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60-Second Non-Invasive COVID-19 Breath Test Approved for Use in Singapore

60-Second Non-Invasive COVID-19 Breath Test Approved for Use in Singapore

A completely non-invasive breathalyser test that can flag COVID-19 travellers in less than 60-seconds has won provisional authorisation from Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority (HSA). The Breathonix device will now be deployed at the Tuas land crossing with Malaysia to evaluate its efficacy against rapid antigen and PCR tests in a real-world setting.

The device, which looks much like the alcohol breathalyser devices used by police departments around the world, is able to detect a specific breath ‘signature’ which is unique to someone infected with COVID-19.

Anyone with the right training can operate the device which just requires people to exhale into the device through a disposable mouthpiece. A mass spectrometer then analyses volatile organic compounds in the person’s breath and machine learning technology determines whether the VOC signature belongs to a healthy person or someone with COVID-19, the Straits Times reports.

The whole process takes less than 60 seconds and an early trial showed that the device achieved a sensitivity rate of 93 per cent and specificity of 95 per cent. Sensitivity refers to the number of true positives the test picks up, while specificity refers to the number of false positives the test might return.

According to the respected medical journal the BMJ, if 6 in 100 people actually had COVID-19, this test would find all the positive cases but would also incorrectly flag 5 people as testing positive.

Although Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests are the ‘gold standard’ for COVID-19 testing the process is invasive, expensive and slow. The Breathanox device, however, could be used to screen people rapidly, cheaply and en masse.

To get around the lower sensitivity rate, the Breathanox could be used at multiple points in the travel journey. A positive result could then be checked with a standard rapid antigen test or PCR test (if speed is not important).

Although the travel industry is hinging its hopes on COVID-19 vaccines opening up the sector, the risk of breakthrough infections, variants and inequitable access to vaccines means testing will remain important for some time to come.

The device, which has also undergone testing in Dubai. sparked interest from Emirates whose chief operating officer said the device could “hugely benefit the re-opening of international travel and other economic activity.”

British Airways is currently trialling a spit test that the manufacturers claim is capable of providing a result even faster than the Breathanox – in this case, just 25-seconds. The airline is putting the test through its paces with pilots and cabin crew but suggested the test could be deployed on normal passengers if its proves successful.

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