Long queues at some Covid-19 quick test centres after enhanced self-testing regimen kicks in

SINGAPORE – A fast and easy process to get tested for Covid-19 became an almost two hour wait for some as long lines formed at some quick test centres (QTCs) here over the past two days.

This was after an enhanced fast and easy rostered routine testing (RRT) regimen took effect on Monday (Sept 13).

To curb the recent surge in coronavirus infections, the mandatory self-testing regimen was extended to workers in more sectors, and the frequency of testing was increased from every 14 days to once a week.

Previously, only workers in higher-risk settings such as food and beverage outlets, personal care services and gym and fitness studios had to undergo regular self-tests.

Now, retail mall workers, supermarket staff, last-mile delivery workers – including parcel and food delivery workers – and public and private transport workers have to undergo the regular self-tests as well.

About 100 people were waiting in line at the QTC located in the basement carpark of Bishan Sports Hall on Tuesday morning, according to Ms Sally Lai, 60, who works in a salon.

She had an 11.30am appointment to undergo mandatory self-testing at the QTC but ended up having to return at about 3pm as she was told the crowd would be much thinner then.

This was in stark contrast to the week before, when Ms Lai first started doing her self-tests at the same QTC in Bishan.

It was empty when she was there last week at about 1pm, Ms Lai told The Straits Times.

It was a similar situation at the QTC in Pasir Ris Sports Hall.

Para swimming coach Danny Ong, 45, said he was there for his appointment at 12.30pm on Monday, and had to wait in line for more than an hour.

There were about 30 to 40 people in the queue, and this was still the case when he left at about 2pm after doing his test.

“It was quite frustrating. Monday was really horrible,” said Mr Ong, who has been doing his self-testing at the Pasir Ris QTC since late June.

Before this week, the longest it took for Mr Ong to queue for his test was about 20 minutes. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Before this week, the longest it took him was about 20 minutes.

“What surprised me was there were quite a lot of elderly people. Those aunties and uncles needed somewhere to sit but there were only two plastic chairs available at the waiting area,” Mr Ong added.

“It was quite disappointing because I thought we are supposed to do a quick test and get out of the area as soon as possible. But we ended up having to stay there for 1½ hours.

“The duration of exposure is long. We were all wearing masks but you never know.”

Mr Ong said the logistics should have been addressed, adding: “What is the point of giving an allocated time when I have to wait for 1½ hours?”

Sports coaches who spoke to ST lamented the fact that they could book appointments at only three out of the 20 QTCs islandwide.

According to a July notice from Sport Singapore (SportSG), all self-employed people and small businesses in the sports and fitness sector who are unable to organise supervised self-swabs on their own, must make appointments at Bishan, Jurong West and Pasir Ris sport centres for the self-tests.

There were about 10 people queuing up for their swab test at Bishan Sports Hall at 3pm on Sept 14, 2021. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

A sports coach, who declined to be named, told ST that he had to travel from his home in Sengkang to the QTC in Bishan to do his self-test as it was the nearest one.

He arrived at 11am, 15 minutes before his scheduled appointment, and like Ms Lai, decided to return later in the day as he was told there would be fewer people.

“We are coaches, we work in the afternoons. But I have no choice. Now, I have to rush back for my coaching session,” the 55-year-old said.

He said he does not mind doing the self-test at home but that would mean having to pay for his own test kits.

At the QTCs, the kits are free of charge until Dec 31.

He also wondered whether it was necessary for sports coaches to be tested so frequently when those who play sports are not.

“Previously, when it was once every 14 days, it was a hassle but it was still okay… But now they are asking us to do it every seven days and the queue is crazy.”

Mr Ong said he is planning to give feedback to SportSG, and ask if there are alternatives, such as allowing coaches to book appointments at other QTCs.

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For some like Mr Hanafi, 57, who runs a drinks stall, the increased testing frequency is not a big issue, largely because he has been able to avoid the long queues.

The hawker, who declined to give his full name, arrived at the QTC in Bishan at 3.15pm and was out by 3.30pm.

He said he used to do his self-testing at the Ministry of Education Heritage Centre in Commonwealth, but there were long queues there.

The first time he did his self-test there in July, he waited two hours, he said.

“Here (at Bishan), I always come at this time (3pm) because there is nobody. So far, so good.”

ST has contacted the Health Promotion Board – the national agency supporting Covid-19 testing – for comment.

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