Chinese police investigate commercial Covid test labs over alleged fraud

Police in the Chinese capital are investigating three Covid-19 mass testing laboratories, accusing them of improper testing leading to inaccurate results.

Police said on Sunday that eight people from the Beijing Zhongtong Lanbo Medical Testing Laboratory were detained over allegations that the company tried to cut costs and time by mixing too many samples in one test despite knowing it would lead to inaccurate results.

“Any illegal activity might increase the risk of spreading the pandemic,” police said. “We have zero tolerance for that behavior and will severely punish it according to law.”

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Police also detained 17 people from the Beijing Jinzhun Medical Testing Laboratory over similar alleged breaches. In addition, six people from the Beijing Pushi Medical Laboratory were taken into custody and the lab’s license revoked on May 21 after the number of test results was significantly lower than the number of samples.

Beijing’s health commission said the government would inspect all private testing centers. The Yanqing district government said that from May 21, all the tests in the area had been conducted by public medical organizations to ensure quality.

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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 $ 257 billion), or about 1.5 per cent of the country’s GDP last year.

The laboratories under investigation operate testing checkpoints all over the capital as well as in other cities.

Beijing Jinzhun has a branch in the northeast city of Harbin, and provides medical services to more than 300 hospitals in China, according to its WeChat account.

Zhongtong Lanbo also has services in Hefei, Anhui province, which have been suspended by the local government.

Similar cases have been found in other cities as well. In early May, many Shanghai residents received positive test results from Zhongke Runda Medical Laboratory only to later test negative at hospitals.

Besides the labs, Beijing also announced last week that three people were detained after the police found out they were testing residents for a fee but were not qualified to do so.

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