As Singapore begins to open its economy and returns to ‘business-as-usual’, accessible and affordable Covid-19 testing will have a big role to play.
Approval was previously required to take a voluntary Covid-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, however, this requirement has been scrapped since Dec 1, 2020. It is now possible to make an appointment at any one of the approved clinics to take the test — whether it’s for a flight, a cruise, or just general hypochondria.
How much does a Covid-19 PCR test cost?
While the Ministry of Health used to publish the cost of Covid-19 testing by clinic, that list has sadly been discontinued. The revised list simply states that all charges should not exceed $200, including GST.
For your reference, I’ve compiled this list of major clinic chains and their respective charges for a Covid-19 PCR swab test. Do note that prices listed here are accurate as of end-November 2020 and may change without prior notice.
Cost of Covid-19 PCR tests in Singapore
|Parkway Shenton/Shenton Medical Group||$170||Link|
|Central 24-HR Clinic||$200||Link|
|My Family Clinic||$200||Link|
You’ll observe that in general, Covid-19 PCR tests range from $160 to $200. That’s a substantial amount for an individual, let alone a family. Factor in the likelihood that you’ll need to take multiple Covid-19 tests when traveling (potentially up to four, if testing is mandated on both the departing and arriving side), its costs can easily add up.
While technological improvements should bring down the cost of testing, it’s my belief that we won’t see travel resume in any significant volume until the travel industry steps in to provide subsidies. Take cruises to nowhere for example, Royal Caribbean is currently including the cost of testing as part of their fares, while Dream Cruises provides a subsidised option.
Otherwise, we’re likely to find ourselves in a strange situation where the cost of testing can exceed the cost of your air tickets, making leisure travel a non-starter.
Are there any ways to get a discount?
Yes, but not by a lot. From now till 31 January 2021, online travel agency (OTA) Traveloka is offering a discounted Covid-19 PCR swab test to anyone who books an international flight or hotel through their platform.
Once you’ve booked your flight or hotel, you’ll receive an email from Traveloka which you can present at any DA Clinic to enjoy the special rate of $150 nett (a savings of $10). Do note that if you’re traveling to China specifically, the rate will be $180 nett as China requires an additional serology test on top of the swab.
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If given a choice between a flight or hotel booking, it’s generally a better idea to book the flight through Traveloka. That’s because you can still earn frequent flyer miles as per their booking class for flights booked through OTAs, and elite members will enjoy their usual status benefits, such as lounge access or extra baggage.
In contrast, hotel bookings made through OTAs will not be eligible to earn hotel points or status credits, nor will elite members enjoy status benefits during their stay.
What’s the Covid-19 testing process like?
Despite all the horror stories you may have heard about getting swabbed, I can tell you the actual process is more ticklish than painful.
I was initially scheduled to fly on the inaugural Air Travel Bubble to Hong Kong, and had to undergo a Covid-19 PCR swab test as part of the pre-departure requirements.
This took place during November 2020, when ICA approval was still required to do a test. The process was straightforward, I filled out an online form and received the approval within 12 hours.
I did my swab test at a Shenton Medical Group clinic, and the whole appointment lasted less than 15 minutes. The actual swabbing took less than 20 seconds — a long swab (like a cotton bud) is inserted into one nostril, swished around and removed, then repeated for the other nostril. You may feel the need to sneeze, but that’s not unduly traumatic by any means.
My results were available within 24 hours, and the main source of pain was the price tag, not the test itself.
Until a vaccine is made widely available, Covid-19 testing will simply be part and parcel of our ‘new normal’. If you hope to board a plane, take a cruise or even go to a nightclub over the next 6 to 12 months, a Covid-19 test may well be the cost of entry.
It’s relatively expensive now, we’re likely to see the cost come down over time, which should make such activities more feasible. In the meantime, if you’re intending to get tested, remember to charge it to the right card.
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This article was first published in SingSaver.com.sg.