|A medical worker in a protective suit conducts a nucleic acid testing for a resident at a residential compound in Wuhan, the Chinese city hit hardest by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Hubei province, China May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song|
Residents in Wuhan braved pouring rain in queues of more than an hour to take part in a government-led exercise to test the city’s 11 million people for the novel coronavirus, a scale health experts describe as unprecedented.
Authorities in the central Chinese city, where the global pandemic began last year and whose cases account for more than 80% of the country’s total, started the campaign this week after a cluster of new cases raised fears of a second wave of infections.
While Wuhan lifted its 76-day lockdown last month, concerns persist over how many asymptomatic cases – people who show no symptoms but are capable of spreading the virus – there may be.
In Wuhan’s Qiaokou district, at the Zirun Mingyuan apartment community where about 10,000 people live, men, women and children stood under umbrellas while elderly residents perched on stools as they waited to get tested at four sites set up in the middle of the compound.
Many said they were notified by text by the compound’s residential committee on Tuesday that they could get tested in batches and were under the impression it was voluntary and free of charge.
Authorities say they aim to test all 11 million residents, though the priority are people from 12 categories, such as school, medical, transport, supermarket and government workers and people returning from overseas or leaving Wuhan for work.
“Even though there weren’t any new cases in a while it seems Wuhan continues to have asymptomatic patients. Everyday there’s a few,” said Zhu Fangmin, 43, who stood in a queue of more than 60 people.
“It’s very likely these people could be around us so this wide-scale examination will put people’s mind at ease,” she said.
One test site was made up of two tables. At the first, a volunteer took down identification details. The other was staffed by two nurses dressed in face shields, gloves and hazmat suits, one of whom took throat swabs from residents.
Some people expressed concern that they could catch the virus through the testing exercise, by standing in the queues. “I heard that the nurses aren’t switching their gloves,” said one woman who gave her surname as Chen.