Hebei to reexamine COVID-19 results after testing agency conceals positive cases
Published: Jan 18, 2021 07:53 PM

Residents in Xiongan New Area, North China's Hebei Province queue up for nucleic acid tests on January 14. Photo: VCG

The governor of North China's Hebei Province has demanded a rescreening of all COVID-19 testing results carried out by third-party agencies in a bid to detect loopholes or falsifying of data, after one of the agencies in charge of sample processing in Longyao county, Xingtai reportedly hid three positive results, despite the coronavirus outbreak ravaging the region. 

Jinan Huaxi Medical Laboratory, which was hired to process COVID-19 tests in Longyao, reported on Thursday to the local health commission that it had finished the analysis of some 310,000 swab samples taken from the county's residents, which had all returned negative results, when in fact it had not even completed the testing. 

Two days later, the company made a different claim, saying that a set of samples had tested positive. The county immediately carried out an investigation, which found two confirmed cases and one asymptomatic case on Sunday, while exposing the lab's false reporting of the samples that it had received. Police detained the person in charge of the company. 

In response to the incident, Xu Qin, governor of Hebei, ordered a thorough reexamination of all the nucleic acid tests carried out by agencies, stressing that "no one should be left out, and all data be authentic," China News reported on Monday. 

The news immediately made its way to the top search bar on China's twitter-like Sina Weibo, gaining more than 400 million views and prompting 16,000 discussions as of press time, while the Huaxi Medical Laboratory found itself in a storm of questions and criticism from netizens.

Some accused the agency of being irresponsible with regard to public health, questioning why it "assumed an all-negative result before the real tests were completed." Many others asked if the incident had rung the bell on the lack of supervision by relevant authorities. 

Yang Zhanqiu, a virologist from Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Monday that the testing agencies, although authorized by local governments, are largely companies rather than hospitals. 

"Companies usually have less supervision than hospitals, which could result in management loopholes," said Yang. 

To avoid similar mistakes, Yang suggested that local officials should also put more emphasis on the quality of testing rather than the speed.

This is not the first time that the lab has been punished for violating epidemic prevention and control rules. During the initial COVID-19 outbreak in February 2020, the company was included on a list of medical institutions approved by the Jinan health commission in East China's Shandong Province to be the first batch of agencies to carry out nucleic acid testing. 

Merely two months later, however, it was punished for failing to dispose of infectious medical waste in proper packaging, reported the Beijing News on Sunday. 

Looking back to remarks made by the founder of the lab's parent company, Zhang Hezi, who voiced a pledge for the company to be part of "the 3 percent among all gene-testing companies that are reliable and honest," the latest development is undoubtedly "a slap in the face," said Chinese netizens.