At least 9,000 people have been swabbed with reused Chinese coronavirus antigen kits at Kualanamu Airport in North Sumatra, Indonesia, over the past three months, local police said Thursday.
Antigen tests are used to detect the presence of a specific viral antigen, or protein, which is part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease called “COVID-19,” or the Chinese coronavirus. Antigen tests are collected via nasal cavity swabs.
North Sumatra police announced on April 28 that they recently arrested five medical workers from the Indonesian state-owned Kimia Farma Diagnostic pharmaceutical company for reusing antigen test kits on travelers at Indonesia’s Kualanamu Airport since at least December 2020.
“The suspects allegedly washed and cleaned used cotton swabs — which are supposed to be discarded after use — and repackaged them for reuse at the airport lab,” the Indonesian news site Coconuts Jakarta reported on April 30.
“In one day, there were between 100 to 200 passengers who took the swab test. If we count just 100 people, multiply by 90 days, that’s already 9,000 people,” North Sumatra Police Chief RZ Panca Putra Simanjuntak told reporters at a press conference on April 29.
North Sumatra Police said they are still investigating the incident and have not yet determined if any of the 9,000 or more victims contracted the Chinese coronavirus or any other diseases or illnesses from the reused antigen kits.
North Sumatra Regional Police Spokesman Hadi Wahyudi told reporters at an April 28 press conference that the force deployed undercover officers to Kualanamu Airport to investigate Kimia Farma Diagnostic’s antigen testing operation after receiving a tip from travelers that the company’s workers were reusing testing swabs and kits.
The undercover police officers “posed as airline passengers at the airport and allowed the medical workers from Kimia Farma to carry out the antigen rapid tests. The tests included taking samples from their nose [sic],” Wahyudi said.
“The investigators’ suspicions increased after the tests indicated them to be positive for Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus]. Skeptical of the results, the policemen examined the antigen rapid test labs, then interrogated the Kimia Farma Diagnostic personnel,” the police spokesman said. “The health workers admitted to the police that they used old rapid test samples on the passengers.”
The five suspects reused antigen test kits as part of a plan to pocket money earmarked for the purchase of additional testing kits. North Sumatra police said they estimated the suspects “pocketed around IDR1.8 billion (US$124,552) for themselves” through the scheme.
“The five suspects have been charged with violation of articles under Indonesia’s health law and customer protection law, which could see them imprisoned for up to 15 years or fined up to IDR3 billion (US$207,576), if convicted,” Coconuts Jakarta reported Friday.
“The antigen rapid test service at Kualanamu Airport has since been closed until further notice,” according to the news site.