In China’s Hebei Province, one of the worst newly affected regions, the governor has stated that a medical agency falsified coronavirus test results and has requested re-screening. The agency, Jinan Huaxi Medical Laboratory, was tasked with testing residents in Longyao County. Out of the 310,000 swab samples, not one positive result was reported. It was later discovered that the agency had not even finished the testing process.
According to an article from state-backed Global Times, a few days after reporting no infections among the collected samples, “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.”
The fact that the governor ordered a complete reexamination of results has raised suspicions that the infection numbers are far worse than the publicly reported three cases. The fake results were submitted by an employee of the company, known only by the surname Di.
According to reports, the company had asked for five days to finish analyzing the swab samples. However, authorities pressed the company employees for faster results. Under pressure, Di reported false results in the hopes that it would gain him enough time to complete the full analysis before authorities examined it. The local police, investigating the case, have put Di under “criminal compulsory measures.”
After the incident came to light, Jinan Huaxi has been forced to suspend its virus testing activities for an indefinite period of time. The parent company, Nucleus Gene, has 31 labs across China, with virus testing accounting for around 70 to 80 percent of total revenues last year. Li Tao, the vice president of Nucleus Gene, called Di’s forgery an “amateur mistake” and blamed him for failing to see the big picture. He remarked that if Di had consulted his superiors, the forgery would not have happened.
Chinese officials are using the incident to blame private companies for flaws in testing and have asked the government for more oversight on their activities. Jinan Huaxi’s past questionable behaviors were also brought to light, including an incident where the lab apparently did not properly dispose of infectious medical waste during the initial days of the viral outbreak.
One local media report has suggested that the company might have been made a scapegoat by authorities to avoid being held responsible for errors that happened during testing. However, no evidence has been uncovered to support the claim.
When the news of falsification of test results was revealed online, it attracted widespread attention of Chinese netizens. On Weibo, the issue made it to the top search bar and received 400 million views, triggering 16,000 discussions.
Some netizens have also raised doubts about the recent infection numbers reported by the government in Hebei. Between Jan. 12 and 15, the province reported 90 new cases every single day. People found it odd that the infection numbers would be exactly the same for three days straight.
Meanwhile, the WHO investigators in China seem to have turned up no significant information into the origin of the coronavirus. The team is currently under a two-week quarantine and is holding teleconferences with their Chinese counterparts.
The United States has called for an honest investigation and asked Beijing to allow WHO to interview lab workers, caregivers, and former patients in Wuhan to get to the bottom of the issue. “We have a solemn duty to ensure that this critical investigation is credible and is conducted objectively and transparently,” Garrett Grigsby, who heads the U.S. delegation, said to Reuters.