Large scale testing is crucial when dealing with a disease as persistent and contagious as Covid-19. Singapore worked to ramp up its testing capacity early on to make sure they could quickly detect and isolate patients.

As of 1 February 2021, the country has conducted more than 6.5 million Covid-19 swab tests, according to the Ministry of Health. Behind these efforts is the national agency appointed to support Covid-19 testing, Health Promotion Board (HPB). Its work is essential in keeping Singapore safe and for allowing Singapore to resume activities and open borders safely.

Bryan Quek is Director of the Regional Health System and Community Engagement division at HPB. In his everyday role, he partners with community organisations to bring health promotion programmes to citizens all over the island. During the pandemic, he pivoted to set up and run a swab operations team.

“Swab operations is not much different from being aware of health and promoting health, in that the purpose of the operations is to ensure continued surveillance to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” Quek says. “It was in the same spirit of promoting health that I approached my role in swab operations.”

Quek oversaw more than 4,000 swab-testers across regional screening centres, foreign worker dormitories and special swabbing operations in the community and workplaces. He led their training, monitored their performance, made sure they had the logistics support needed and developed ways to improve testing efficiency.

“Unlike my pre-Covid role where we have a defined operating structure to execute our operations, this new task was to set up a swab operation structure from scratch,” he says.

And they had to do it within an incredibly short time frame. “I learnt that being ready to expect the unexpected and maintaining a positive mindset helped with decision making, problem solving and people management,” shares Quek.

Now that screening centres have found their rhythm, Quek continues to engage the community in the uphill task of resuming health promotion programmes in the new normal.

Singapore has managed to limit the virus’s spread amongst the community. Indeed, this wouldn’t have been possible without the relentless efforts of the testing teams.

Illustrations by Joy Lim