Covid-19 detection in S'pore is 'of gold standard & near perfect': Harvard study

For every five travellers in Singapore, one Covid-19 patient is detected daily.

Zhangxin Zheng | February 17, 2020, 06:28 PM

A study by Harvard University researchers has showered praise on Singapore for its Covid-19 virus detection tenacity.

According to the latest research, almost three times more cases of the Covid-19 virus could have been found globally if the rest of the world possessed the same “gold standard” detection capability as Singapore.

This latest study, conducted by a team of researchers from Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, attempts to estimate the level of under-detection of the coronavirus (Covid-19) cases globally.

It claimed that the world is detecting imported cases of Covid-19 at 38 per cent of Singapore’s ability to do so.

This finding was published on MedRxiv on Feb. 14 and has not been peer-reviewed, which means it has not been evaluated to guide clinical practice.

The researchers studied 191 locations around the world, reflecting mainly countries without taking any position on territorial claims and excluding mainland China (the epicentre of Covid-19), as well as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau.

Singapore has "near perfect" detection

Among the countries with substantial travel volume, Singapore showed the highest ratio of detected imported cases to daily travel volume.

The reporting of Covid-19 cases in Singapore is also described as "extremely detailed" in the research paper.

Singapore is also historically known for "exceptionally sensitive" detection of cases during SARS.

However, Singapore's detection is not perfect given that there are still cases with no links identified, implying that imported cases might have gone undetected.

Like other countries, the detection in Singapore relies on the display of symptoms and travel history so there is a possibility that asymptomatic cases go unnoticed.

The researchers consider the detection of 18 cases by Feb. 4 as "a gold standard of near perfect detection" and had used Singapore's detection standard as the baseline to estimate the probability of detection in other countries.

Global detection is 38 per cent of Singapore's detection capacity

The study finds that the global ability to detect imported cases is 38 per cent of Singapore’s capacity.

That means about 2.8 times the current number of imported cases could have been undetected if every country detects imported cases like Singapore. This also means there are 1.8 undetected cases for every detected case in Singapore.

This piece of information is important to the estimation of the severity and case burden of Covid-19 and it is likely that the severity of the Covid-19 has been overestimated, given more cases might have been gone undiscovered.

Photo via Changi Airport Facebook page