Three labs implicated . . .
Over the past 10 days, police and health authorities in Beijing have launched investigations into three COVID-19 testing laboratories alleged to have engaged in improper testing practices leading to inaccurate results. Beijing Pushi Medical Laboratory, contracted to serve at least one million people in one of Beijing’s hardest-hit districts, was found to have been issuing more test results than the actual number of samples collected. Over the weekend, municipal officials announced more probes into the alleged misconduct of two other laboratories, accusing them of breaching standard testing procedures by mixing too many samples in one test despite knowing such actions would affect the accuracy of the results.
Fraud exposes loopholes in testing practices . . .
In dealing with its most recent COVID-19 outbreaks, China has relied on an unprecedented mass-testing scheme – regular and universal testing in more and more cities – as a major means of identifying and curbing virus transmissions. However, this mass-testing scheme has drastically increased market demand for testing capacity. Facing an enlarged market with high entry barriers for such specialized services, some private companies took on an excessive number of orders despite their capacity limitations and resorted to improper handling of the samples to cut time and costs. Unlike in earlier cases of COVID testing fraud in Henan, Anhui, and Shanghai, authorities in Beijing appear to be more proactive and decisive in suspending the labs’ operations and holding the implicated parties accountable.
China’s mass-testing model being tested . . .
Despite the argument in China that mass testing is more cost-effective at containing COVID than lockdowns, routinizing such schemes would add another source of economic frustration to China’s already budget-strained local governments. Last week, China’s National Healthcare Security Administration asked cities not to use medical insurance funds to cover mass testing, and local authorities must now divert funds initially intended for infrastructure projects or poverty reduction to finance testing drives. An estimate shows that the bill for regular mass testing in all of China’s tier-1 and tier-2 cities could exceed C$323 billion a year, the equivalent of 1.5 per cent of China’s GDP. Adherence to the ‘zero-COVID’ policy could raise more questions about the costs of sustaining this testing scheme while also trying to meet China’s 5.5 per cent growth goal for this year.
- Financial Times: China diverts anti-poverty funds to COVID testing as crisis deepens
- Sixth Tone: Beijing axes COVID-19 testing lab over procedural violations
- South China Morning Post: Chinese police investigate commercial COVID test labs over alleged fraud