Chinese lab accused of concealing positive COVID-19 test results

He Huifeng, South China Morning Post

Posted at Sep 26 2022 01:41 PM

A man undergoes a COVID-19 test in Beijing, China, on May 9, 2022. MARK R. CRISTINO, EPA-EFE
A man undergoes a COVID-19 test in Beijing, China, on May 9, 2022. MARK R. CRISTINO, EPA-EFE

A Chinese laboratory has been placed under investigation on suspicion of concealing positive Covid-19 test results.

The public security authorities in the city, the capital of the northern province of Hebei, said they had started investigating labs in the city after an outbreak of cases with an unknown origin in the city’s Yuhua district.

The investigation found that the Harmony Health laboratory in the city had found a positive case among a batch of 20 samples collected from a residential community in Yuhua on September 14, but had not reported it to the authorities.

The laboratory, operated by Beijing Harmony Health Medical Diagnostics, was set up in November last year and could not be reached for comment as of Sunday afternoon.

Shijiazhuang entered “emergency status” on August 28 after a number of cases were reported in the city.

In common with many other Chinese cities, sweeping measures were put in place despite a small number of cases.

Residents in four districts of the city were ordered to work from home between August 28 to 31, and mass testing was conducted.

The city of some 11 million also suspended subway services and halted non-essential business operations in the locked-down districts.

These restrictions were eventually lifted on September 6, but the city continued mass testing in line with the country’s zero-Covid approach.

As of midnight Saturday, the entire province of Hebei had only three confirmed Covid-19 patients and another 62 asymptomatic cases.

Since September 14, Shijiazhuang has reported 20 cases, all asymptomatic.

Shijiazhuang’s case is the latest controversy over inaccurate results from labs analysing samples collected during mass testing.

In May, dozens of people from several Beijing-based medical testing laboratories were detained over allegations that they had tried to cut costs and save time by mixing too many samples in one test despite knowing it would lead to inaccurate results.

In early May, many Shanghai residents received positive test results from Zhongke Runda Medical Laboratory only to later test negative at hospitals.

China has been pushing for regular mass testing as a way to cut transmission of the coronavirus, urging big cities to establish a “15-minute testing circle”.

The standard practice is to put five or 10 samples in one batch and then test each batch for the virus. If a batch tests positive then each person in that group will be retested to identify the case.

Testing is a booming business. According to an analyst at Soochow Securities, if all of China’s first- and second-tier cities, home to roughly 505 million residents, implemented a year’s worth of mass testing, the cost could top 1.7 trillion yuan (US$238 billion), or about 1.5 per cent of the country’s GDP last year.

Across China, local officials are under intense pressure to contain any outbreaks ahead of the Communist Party’s congress next month.

The National Health Commission reported 936 new infections on Sunday, of which 217 were symptomatic and 719 were asymptomatic.

FROM THE ARCHIVE

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