A new coronavirus test in Singapore is providing clues about how the outbreak spreads

February 26, 2020, 6:40 AM UTC

A medical research team in Singapore has managed to establish links between cases in the city-state using a new testing method.

Using a serological test developed by researchers from the Duke-NUS Medical School, the team was able to confirm that two individuals had earlier been infected with the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, the Ministry of Health announced Tuesday. Serological tests identify antibodies in blood samples, which the immune system produces in response to an infection.

The researchers had earlier successfully cultured the COVID-19 virus in less than a week after Singapore confirmed its first case, the ministry said. Using the virus and genetic material derived from the virus, the research team then developed several specific laboratory tests to detect the virus-specific antibodies for contact tracing and other applications, according to the statement.

“Hopefully, some serological tests will become more widely available from commercial sources soon,” said Peter Collignon, a professor of clinical medicine at the Australian National University Medical School in Canberra, who advises the Australian government on infection control. “After serological tests — or serosurveys — have been done, we will know much more about spread of the virus, and what the true mortality rate is.”

The two individuals identified in Singapore were linked to local church clusters. The city-state has 91 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and virus recoveries –currently at 58 — are outpacing new cases.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a Facebook post Wednesday the country has invested significantly in building up its research and development eco-system, especially in health and bio-medical sciences, over the years. “Strong R&D capabilities are essential to mounting an effective response to the outbreak so that we can respond better with facts and an evidence-based approach,” he said.

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