Singapore's Jewel Changi Airport to reopen on June 14; some airport workers to be part of trial for breathalyser Covid-19 tests

Jewel has been shut since May 13 to deal with a Covid-19 cluster among airport workers. — TODAY pic
Jewel has been shut since May 13 to deal with a Covid-19 cluster among airport workers. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, June 12 — Jewel Changi Airport will reopen on Monday (June 14), after having been closed to the public for a month from May 13 amid the emergence of a Covid-19 cluster among airport workers.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Changi Airport Group (CAG) said in a joint statement yesterday that there have been no new cases involving airport workers since May 20.

However, the airport’s passenger terminal buildings, which were also closed on May 13, will remain shut.

“More details about the passenger terminal buildings’ reopening will be released nearer the date,” the statement said.

Minister for Transport S Iswaran said that the opening of the passenger terminals will depend on a “holistic assessment of the situation”.

“It’s not so much a specific set of conditions as it is an overall assessment of where we are, operationally in Changi, and whether we are able to now take the next step in opening in a confident way as part of this clear calibrated opening of Changi to Singaporeans,” he said.

“I remain optimistic that if we are able to put in place effectively all the measures and run them well I think we have a good chance of opening the other aspects of Changi sooner, rather than later.”

He was speaking to reporters at Changi Airport Terminal 3, where he was given a tour of the enhanced measures implemented at passenger terminals.

Among them is a breathalyser Covid-19 test that some airport workers will have to take regularly. These will be progressively rolled out to replace the antigen rapid tests that they currently have to undergo.

Airport workers will take the breathalyser test after every shift, while the antigen rapid test is taken once every three days.

The airport has been administering tests using the TracieX breathalyser in a small-scale pilot since June 3.

The TracieX breathalyser is produced by Singapore medical technology firm Silver Factory Technology, and the technology has been trialled at Changi Airport’s Terminal 1 and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.

To take the test, a user blows into a disposable breathalyser fitted with a sensor chip for about 10 seconds.

Then, the breathalyser is inserted into a reading device for vibrational spectroscopy analysis, and a result is produced within two minutes.

This is faster than the antigen rapid test, which takes about 30 minutes to produce a test result.

“(The airport workers) will also experience less discomfort as the test is non-invasive,” CAAS and CAG said.

The tests will be first rolled out to workers in Zone 1, the highest-risk zone of the airport. Last month, CAG announced it was dividing the airport into three zones to separate workers and prevent co-mingling.

Zone 1 includes the arrival gates in the terminals, immigration and the baggage claim halls, where workers may be in direct contact with arrival and transfer passengers. There are 4,400 workers working in that zone.

Responding to a question by TODAY on the accuracy of the breathalyser test compared with the antigen rapid test, Iswaran said that the pilot would help to assess the sensitivity of the new test.

“We are using this opportunity to administer the trial in the airport and we will continue to scale it up so that there is more data,” he said.

“We are able to assess all those characteristics that the health authorities would be seeking in turn to validate (its) sensitivity (and) specificity,” he added.

“I would not want to prejudge the issue, other than to say that in the first instance, it is promising.”

Stricter measures implemented at Changi Airport since May 24

CAAS and CAG also announced yesterday that it would set aside S$15 million (RM46.4 million) to help workers adjust to the enhanced safety measures that have been implemented at the airport since May 24.

The measures include strict access controls between zones, so no staff member from Zone 1 can mingle with another from other zones. All workers in Zone 1 must also wear personal protective equipment at all times, including gowns, gloves and face shields over their face masks.

The money will go into providing a monthly special allowance for six months for the workers, and will also contribute to catering meals for the workers as well as to help defray the cost of their personal protective equipment.

The measures were put in place after an investigation into the Changi Airport Covid-19 cluster revealed that the Delta variant of the coronavirus, previously known as the B1617.2 variant, has a risk of spreading even via transient interactions.

This means brief contact could lead to a transmission of the coronavirus.

At the time, the Changi Airport cluster was the largest active Covid-19 cluster in Singapore, with more than 100 people infected, including 43 airport workers and more than 60 members of the public.

CAG and CAAS said yesterday that of the 43 workers, 42 have been discharged and the remaining worker is recovering in hospital without oxygen supplementation.

Asked by the media if the shops in the terminals will receive help as well due to the delayed reopening, Iswaran said that this matter is between CAG and the shop operators.

“The general support that the government renders is available to all the enterprises,” he said.

“Specific to any particular location and so on, it’s between the landlord — in this case it’s CAG — and the operators, and I think they work out the arrangements.” — TODAY

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