China tests millions to curb second-wave Covid-19 outbreaks in Beijing

By Jesús Centeno

Beijing, July 16 (efe-epa).- A campaign to screen nearly the entire population, inflatable laboratories, mobile clinics, and a comprehensive epidemiological investigation are part of China’s new strategy to tackle a second-wave outbreak of the novel coronavirus that infected over 300 people within a month in the capital.

At the entrance of the capital’s Pu Ren hospital, dozens of people queued up early in the morning to undergo a nucleic acid test, some of them arriving voluntarily while others because they need negative test results to be able to travel or return to work.

It has been made obligatory for supermarket workers, restaurant employees, healthcare personnel, and delivery executives to undergo tests, apart from high-risk area residents, especially those adjacent to the Xinfadi wholesale market, where a fresh wave of infections was detected on June 11.

Since then, the city has increased its testing capacity to contain the outbreak. Hundreds of centers have been set up to collect samples, while the labs in the capital can test more than a million samples each day.

More than 10 million samples have been tested so far, covering around half of the city’s over 22 million people, and the measures seem to be effective, with no fresh cases reported for over a week now.

To reach such a high volume of tests, the experts have carried out mixed tests, in which five samples are included in a single analysis.

Sun Guimei, the associate dean at the Pu Ren hospital, told EFE that in these type of tests, many samples were analyzed at the same time and if one of them tested positive, a fresh test was carried out on all people of the group to know which of them had been infected.

“This method is very effective and allows carrying out tests at a large scale,” Sun said.

The lab where she works requires going through a series of prevention measures before entering.

Experts have to wear masks, gloves, and protective suits at all times while preparing the reagents that determine if a sample is positive for the coronavirus.

“If we detect a positive, it is immediately verified with a second reagent on the same day. If the second sample comes out negative, we decide that the first was a false positive,” explained Yang Huijuan, the director of the hospital’s clinical laboratory.

Sun and Yang believe that widespread testing has played a crucial role in controlling Covid-19 after the fresh outbreak and has set a useful precedent for the future.

They said the most important factor was carrying out all the tests in the shortest time possible to identify and isolate patients before transmission accelerates.

“Here we carry out tests on all the people who should be taking them. Also on those who want to get tested voluntarily. Of course, we have special protocols for those who come without symptoms,” said Sun.

Yang asserted it was important not to miss “even a single test” among people who may have contracted Covid-19.

After being criticized for its management of the disease when the epidemic first broke out in the central city of Wuhan, China now seems eager to demonstrate that it can control the virus and has not spared any resources in the effort.

Beijing has even rolled out inflatable labs called “huoyan” (meaning eye of fire in Mandarin), which had carried out around a million tests by last week.

One such facility, capable of conducting around 100,000 nucleic acid tests per day, was also used in Wuhan, which spent around 900 million yuan ($127 million) in a massive testing campaign after detecting many asymptomatic tests. The city tested nearly all of its 10 million residents in just 19 days.

In Beijing, anyone wanting to be tested can also go to one of the improvised clinics set up by the authorities in stadiums, vehicles, and other public spaces, apart from using the hospitals.

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