SINGAPORE - Many hospitals in Singapore have begun swabbing all staff to detect Covid-19 cases, if any, as early as possible.

At the same time, patient-facing staff, particularly those who work in emergency departments and wards, will continue to be tested regularly as part of a nationwide initiative for all hospitals.

This follows the emergence of a Covid-19 cluster at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), which has since grown to be the country's largest active cluster, with 43 cases currently.

The cluster has been linked to a new variant of the coronavirus first identified in India, which is now in the grip of a devastating second wave of the disease.

TTSH ceased taking in new patients because of the cluster.

The mass swabbing drive, in which front-liners such as doctors, nurses and therapists are expected to be tested first, could be completed by the end of the month.

On Friday (May 7), Changi General Hospital (CGH) and Sengkang General Hospital (SKH) started to swab staff.

CGH said it began with 700 staff on that day and will continue to swab more this week.

Senior management at SKH, which has a staff strength of close to 3,900, were among the first to be tested. All staff, including doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, administrators, will eventually be swabbed as well as those working on the hospital premises such as housekeepers and staff at the eateries there.

Singapore General Hospital (SGH), which has followed suit on the testing, said in a Facebook post on Monday that it has started a one-off Covid-19 swab testing of staff, as well as on-site vendors, service partners and others who work in the hospital, as part of its proactive staff surveillance. Those in patient-facing roles will also be swabbed regularly, it said in the post.

SGH said it is embarking on the exercise because no amount of stringent measures can keep the coronavirus out of the hospital if silent infections are not rooted out.

SKH and SGH come under SingHealth, which is extending the swabbing exercise to all its hospitals and speciality centres such as the National Cancer Centre Singapore, National Heart Centre Singapore and the Singapore National Eye Centre.

The Straits Times understands that patient-facing staff will be tested agaiin in a week’s time and then those who are vaccinated may get their testing frequency reduced to 14 days.

Hospitals under the National University Health System are expected to start the swabbing exercise from Tuesday, while those under the National Healthcare Group should be starting soon as well.

Private hospitals are also understood to be doing the same. IHH Healthcare Singapore, which has hospitals such as Mount Elizabeth Hospital and Gleneagles Hospital, started the mass swabbing on May 10. Raffles Hospital aims to start swabbing staff some time this week.