VTL: Singapore trialing ARTs as replacement for on-arrival PCR tests

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A faster, cheaper replacement for on-arrival PCR tests may be in the works, with VTL arrivals at Changi being issued ART kits under a trial.

By now, most people should be familiar with the arrival process for VTL passengers at Changi Airport.

You clear immigration, collect your bags, pass through customs, and head directly to the swabbing area (well, unless you’re a recently-recovered traveller, in which case you could go to Jewel for a burger).

Instructions for arriving passengers (those under Cat. 2, 3 and 4 rules will take PCR test at the end of their SHN and not at the airport)

At the swabbing area, you show the QR code which proves you’ve paid for the on-arrival PCR test (S$125), get swabbed, and head directly home where it’s roughly a 6-hour wait for results. 

While it’s certainly preferable compared to an SHN, it’s far from seamless. If travel is to pick up in any meaningful way, the cost of testing (both in terms of money and time) needs to be reduced- and that’s exactly what Singapore is hoping to do in the months to come.

ART trial for arriving passengers at Changi Airport

Upon returning from Bangkok on a VTL flight yesterday, I received a complimentary Flowflex ART kit at Changi Airport, right after doing my on-arrival PCR swab. 

Flowflex ART kit

Upon looking inside the box, I found this note

Instructions sheet

Another traveller received an Abbott Panbio kit plus the following notification:

Photo: Ansley

“The Ministry of Health, Singapore (MOH) is conducting a study as part of continuous efforts to monitor the effectiveness of approved antigen rapid tests (ARTs). This validation is important to allow us to better understand the utility of ARTs in the face of Omicron and guide our testing policy. We thank you for your contribution.”

Travellers are instructed to perform the ART immediately upon arrival at home, and submit their results via an enclosed QR link. The link brings you to a form labelled “ART Performance Monitoring”, with questions on where the kit was issued (both Changi Airport and CTCs are options), travel history, and symptoms (if any).

To be clear, they’re still required to do the standard PCR test as per normal at Changi Airport. 

Where is this going?

On-arrival PCR tests will hopefully be a thing of the past soon

It’s clear to me that the MOH is exploring the feasibility of replacing on-arrival PCR tests with ARTs instead, and this trial will give them a better picture of relative reliability, as well as which ART kits perform better in the field (note how some get Flowflex, others Abbott Panbio or BD Art). 

If ARTs pick up positive cases at roughly the same rate as PCRs, there’s a good argument to allow travellers from low-risk countries to take cheaper ARTs and minimise the time they spend in isolation.

What I could see happening in the next stage would be VTL and Category I passengers allowed to do ARTs on arrival at Changi Airport, with freedom of movement as soon as a negative result is received.

Even if travellers need to pay for the ART kits, the average price of S$5 is a heck of a lot cheaper than the S$125 currently required for a PCR test- imagine the savings for a family of four. That’s not to mention the convenience aspect, or the value of business travellers being able to step off a plane and straight into a cab to their morning meetings, without the encumberment of a 6-hour isolation.

Category II, III and IV arrivals are likely to continue doing PCR tests for a while more, given the relatively higher risk profile (yes, VTL countries are Category II, but remember the additional vaccination requirement)- and so long as an SHN is required, the real penalty is time, not cost. 

As a reminder, here’s the current requirements for travellers entering under the various arrangements. 

🛂Singapore Border Restrictions by Category
 Cat. I Cat. II Cat. IIICat. IVVTL
Short-term visits
PDT
2D
(ART)

2D
(ART)

2D
(ART)

2D
(PCR)

2D
(ART)
On-arrival PCR test
SHN
7D
(home)

10D
(home)

10D
(hotel)
Post-SHN PCR testN/A
D7

D10

D10
N/A

Conclusion

Singapore is issuing ART kits to selected VTL and Category I arrivals at Changi Airport, with instructions to do the swab on the same day and report the results online. This is almost certainly being done with a view to ease the on-arrival testing for low-risk countries, reducing the friction involved with post-COVID travel.

We’ve seen other COVID-endemic countries either remove on-arrival testing completely (e.g. the UK), or switch to self-administered ARTs (most of Australia). I’d even bet you even some of the more COVID-paranoid countries like Thailand will be taking a serious look at this in the next few months, if only to attract more visitors. 

It’s exciting to see on-ground evidence that Singapore’s considering going down the same path, so let’s hope for some good news soon.

Recent arrivals: were you issued an ART kit at Changi?

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Daniel

Such great news, do you know when the trial began?

Thanks

J X

Data point: Arrived T1 from KL (TR473) on 12 Feb. Not offered one.

Matrix.RX1

I got offered one 27th January.

freedom

What really should happen is post SHN for Cat II should be ART, rather than PCR, or maybe 7-day ART than PCR.

Last edited 7 months ago by freedom
freedom

PCR is still significant cost. Think about a family of 4, easily 500 extra. Many can work from home. 7-day SHN is good for everyone actually.

Last edited 7 months ago by freedom
Matrix.RX1

@freedom: how is being confined to one own quarters for around 170 hours freedom?

freedom

Then just take VTL. No one forces you to take Cat II.

Cat II can be simplified with ART post SHN

Zach

I also didn’t get the free ART upon arrival this Monday 8th Feb at T1 (but it was 2am)

Matrix.RX1

the ART “distribution” is a small stand manned by what appeared to be students (similar to the age group that checks you in the tent before the PCR test) just on the right of the main building towards the taxi stands after leaving the PCR test. You get an ART if you give them the post-PCR sticker, which in my case got withhold in the tent.

Miles 2U

Nothing on the leaflet indicates this will be replacing the PCR. It’s for testing the effectiveness of ART in detecting positive cases.

lol

learn to read between the lines…

Nitpick

read between the lines or rumor mongering?

Uk_ship

we got given them on 4 Feb on a morning arrival

Yiwei

Cat I countries require PDT for now due to Omicron outbreak

Juraimi

Stop PCR and contd ART for those fully vaccine with booster for traveller it’s win win for ALL.

Peso

I arrived in Singapore under VTL on the 4th of Feb, though wasn’t issued an ART kit after on-arrival PCR at Changi.

R C

I agree that such may be a trial for adopting ART tests for arriving travellers. That said, I am of the opinion that this is likely to be a more general experiment to assess the sensitivity (accuracy) of various ART tests for detecting Omicron. Performing ART and PCR tests a short span of time apart (and on seemingly well travellers potentially in early stages of an infection) provides good data on how accurate these ART tests really are. This is an ever important experiment, especially given the rise of BA.2 Omicron*. I think the more pertinent policy decision relates to… Read more »

Alex

I agree that based on the wording of the letter, the intention is to conduct general research on whether ART tests are effective against Omicron by comparing your ART result with your PCR result, rather than to replace the arrival PCR with ART tests.

Shirley

Yes, I just landed today and recieve an Flowflex ART kit.

Sze Sain Thomas Kuek

Hi Aaron, this is Thomas here. I am presently in Bangkok, my 5th day, whereby I would need to do the compulsory PCR. As I shall be flying back by Sq VTL, I would need to fill in the Singapore arrival form. Am I to understand that I need to do yet another PCR within 48 hours of my flight to Singapore apart from the Bangkok 5th day compulsory PCR? Please help 🙏

Jojo

i just arrived 2 days ago from Msia via VTL! I didn’t receive one of those ART kits haha

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