Chinese fear wrong Covid test results mean pandemic won’t end

Residents line up outside a Covid-19 testing booth in Beijing, China, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. The capital has required regular virus testing for more than six months.

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BEIJING — Local frustration over China’s Covid controls has increasingly targeted virus testing requirements and the big business they’ve fueled.

Trending on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, on Tuesday morning was the hashtag: “If the virus testing chaos never ends, the pandemic may never end,” according to CNBC’s translation from Chinese.

The hashtag referred to the headline of a now-deleted opinion piece from a publication overseen by the People’s Daily, the newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. The article listed several cases of allegedly falsified virus test results this year across the country, including in Shanghai and Beijing.

The article warned that false reports of nucleic acid test results could end up spreading the virus further, leading to even more rounds of testing – and lockdowns for months.

The same media published an article on Monday, still online, about more than 30 virus testing companies in China, all controlled by the same shareholder – who has been repeatedly fined.

Last week, health authorities in the city of Lanzhou accused one such company of flagging some positive virus test results as negative.

It’s unclear to what extent there may be fraud, or whether the sheer volume of tests has made it difficult to process them accurately.

In the United States, a wave of pop-up virus testing stations has raised concerns of fraud as well as identity theft.

On Tuesday, a Chinese official told a news conference that the cities of Beijing, Hefei and Shijiazhuang, among others, found problems with some virus testing companies and punished them. Criminal investigations of some institutions and individuals have also been carried out, the official added.

Over the past month, several major cities in mainland China have reported an increase in infections, prompting further shutdowns. Students and groups of people staged public demonstrations over the weekend to protest Covid controls, a policy that has persisted for nearly three years.

Restrictions have tightened this year as authorities seek to track and contain the more contagious variant of Omicron. The capital Beijing, Shanghai and many parts of the country have mandated regular virus testing for months – for travel or entering public places such as a supermarket.

Beijing city authorities said on Wednesday that people mostly staying at home will not need to test regularly, following a similar announcement in parts of Guangzhou city earlier in the week.

Virus testing: big business

CNBC selected 15 Chinese listed Covid testing companies and found that they reported total revenue of 86.58 billion yuan ($12.2 billion) in the first three quarters of the year. year, according to data from Wind Information.

Not all of their income necessarily comes from testing. But their business saw big gains this year through the end of September.

Seven of the companies said their revenue nearly doubled or more in this period compared to a year ago – one even saw revenue nearly quadruple, the data showed. Three of these companies had been listed on the mainland market since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

Last week, the Shanghai Stock Exchange canceled its review of a proposed IPO by a virus testing company.

In the first half of the year, 237 companies related to virus testing registered in China, up 51.9% from a year ago, according to Qichacha, a business database Chinese.

Test only 15 minutes walk

Until earlier this year, testing for the virus was mainly done by hospitals and negative results were not required to enter public places in some cities.

Analysts had said regular testing could help authorities reduce infections more quickly.

But after Shanghai’s lockdown in early April, many cities, including Beijing, began setting up more neighborhood kiosks for PCR virus testing – polymerase chain reaction tests that are highly accurate and fairly simple to perform. treat.

At least in Beijing, stations frequently display the logos of the companies that perform the tests, with no upfront cost to those tested.

In May, the central government promoted the idea that in major cities a Covid testing station should be within a 15-minute walk. The city of Beijing reiterated those plans on Wednesday.

As China embarks on the path to reopening, state media has placed greater emphasis on local adherence to the latest version of the health authority’s Covid policy and subsequent measures released in November. . Neither stipulates if or how virus testing stations should be deployed.

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