Chan Chun Sing: Cruise passenger's Covid-19 false alarm allowed testing of protocols & system

He also said the risk of false positives and false negatives is inherent in all tests.

Belmont Lay | December 11, 2020, 03:50 AM

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said on Dec. 10, 2020 that the Royal Caribbean cruise passenger who turned out to be a Covid-19 false positive case has shown the "robustness" of the system and allowed the cruise industry to "test" protocols.

His extensive comments on the topic, as reported by CNA, were made during a virtual press conference after a visit to National University of Singapore's Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies.

They are a follow-up to his earlier response on Dec. 10, before news of the false positive case was release.

Chan had said earlier that the Covid-19 case on board the Royal Caribbean cruise ship was “not unexpected” and that the Singapore government was prepared for it.

False alarm, but immediately swing into action

Asked to comment on the false positive revelation, Chan told the media, as reported by CNA: "From yesterday's experience, it shows the robustness of the system that once you find out that there is a positive -- whether it is a real positive or false positive -- you immediately swing into action to do subsequent tests, you do isolation, you do contact tracing."

He added: "So while yesterday might have turned out to be a false alarm, it has actually allowed the cruise industry to test the entire protocols to see how we can do this well and do this better."

False positive or false negative result possible

Chan also said that any Covid-19 test could turn up a false positive or false negative result, and no one method is failsafe.

He said: "Any test, whether it is PCR or any other tests, there will always be a slight chance that there is a false positive, and that varies across different tests. Likewise, there could also be a false negative, it is inherent within any test."

"That's why we need a series of protocols to make sure that we minimise the risk to the lowest possible."

Slew of precautionary measures needed at one time

CNA reported that Chan mentioned a combination of various methods being employed to keep passengers safe on board the ship.

These included tests before boarding and while the ship is sailing, as well as enabling contact tracing with the use of TraceTogether and CCTVs.

Multiple methods working in tandem

The minister also said no one method can be used to overcome the spread of Covid-19.

He said: "Be it the cruise industry or any other activities that we hold, we must never let our guard down. Never think that just because we rely on one particular method, whether it is testing or tracing, then we would have overcome the problem."

He also said the rigorous testing and tracking regime is here to stay to complement other parts, with or without a vaccine.

Chan added: "These different parts must come together for us to minimise the risk to as low as possible to keep our population as safe as possible across the different types of activities."

Background

On Dec. 9 morning, Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas ship returned to Singapore a day ahead of schedule.

This occurred after an 83-year-old passenger who had diarrhoea tested positive for Covid-19 on the ship.

The man was tested using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test equipment on the cruise.

After returning to the mainland, the man's original sample was then re-tested at the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), and a second sample was taken for confirmatory tests.

Both samples came back negative, which was revealed to the public on Dec. 9 night.

The passengers on the ship underwent mandatory Covid-19 testing before leaving the terminal as part of regular post-arrival protocols.

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Top photo via Chan Chun Sing