China’s ambitious programme to test the entire population of Wuhan for the coronavirus is a boost to confidence for the central Chinese city as it gets back to business but more data is needed for scientists to understand the value of the tests, according to specialists.
The Wuhan Health Commission said on Monday that the city tested more than 60,000 people on Sunday for the coronavirus and found no cases of asymptomatic infections – patients with mild or no symptoms.
“This shows that the coordinated efforts by Wuhan to carry out nucleic acid tests are showing positive results,” the commission said, suggesting that blanket, mandatory testing programme may have helped break the silent transmission of the pathogen in the city.
Since mid-May, authorities had collected samples from more than 9 million Wuhan residents and completed tests on 6.5 million of those samples, Hubei Daily reported last week. So far, 291 asymptomatic cases and one symptomatic case of Covid-19 – the disease caused by the virus – have been detected, according to the report.
Scientists have warned that the coronavirus can spread quickly, especially with asymptomatic cases, or silent carriers, who can go undetected in communities.
Chen Xi, associate professor of health policy and economics at the Yale School of Public Health, said that while it was not necessary to test everyone, it made sense for China to carry out large-scale testing in Hubei province since most of the country’s Covid-19 cases happened in Wuhan – Hubei’s provincial capital – and surrounding cities.
He also said that the low number of asymptomatic cases discovered helped give residents and businesses confidence to reopen the economy and remove the stigma against the city’s population.
“As Covid-19 is accelerating its transmission globally, resurgence worldwide and more imported cases later this year [for China] become almost certain,” Chen said. “Low risk of local community transmission helps [the Chinese authorities] devote resources to better tackle imported cases and associated resurgence risk.”
Professor Jin Dong-yan, a molecular virologist at the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong, agreed that scientifically it was not necessary to test all residents.
Jin said mass testing, which was expensive, was carried out “out of sociological, or psychological concerns, instead of scientific purposes”.
“It’s more a measure to make people rest assured [that they are in a safe environment],” Jin said.
But he urged the government to publish more data about the tests and their results because the information released so far explained little about the disease in Wuhan.
Jin said that a scientific approach would be to carry out a sample survey with both nucleic acid and antibody tests, helping uncover both asymptomatic cases and reveal the overall immunity level among the residents.
Wuhan authorities did such a survey on 11,000 people in April, and found one confirmed infection through the nucleic acid tests, Hubei Daily reported last week, but no analysis of the survey has yet been published.
The findings of the mass nucleic acid testing in the past weeks and the survey would be meaningless if the government did not release more information, Jin said.
“We don’t know how the samples are collected, who are doing the job and how these tests are being done,” he said.
Wuhan resident Luo Li said the mandatory testing did help him feel more at ease.
“Personally, I think the testing was absolutely necessary, because if the testing is not mandatory, many people would not do it,” Luo said.
“First, the testing fees might be a burden for lower-income families. Second, people might be afraid of cross-infections if they had to go to hospitals to take the tests.”
Additional reporting by Kristin Huang
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This article ‘More details needed’ on Wuhan’s mass coronavirus tests first appeared on South China Morning Post