英文

Editorial:Don't put all eggs in the BGI basket

【明報專訊】The government has demanded the BGI Group, a contractor for COVID-19 virus testing, submit an investigation report and has temporarily stopped commissioning the laboratory to run mobile testing stations after a string of testing blunders revealed. The situation of the pandemic outside Hong Kong is volatile as COVID-19 variants rage across countries. Efforts to prevent the import of the mutant strains into the city have to be strict and tight, and testing is particularly a crucial part in the gatekeeping. BGI is responsible for collecting specimens from the airport and designated hotels for people under quarantine and conducting tests. No mistakes should be allowed. But recently, several false positive cases involving BGI's testing have been identified. An inbound traveller was also confirmed to have contracted the disease only after she had left the quarantine hotel and entered the community. The authorities must follow up the issue thoroughly to see whether the frontline workers are doing an adequate job of sample taking and whether there are loopholes in the measures taken by the laboratory to prevent contamination. In order to ensure a neutral and objective inquiry, the government should arrange for the participation of an independent third party. In view of the huge workload of virus testing, the government's expert advisors are concerned that the fatigue of frontline workers may affect their alertness and their haste may easily cause mistakes. If the authorities can distribute the work of virus testing appropriately, that will relieve the stress on individual contractors and avoid putting all eggs in one basket.

Set up more than 20 years ago, BGI is a mainland genomic sequencing institute based in Shenzhen. The Sunrise Diagnostic Centre Limited is a joint venture company formed by BGI in Hong Kong. The group is one of the five contractors running the community testing centres in Hong Kong. It also provides mobile testing station services and collects specimens from quarantine hotels. The specimens taken from the community testing centres are handled at BGI's laboratory at Tai Po Industrial Estate. As for the testing service at the airport, Sunrise has a temporary laboratory at the airport to conduct nucleic acid testing for inbound travellers. A conservative estimate is that currently about one third of all COVID-19 tests in Hong Kong are done by the group.

In recent days, BGI has been involved in multiple false positive cases. There was also an allegedly false negative case that led to the release of an infected inbound traveller into the community. A government expert advisor who had inspected the BGI lab suspected that there had been cross-contamination among the samples, leading to 26 false positives. In another case, a Filipino domestic helper tested negative twice during quarantine at a hotel. But just a few days after entering the community, testing confirmed that she had contracted a mutant strain of the virus. For the time being, it cannot be ruled out that she was exposed to the virus during hotel quarantine, but obviously it is also possible that improper sampling by testing workers resulted in the failure to identify the positive case. Various disease experts have pointed out that COVID-19 patients commonly begin to develop antibodies ten days after infection. After the Filipino domestic helper concerned was hospitalised, testing immediately found that she had the antibodies, a sign that she had already been infected for some time. If sample taking had been done properly during hotel quarantine, the case would supposedly have been identified much earlier.

On average, each BGI staffer has to handle 800 samples every day and work for at least 50 hours a week. Government expert advisor Yuen Kwok-yung is concerned whether exhaustion will make laboratory workers less alert about the accidental contamination of the samples. It is not desirable to put all the eggs in one basket. A suitable relief of the stress of testing workload is also good for BGI. Yesterday (April 26) the government began to outsource quarantine testing service for designated hotel guests to another private testing organisation alongside BGI. This can share the testing workload out and is a good move to all sides.

明報社評2021.04.27:病毒檢測不容有失 雞蛋不宜集中一籃

新冠病毒檢測承辦商華大基因接連出錯,政府要求提交調查報告,同時暫停委派華大服務流動採樣站。外圍疫情風高浪急,變種病毒肆虐多國,外防輸入從嚴從緊,檢測把關尤其重要,華大負責在機場及指定酒店為檢疫者採樣檢測,更是不容有失。最近華大檢測出現多宗假陽性個案,亦有入境者離開檢疫酒店進入社區後,方發現確診,前線人員採樣是否到位、實驗室防污染措施是否存在漏洞,當局有必要切實跟進,為了確保調查報告中立客觀,政府應安排獨立第三方參與其中。病毒檢測工作量大,政府專家顧問關注,前線人員疲於奔命影響警覺性,容易忙中有錯,當局妥善攤分病毒檢測工作,既可減輕個別承辦商的壓力,亦可避免將雞蛋集中放在同一籃子。

華大基因成立逾廿載,總部位於深圳,是內地一家基因組測序中心,華昇是華大在港開設的合資公司。華大基因是本港社區檢測中心5間承辦商之一,另提供流動採樣站及到檢疫酒店採樣等。華大在大埔工業邨設有化驗室,處理社區檢測中心樣本;機場檢測方面,華昇在機場設有臨時實驗室,專為抵港者做核酸檢測。保守估計,目前本港有三分之一的新冠病毒檢測,都是由華大處理。

最近華大檢測出現多宗假陽性個案,另外亦懷疑有假陰性個案,走漏了外地抵港的感染者。政府顧問專家巡視華大化驗室,懷疑樣本交叉感染,導致有26個樣本錯誤得出陽性結果,至於菲傭在酒店檢疫兩度呈陰性,進入社區數天方驗出感染變種病毒,暫時無法排除當事人是在酒店檢疫期間接觸到病毒,可是檢測人員採樣疏漏導致驗不出陽性,顯然也是一個可能。多名傳染病專家均提到,患者一般在感染後10天會出現抗體,涉事菲傭一入院即驗出抗體,顯示她染疫已有一段時間,倘若酒店檢疫採樣到位,理應可以及早發現。

華大化驗所職員每人日均處理800個樣本,每周工作至少50小時,政府專家顧問袁國勇關注,化驗人員疲於奔命,對樣本意外污染的警覺性,或會有所下降。將雞蛋集中放在同一籃子,並非好的做法。適度減輕檢測工作壓力,對華大亦是好事。政府昨天起安排多一間私人檢測機構,與華大一起為指定酒店住客檢疫,可以攤分檢測工作量,這對各方都是好事。

■Glossary 生字

specimen : a sample for medical testing

relieve : to remove or reduce an unpleasant feeling or pain

outsource : to arrange for sb outside an organisation to do work or provide goods for it

上 / 下一篇新聞