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People's Daily Online

Wuhan tests 10m people in 10 days, nears completion of citywide testing drive

People's Daily Online

(People's Daily Online) 16:13, June 02, 2020

"Negative!" That was the good news that Yang Taizhen, a 96-year-old Wuhan citizen, got from her family when they told her the results of her nucleic acid test on May 23.

Though Yang has not been out of her apartment since the community lockdown was introduced, the community still arranged for her to take a test out of safety concerns. "The government is doing a great thing and being responsible for all its citizens," Yang said.

About two weeks ago, Wuhan, the former epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China, launched a citywide campaign to test all 11 million of its residents in ten days after six new cases emerged in a residential community earlier in May, breaking a 35-day streak of zero cases in the city. The testing drive aims to better understand the number of asymptomatic cases or people who show no clear symptoms despite carrying the virus.

From May 15 to May 24, samples were taken from more than 9 million residents and over 6.5 million have been tested, with 218 asymptomatic cases being identified, according to the Wuhan Health Commission. On May 22, more than 10 percent of the city's population, or 1.47 million citizens, were tested in a single day.

Determined to leave no person behind, the city has set up 231 sampling sites, searching for and testing residents who were left out of the initial drive. As of May 31, a total of 320 asymptomatic carriers in Wuhan have been put under quarantine and their close contacts were being closely tracked, according to the city's health commission.

Race against time

Processing tests for a city of around 10 million is no easy task, and communities are doing their best to ensure people's safety.

Most of the tests are conducted outdoors in residential communities, with residents being kept more than a meter apart to avoid cross-infection. Volunteers and community workers are nearby to maintain order, and the medical workers change their gloves for every test. Medical workers also paid door-to-door visits to those unable to make it to the testing sites, such as the elderly and disabled people.

Locals showed great support for the tests, partly because it was free of charge. The total cost, which is estimated at nearly 2 billion yuan, is being shouldered by the government.

To increase testing capacity, authorities used a "batch testing" method, which involves pooling samples together to be tested in batches, only carrying out individual tests if a batch proves positive.

Experts pointed out that the method works best in places with low infection rates. "Batch testing is a more economical and efficient way in areas with an infection rate of less than 1 percent," said Peng Zhiyong, ICU director of Zhongnan Hospital in Wuhan.

Since the testing campaign began, the local health authority has been releasing the number of new asymptomatic infections every single day on its official website.

"For the public, open and transparent data sharing is an important way to address their concerns," said an official from the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to the total number of infections, citizens have been able to get access to personal results since May 22 on WeChat, one of China's leading social messaging apps. Many residents have posted their own results in chat groups or Moments, not only to share their excitement at being healthy, but also to ease their neighbors' worries.

Wang Liying, a local resident living in Wuchang District, felt relieved after seeing her neighbors' test results. "My little grandson is seven months old and can't wear a mask. I didn't dare to take him out in the past few months. Now I feel it's safe to take him out," she said.

Mass tests, increased confidence

Like Wang, more and more citizens are going out after the testing campaign. The city has seen life gradually return to normal, with the hustle and bustle of normal times returning to public places.

According to local health authorities, testing has been carried out on all employees at the city's major supermarkets and restaurants, including more than 55,000 people. As the epidemic has taken a heavy toll on businesses in Wuhan, the citywide testing has helped increase citizens' willingness to consume.

In addition, nearly 60,000 employees from the public transportation sector, including bus, subway, airport and railway corporations, have completed the tests, with none testing positive.

The gruelling "ten-day battle" is no doubt a shot in the arm for Wuhan citizens, with many expressing their increased confidence in the gradual resumption of work and production and restoration of normal order in their lives.

"After the testing drive, the number of people on the streets has increased significantly. We feel more secure when going shopping and going to work," said local resident Mrs. Qian.

The testing campaign in Wuhan is a very difficult task, but it is necessary, said Zeng Yixin, vice-minister of the National Health Commission. "Expanding the scope of nucleic acid testing is being done not only to protect people's health, but also to better restore social and economic order."

Lu Zuxun, a public health professor at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, said the mass testing effort will help uncover potential sources of infection and reduce risks as the city further resumes work, production and schooling, demonstrating its determination and ability to contain the virus.

"As the COVID-19 rampage continues globally, Wuhan's testing drive can provide other countries with more anti-virus experience," he added.

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