China is gearing up for a serious battle against the novel coronavirus in the fall and winter by building a more expansive and agile network of nucleic acid testing resources, officials said on Aug 5.
The country's current testing capacity is sufficient to cope with sporadic clusters of infections and meet demand for implementing regular disease control measures. More efforts will then be devoted to stepping up regional testing capabilities, increasing the number of mobile laboratories and accelerating development of rapid testing kits, according to officials.
The persistent drive to ramp up testing was recently stressed by the central government as health experts urged caution against potential COVID-19 outbreaks in fall and winter months, which could be worsened by the circulation of other contagious viruses－such as the seasonal flu－and gradual reopening of borders while the virus continues to rage globally.
"We should conduct a thorough evaluation of the transmission risk in fall and winter and step up preparedness in advance. It is better to have excessive stockpiles than face shortages," said Wang Jiangping, vice-minister of the Ministry of Industry and Technology Information.
Wang said local governments should make sure that all tertiary hospitals, infectious disease hospitals, and disease control and prevention centers have the ability to carry out tests before the fall while taking proper biosafety precautions. Each county will also need to have at least one medical institution capable of running tests.
"Meanwhile, concerted efforts will be dedicated to strengthening the infrastructure of mobile testing facilities, so that they can be promptly mobilized during the initial stage of a fresh outbreak and join forces with local testing institutions," he said during a news conference held by the State Council's Information Office.
Jiao Yahui, an official in the National Health Commission's medical administration and supervision department, said the commission plans to construct a number of public testing facilities across the country equipped with both stationary and mobile equipment.
"When a new cluster emerges, these public testing facilities and third-party testing institutions will be quickly deployed to areas that cannot catch up with demand and help complete mass testing in a short span," she said.
Jiao added there will be a database consolidating information on the layout of testing institutions and laboratory workers, so they can be put in place to facilitate the deployment of resources at times of emergency.
Containing the spread
Fast and widespread testing is considered vital to curtailing the spread of the virus globally. In China, several rounds of mass testing have been conducted and played a significant role in swiftly identifying and managing infected patients and cutting the transmission route, according to officials.
That includes the citywide testing blitz launched in Wuhan, Hubei province－the hardest-hit city in China－in May, and the mass campaign covering 10 million residents in Beijing, as well as the ongoing screening missions in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and Liaoning province, which are both dealing with regional outbreaks.
Bolstering the wide screening is a fast expansion of domestic testing capacities in China. Official data show that the country had extended its testing capacity from about 1.2 million tests per day in early March to 4.8 million per day as of late July. There are now over 4,900 medical institutions certified to run tests and more than 38,000 test technicians.
Wang, vice-minister of the ministry, said China is able to produce as much as 46 million doses of testing reagents and over 1,200 reagent analysis units in a week, far exceeding current demands.
The precision and efficiency of testing has also markedly improved, said Bao Xianhua, head of the Ministry of Science and Technology's department of research commercialization and regional innovation.
With the approach of colder months, Bao said stronger focus has been given to creating rapid testing products that can deliver results within 30 minutes. "We have expedited the development of several such products and will strive to complete research and market approval before this fall and winter," he said.