Earlier this month, Chinese authorities announced plans to test all 11 million people in Wuhan within ten days, a plan they referred to as “ten days of mass battle.” This was prompted by the discovery of a half dozen new cases of the virus in one apartment building. In the end they didn’t quite get it done in ten days. They did however test about 9 million people using a technique called sample pooling:
Most of those nine million samples have already been processed, according to a daily record of nucleic-acid tests by Wuhan health authorities. In total, they said, the mass testing identified 180 asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus, who were put under quarantine and monitored for symptoms. Just one of those cases was later recategorized as a confirmed case…
While falling slightly short of its ambitious target of testing everyone in the city, Wuhan was nonetheless able to test so many people so quickly by adopting an approach known as “sample pooling,” used earlier in the U.S. and Germany to track Covid-19, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Using sample pooling, Wuhan authorities collected samples one by one from citizens, and then processed five to 10 of them at once in a single nucleic-acid test.
By bundling multiple samples, Wuhan was able to immediately clear all of the citizens included in one test—as long as the test came out as negative—thereby significantly cutting the number of total nucleic-acid tests required.
So by combining ten samples into one test, they only had to perform about 900,000 tests, which is pretty doable in a week. In the U.S. we’re currently testing around 350,000 to 400,000 people per day. So we could use a similar technique to run tests on a similar-sized city in about 3 days. The collection of millions of individual samples is what would take all the time.
In any case, given the way China’s handling of the outbreak has become part of a global propaganda effort I don’t think we can trust any numbers they are giving out. And that includes the collection of 9 million samples. Previous reporting indicated they had already tested nearly 5 million people in the city. Are they including those tests in this total or were these all new tests? Even if they offered an answer to that question, would you believe it?
There’s another coronavirus related story in the Wall Street Journal today which is pretty chilling. At least one city, Hangzhou, which is directly east of Wuhan and roughly the same size, is talking about making the phone tracking software the Chinese government rolled out to track people’s movements a permanent fixture. In fact, the city is suggesting every resident might get a permanent health rating from the government.
Anger spread across Chinese social media sites over the weekend following an announcement that officials in the eastern city of Hangzhou could create a permanent version of a smartphone-based health-rating system developed to fight Covid-19. The news led some internet users to accuse the city of exploiting the pandemic to expand state monitoring of residents…
Hangzhou, a tech hub located south of Shanghai, was among the first cities to roll out a health-rating app. Developed by authorities with help from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., which is based in Hangzhou, the app tracks a person’s travel history and health conditions in order to single out those at a higher risk of carrying the coronavirus…
On Friday, the city’s health commission said it was considering a new, permanent version of the tool that would assign each person a colored health badge based on a collation of their medical records, physical examination results and lifestyle habits, such as smoking and alcohol consumption.
In addition to the colored badge, each resident would be assigned a health score ranging from 0 to 100, which a city would use to compile health rankings, Hangzhou health commission chief Sun Yongrong said, according to the commission’s website.
On the one hand, some kind of voluntary, temporary tracking might make sense until we have a coronavirus treatment or vaccine. On the other hand, this kind of power to limit people’s movement is an Orwellian nightmare in the hands of an authoritarian government like the Community Chinese Party.
It’s not hard to imagine how this could be misused in a place like Hong Kong to prevent protesters from leaving their homes or, more accurately, giving police an excuse to arrest those who gather to protest. The abuse of this kind of government power over individuals is guaranteed.