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Singapore researchers develop breath test to detect COVID-19

A machine learning software subsequently analyses the VOC profile and generates the result in less than a minute.

Published: 20th October 2020 04:27 PM  |   Last Updated: 20th October 2020 04:27 PM   |  A+A-

A man wearing a face mask walks past a safe distancing ambassador robot outside an office building in Singapore. (Photo | AFP)

A man wearing a face mask walks past a safe distancing ambassador robot outside an office building in Singapore. (File photo | AFP)

By PTI

SINGAPORE: Researchers in Singapore have developed a breath test to detect COVID-19 within a minute as authorities are working on a roadmap for the phase three of easing of safety measures in the country.

A person would simply have to blow into a disposable mouthpiece connected to a "high-precision breath sampler", according to the National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers.

The test, which detects Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) in a person's breath, achieved more than 90 per cent accuracy in a clinical trial involving 180 patients, Channel News Asia reported, citing the NUS statement.

The exhaled breath is then collected and fed into a mass spectrometer for measurement.

A machine learning software subsequently analyses the VOC profile and generates the result in less than a minute.

The technology, developed by NUS start-up Breathonix, "offers a fast and convenient solution to identify COVID-19 infection", said the university.

VOCs are consistently produced by various biochemical reactions in human cells, explained Breathonix CEO Dr Jia Zhunan.

"Different diseases cause specific changes to the compounds, resulting in detectable changes in a person's breath profile. As such, VOCs can be measured as markers for diseases like COVID-19," Dr Jia was quoted as saying.

The firm's chief operating officer Du Fang said that the system's disposable mouthpiece has a one-way valve and a saliva trap which prevents inhalation and any saliva from entering the machine.

"This makes cross-contamination unlikely," said Du.

Singapore is also working on a roadmap for the phase three of easing of safety measures under the circuit breaker, or semi-lockdown, to control the spread of COVID-19, according to the Channel report.

The COVID-19 multi-ministry task force said that the city-state will remain in Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) Orange "for the time being", the highest alert.

Singapore entered the phase two of easing measures on June 19, with more businesses allowed to reopen subject to safe management measures.

The Singapore Tourism Board on Monday said that groups of up to 20 will be allowed to take part in walking, cycling and kayaking tours from November, up from the current maximum size of 10.

Travel agencies and tour operators are being allowed to resume on-site operations from October 19, subject to safe management measures.

Meanwhile, Singapore reported six new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including four imported ones, taking the total infections to 57,921.

Two of the new cases are locally transmitted from the dormitories for foreign workers, said the Ministry of Health (MOH), adding that there were no locally transmitted COVID-19 cases.

The four imported cases had all been placed on stay-home notice (SHN) upon their arrival.

The number of new COVID-19 infections in Singapore has remained under 20 cases a day for the whole of October, even as restrictions are gradually eased, said the Channel report.

Two of the four imported cases, which reported on Monday, returned from India while the third one was a student from India.

The fourth case arrived from the Philippines.

They are under SHN.

Thirty-four active patients are in hospital while another 34 are being cared for at isolated community facilities.

Twelve COVID-19 infections were discharged on Monday, taking the full recoveries to 57,819.

Separately, the COVID-19 cluster at Singapore's biggest dormitory has been closed after no new case was linked to it for 28 days, said the MOH.

The Sungei Tengah Lodge housed more than 16,000 migrants with 216 confirmed cases reported as on September 19 but since then no new case have been linked to the dormitory.

Infections in dormitories have formed the bulk of COVID-19 cases here, with more than 54,000 recorded cases since the first two cases were reported on March 29.



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