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2022-05-30 08:48:57

Beijing’s health authority has suspended operations of a third COVID-19 testing lab in over a week for violating standard operating procedures to save cost and speed up their work as the city ramped up screenings amid a fresh outbreak.

Beijing’s Zhongtong Lanbo Medical Testing Laboratory was found to be incompletely logging test results and mixing multiple samples together while testing, Beijing Municipal Health Commission said Sunday. Officials deemed the practice “illegal.”

“Nucleic acid tests are the key technical means to detect new COVID-19 infections,” Wang Xiao’e, an official from the commission, said during Sunday’s press conference. “The illegal practices seriously violate the quality and safety regulations and affect the accuracy of the test results. It could lead to the untimely discovery of COVID-positive residents and lead to the further spread of the epidemic.”

Registered in 2007, Zhongtong Lanbo is a subsidiary of the Hong Kong-listed company China Isotope & Radiation Corporation. It was approved to conduct nucleic acid tests in July 2020.

Since the new wave of infections was detected earlier this month, the city has ordered regular mass testing for its more than 21 million residents. Beijing logged 12 COVID-19 cases Sunday, the third-highest number nationwide after Shanghai and Hebei province.

Zhongtong Lanbo is the third nucleic acid testing lab in Beijing that has been found to flout standard testing guidelines in the last 10 days. Authorities said they have started the procedure to revoke its license.

Meanwhile, Beijing Pushi has had its lab license revoked over similar violations. Police have detained 17 members of staff from Beijing Jinzhun and eight from Beijing Zhongtong Lanbo labs — including both their corporate representatives — over their possible involvement in the illegal operations.

“They knew clearly what they did could result in the inaccuracy of the results,” Pan Xuhong, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, said referring to the latest findings.

Controversies involving testing labs and the accuracy of nucleic acid test results were also reported in Shanghai in early May. After residents complained of false positive results, city authorities said they inspected over 100 labs performing nucleic acid tests and found no malpractice.

One resident told Sixth Tone she was taken to a quarantine center 10 days after testing positive for the virus during nucleic acid screening, but the self-test antigen kit detected no infection between those days.

However, the woman said she started showing COVID-19 symptoms after returning home from the quarantine center. The self-test kit showed she had the coronavirus.

“It’s clear I was not infected before I was sent to the hospital,” she said.

After a public outcry, Shanghai’s health commission said on May 10 that it was investigating Zhongke Runda Medical Testing Laboratory and would not tolerate any illegal practices. Authorities haven’t released results of the investigation yet, and the lab in question is still offering nucleic acid tests.

A person who works at a nucleic testing lab in Shanghai told Sixth Tone that some facilities don’t turn down samples, even if they’re outside their capacity.

“Some companies view the outbreak as an opportunity to make money — but it’s not,” said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity. “You can challenge your limits, but you cannot blindly accept assignments or make pledges to the government that you cannot possibly achieve. Your real capacity is the base of what you want to do.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: VCG)