I Got Swabbed: Covid-19 Testing in Singapore

Big news first: my result turned out to be negative. Yay.

That said, I wanted to share with you my experience of getting tested for Covid-19 here in Singapore to help assure you that the process is quick, relatively painless, and fuss-free. If you have any of the most common symptoms of Covid-19, please visit your nearest clinic to ensure you get timely and appropriate care. You’re also doing your part to keep everyone else in your community safe. 😊

JUST A SORE THROAT…?

The other day, I felt a scratchiness at the back of my throat and some pain swallowing. Any other day — heck, any other year besides 2020 — I would’ve brushed it off and taken a lozenge. But I was feeling extremely paranoid and thought to go to a clinic to have it checked out.

Google “common covid symptoms” here in Singapore and the first result that comes up is the Ministry of Health (MOH) Covid-19 self-assessment website, where you can check out your symptoms and decide next steps after answering a few basic questions (data is anonymised). The most common Covid-19 symptoms are fever, dry cough, and tiredness.

I was not presenting any fever and felt no other symptoms apart from my scratchy throat. While sore throat is indeed a symptom of Covid-19, it’s a less common one, along with aches & pains, diarrhoea, headache, or loss of taste or smell.

After going through the MOH self-check, it recommended that I go to a Public Health Preparedness Clinic (PHPC) or polyclinic that offered SASH (Swab and Send Home) tests for Covid-19, along with a link to a website where I can check all the nearby clinics that offered SASH tests.

WHAT IS THE SWAB AND SEND HOME (SASH) INITIATIVE?

According to The Straits Times, previously, all swab tests for Covid-19 were done at hospitals. With the SASH initiative, swab tests were extended to polyclinics and some general practitioner clinics. This helps to strengthen active case-finding in the community, as well as reduce crowds at hospitals. Patients who meet certain criteria are swabbed and then sent home to wait for their test results. Results can take up to three working days, though I received mine much faster.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE CLINIC?

I found a nearby clinic offering SASH tests and called ahead to say I had a sore throat. No appointment was needed, but I was told to bring my employment pass.

Upon arrival at the clinic, I was asked to fill in a health declaration online by scanning a QR code posted at the entrance. It’s the standard SafeEntry declaration where you’re asked if you’ve had contact with confirmed cases recently, have travelled in the past 14 days, etc. The clinic had seating outside so I did not need to sit with other outpatients in the clinic lobby.

After they had prepped the room, a doctor wearing full PPE called me over and asked again about my symptoms. She checked my temperature using an in-ear thermometer and listened to my heartbeat with her stethoscope.

Afterwards, she recommended that I do a swab test. Because I was not a highly suspect case I could refuse, but for public health reasons and also for my own peace of mind I decided to go ahead with it.

If I did the swab test, I would be given a mandatory 3-day medical certificate and was not allowed by law to leave my home until I got a negative result or served out the three days, whichever came sooner. If I decided not to do the swab test, I would be given a mandatory 5-day medical certificate.

I’ll add here that the consequences of flouting your medical certificate — for example, by stepping out to get a quick takeaway lunch before the three days are over — are taken very seriously here in Singapore. You could be fined S$10,000 (around Php 360,000 or over US$7,000), imprisoned for up to 6 months, both, or even deported and barred from re-entering Singapore forever. Totally not worth that takeaway bubble tea.

HOW DID THE SWAB TEST FEEL?

The doctor told me the swab test would be quick but to expect some discomfort. She said there were rare cases where patients got a nosebleed (!), but this was usually for people with more sensitive noses.

I was understandably a little apprehensive after reading horror stories, but the swab took less than 30 seconds to complete. I was told to blow my nose, tilt my head back, and stay still while the doctor inserted a thin flexible stick into each nostril.

It felt slightly uncomfortable, like the feeling right before a big sneeze. Nothing alarming though.

HOW MUCH DID THE TEST COST?

The invoice did not break down the cost of the swab and the medicine I was given for my sore throat, but it did indicate the cost was subsidised under Singapore’s Flu Subsidy Scheme. For the swab test, medicine and throat lozenges, I paid a total of S$32 (around Php 1,140 or US$23). MOH, on its website, states Covid-19 testing is free (excluding the clinic consultation fee and/or medicine).

Free testing or a subsidy makes sense — you want to encourage people with symptoms to step forward and get tested on their own accord so you can prevent undetected infection in the community.

If the swab is too expensive, what incentive is there for people who have less financial resources to get tested?

Which is why it was crazy to me to read that in the Philippines, a swab test could cost up to Php 4,000 – Php 12,000+. At least there are a few LGUs, including Manila under its Mayor Isko Moreno, who are offering testing for free.

WHAT HAPPENS WHILE I WAIT FOR RESULTS?

I walked home — you’re not allowed to take public transport — and self-quarantined in a room separate from my family. You’re also encouraged to use a toilet separate from the rest of your family.

It’s safest for you and for everyone in your household to assume you’re positive unless told otherwise.

I was told it would take three working days for the results to come out. I would get a call from the clinic or an SMS from the MOH.

It was a nerve-wracking wait — my mind kept turning to worst-case scenarios. Later that evening, the Hub called me over Facebook Messenger so I could still be “in” the room while he read bedtime stories to our kid, a family nighttime ritual. “Come over here!” my kid said. He knew I was in the other bedroom. I don’t think he understood why Mommy wasn’t there to kiss him goodnight.

Thankfully I didn’t have to wait for too long. The very next day after my test, I got a call from the clinic to say the results came back negative. I could hug my kid again!

WHAT NOW?

Dear readers, to be frank, my anxiety hit the roof while I waited for my results.

I knew that my family and I had taken all the precautions — washed and sanitised our hands on the regular, worn face masks 100% of the time while outside, taken showers after stepping outside, taken our Vitamin C, practised safe distancing — but this virus is a crafty one.

I think that the virus often gets framed in a way that suggests that if you do catch it, you failed at following precautions or something. Make no mistake — Covid-19 is highly contagious. If you think you’ve caught it, focus on next steps like how to get tested ASAP and how to get immediate care for yourself & the rest of your family.

As we reopen gradually all over the world, let’s not let our guard down. Let’s not get complacent.

We’ll get through this together.

Think critically dear readers — and STAY SAFE!

All images (except for my personal screenshots) on this post are from the UN Covid-19 Response page on Unsplash