The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a zoonotic viral infection originating from Wuhan, China in December 2019. The World Health Organization has classified this pandemic as a global health emergency due to its virulent nature of transmission, which may lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome. Singapore's health ministry has responded with enhanced surveillance of COVID-19 for all suspected pneumonia cases, further increasing the volume of testing via real-time reverse transcription PCR, as well as samples necessitating stringent infectious control. Collectively, this has implications on the total testing process, laboratory operations and its personnel due to biosafety concerns. Turnaround time for routine testing may also be affected. The aim of this article is to present our tertiary institution's early experience with managing this emerging crisis and offer practical considerations for the preanalytical, analytical and postanalytical phases of laboratory testing in this cohort of patients. © Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2021. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.