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People's Daily Online

A glimpse into Hong Kong's inflatable COVID-19 testing lab

People's Daily Online

(Xinhua) 10:50, August 13, 2020

Sixteen white "cocoons" have been neatly arranged in the large gymnasium at the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park Sports Centre with protective layers, wires and network cables laid on the wooden floor. Hong Kong's "Fire Eye Laboratory" is about to be put into use.

To cope with the rampant resurgence of COVID-19 cases, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government launched a screening scheme to offer free and voluntary testing to millions of Hong Kong residents. Three testing service providers from the mainland, including BGI, will participate in the mass testing.

According to Cao Sujie, director of the Fire Eye lab in Hong Kong, an inflatable lab is convenient for transportation and installation, environment-friendly and energy-saving, and therefore is fit for rapid and large-scale testing.

The mobile Huoyan (Fire Eye) laboratory of BGI was built in 12 hours.

The lab materials left Shenzhen, where the Chinese biotech company was based, at 4 p.m. on Aug. 6, and arrived at the sports center at 9 p.m.. Construction of the 16 air-inflated film chambers were completed at 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 7.

Debugging has been done on the first five chambers as of Tuesday and testing equipment will be installed within the week.

Cao said the lab can cope with 100,000 nucleic acid tests a day once in full operation. "If using mixed-together testing methods such as three-in-one or five-in-one tests, the testing capacity can be expanded to 300,000 to 500,000 samples a day."

To achieve the target, 600 testing staffers taking three shifts a day will be needed, Cao said.

Hong Kong has been battling a third wave of COVID-19 infections since early July, with over 4,000 confirmed cases and more than 60 deaths so far. A universal screening has become a priority.

Secretary for Food and Health Chan Siu-chee said earlier that five million people are expected to participate in the testing, and all personal information involved will be strictly protected.

Cao said that negative samples from the lab will be destroyed while positive ones will be sent to testing facilities under the Department of Health of the HKSAR government for confirmation.

In Chinese folklore, the piercing fire eyes enable Monkey King to see through all disguises of monsters. The Fire Eye labs developed by BGI, taking the name, have been used worldwide for large-scale nucleic acid testing without manual intervention.

According to BGI, the company has built multiple Fire Eye labs worldwide, and participated in the anti-COVID-19 efforts in countries including Denmark, France, Italy, Canada, Serbia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The construction and operation of the Fire Eye lab in Hong Kong are based on the successful experience of large-scale nucleic acid screening during the previous months. In addition to the labs of international standards, BGI's testing kits are also on the WHO's emergency procurement list and used in more than 180 countries and regions, Cao said. "We can ensure the smooth implementation of the mass testing in Hong Kong."

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