Experts back halt on BGI’s mobile stations

Medical experts have backed the government’s move to stop private laboratory BGI from running mobile testing stations until investigations into its procedures and the accuracy of sample-taking are complete, following several apparent blunders.

The mainland firm had failed to detect a patient infected with a highly infectious mutated strain of Covid-19, despite repeated tests at her quarantine hotel.

The patient, a Filipino domestic helper, was only diagnosed after she completed her quarantine and moved into her employer’s flat.

Speaking on an RTHK radio show on Monday, infectious diseases expert Joseph Tsang from the Medical Association said the woman was probably infected at the quarantine hotel, adding that it is worrying that she was not identified despite having been tested twice.

Tsang said authorities should investigate whether the sample-taking done by BGI had been up to standard.

He also suggested that authorities consider testing travellers from high-risk countries more frequently.

Health officials are also investigating whether BGI is at fault after its laboratory yielded 28 false positive cases in a single day last week.

A woman whose kindergarten child was mistakenly identified as being infected was emotional as she called in to the same RTHK programme, questioning why the government hasn’t stopped BGI from carrying out Covid tests.

“I work in a lab myself, even though it’s not a biochemistry lab. If something like this happened with my company, we would have been taken off already! I really think it’s ridiculous that BGI can still provide testing,” she said.

But on the same show, University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung noted that given the sheer number of tests that are done every day in Hong Kong, if BGI’s services are suspended, it may take much longer for test results to come in.

But he conceded it’s necessary to suspend the firm’s mobile testing services while investigations are carried out.

Tsang echoed Ho’s views, saying the government need to make the move to restore public confidence. He believes the testing firm can continue to serve Hong Kong after it smooths out its operations.

Meanwhile, Alex Li, who chairs the Association of Medical Laboratories, said tests aren’t fully accurate in detecting the coronavirus.

He added that it would be too harsh if a company was banned from providing all services due to a random mistake, and authorities should first make sure whether the previous blunders are systemic or not.