and short-stocked Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) nasal swab. The test which roughly costs $20 is almost 70 percent cheaper than the PCR tests which will be used on the individual who tests positive on the device to reconfirm the diagnosis.
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, according to reports. 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 US 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 percent and specificity of 95 percent in one early Singapore-based pilot study that involved 180 patients.