Singapore’s Latest Covid-19 Wave: Quick Fact-Checks
With the recent rise in Covid-19 cases across Singapore, misinformation and questions about the virus and vaccines have risen in tandem. We explored a few examples across local social media, chat groups, and forums to see what issues are causing concern.
Can expired ART tests still be used for accurate testing?
Some batches of free ART tests issued by the Government to local households are set to expire soon. We found several posts and comments from users who are reluctant to discard expired kits, wondering if they “still work” and are okay to keep using, with some expressing the intention to continue using them after expiry.
ART tests have expiry dates because their components can degrade over time from a variety of reasons – such as exposure to heat or humidity, causing inaccurate readings. Expired tests are unlikely to cause false positives and are more likely to result in false negatives. As Covid-19 cases continue to rise, this could be a risky outcome, possibly giving a false sense of security to infected individuals who test negative on expired kits and do not take necessary precautions to isolate and stop transmission. Expired tests should therefore not be used for accurate testing.
However, expiry dates on these test dates can change. This is because expiry should ideally be determined based on long-term testing, which was unfeasible due to the urgency of the spreading pandemic. Manufacturers therefore set “safe” expiry dates with the option to extend them after further testing. This has already taken place across different manufacturers – including Singapore, with official approval from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) given to prominent brands such as Flowflex and Alltest several months ago.
“Arcturus” Conspiracy: Is the latest variant of Covid-19 linked to a pharmaceutical company?
We came across this rather wild suggestion that there is a potential “strange coincidence” between the naming of the latest XBB variant, Arcturus, and an American biotechnology company called Arcturus Therapeutics who, between 2020 and 2021, worked with Duke-NUS on testing a potential Covid-19 vaccine (although testing did not progress beyond the third phase). Could there be a link between the two that points to a deeper connection between pharmaceutical companies and new Covid-19 variants?
Arcturus is a new Omicron XBB sub-variant known as XBB.1.16. “Arcturus” is the name of a star and has Greek origins. It was given to XBB.1.16 by a group of variant trackers who have a history of assigning nicknames to different variants as part of their cataloguing and tracking efforts, with names such as Kracken and Minotaur previously making headlines. Many of these names are derived from Greek mythology and, more recently, parts of the solar system.
With documented and explained motivations for their actions, it is unlikely that this group of researchers intentionally made any connection (nefarious or otherwise) with a biotechnology company of the same name, instead drawing from their own set of naming conventions.
“Vaccines are ineffective for the latest Covid-19 variants”
We saw several claims that suggest current booster vaccines are less effective against latest variants of Covid-19. This issue is particularly relevant as a variety of Omicron XBB subvariants, including some newer variants, have been reported in Singapore over the past weeks.
Last year, when bivalent booster vaccines were introduced, it was pointed out that they were specifically adapted for specific strains of Omicron and could have limited direct effectiveness on future strains or variants. However, that reporting was largely speculative, with experts discussing possible future outcomes rather than making certain statements on the booster efficacy itself.
As the recent statements on vaccines by the Ministry of Health note, bivalent vaccines offer a wider range of immunity across different variants (Omicron in particular), overall shoring up the body’s defense again both contracting the virus and experiencing severe symptoms if contracted. More recent research also shows that the bivalent vaccine has been able to provide higher protection against newer Omicron strains than the monovalent vaccines – both against infection and severe symptoms that require hospitalization.
Therefore, it would be hyperbolic to state that current boosters are ineffective against new Covid-19 strains. However, it is true that some new strains are particularly infectious and are less likely to be halted by the antibodies from previous infection and from vaccines. Comprehensive research still needs to be done for clearer data and more consensus among researchers to be reached. New variants continue to pose challenges, with our bodies needing to adapt to their new characteristics and lifestyle precautions necessary to reduce transmission
While Singapore’s DORSCON level has been green for several months and mask mandates are no longer in place, the endemic nature of COVID-19 in Singapore means that spikes and waves will likely still be present and new variants will likely emerge, bringing with them fresh debates and potential misinformation.
Asking questions continues to be a useful way of approaching news stories and social issues and it is equally important to actively look for answers from different sources across both digital and offline spaces to arrive at critically sound conclusions.