After reportedly discovering 6 new coronavirus infections in Wuhan following a month of calm, health authorities in the city of 11 million and epicenter of the outbreak, which is still in the process of "normalizing" after a ~70 day lockdown that began back in January, are scrambling to test all of the city's residents in just 10 days.
Some local media outlets are calling it "the ten day battle", while most acknowledge that few expect officials to succeed in running 11 million tests in ten days. Currently, the most tests run per day anywhere in the world is 20k per day in South Korea. At that rate, it would take roughly 18 months to test that many people. The city would need to test nearly 750k people per day to meet this goal.
While that certainly seems impossible, the long lines snaking around street corners as locals line up - sometimes for hours at a time - at designated testing stations where health-care workers administer tests in the open air, according to the New York Times and AFP.
Videos depicting the lines have circulated on US social media after making it through the Great Firewall.
Lining up to get tested in Wuhan. The entire city of 11 million is getting tested in a 10 day period. pic.twitter.com/UiEMry9Hr4— Ananth Krishnan (@ananthkrishnan) May 15, 2020
Lines showed hundreds lining up at a time...
Hundreds of residents in the Chinese city of Wuhan are lining up at hospitals to be tested for COVID-19 as a flurry of new infections threaten a second lockdown pic.twitter.com/FrVmelzvCn— Reuters (@Reuters) May 14, 2020
...raising questions about the current capacity, which appears to be well above the peak reached during the depths of the crisis, according to several western reporters. Under "extreme circumstances" Wuhan has in the past managed to conduct 100k tests in a day, however.
An employee who answered the phone at a hotline set up by Wuhan’s mayor said the tests would be carried out in a staggered manner. Some neighborhoods would start earlier than others, but each would plan to finish testing its residents within 10 days, this person said.
Wuhan, by far the hardest-hit Chinese city, has reported more than 50,000 infections and 3,800 deaths since the outbreak started. One major goal of testing would be to identify infected people with no symptoms, who can still spread the virus.
According to government notices distributed on social media, at least seven neighborhoods in Wuhan said testing would start on Wednesday.
Party officials cranked up the propaganda to urge people to get tested asap.
"A nucleic acid test is your responsibility to yourself, your family and society,” read a post from the Changqing Garden No. 2 Neighborhood District Committee. “Please support and cooperate."
To be sure, while many locals grumbled, others praised the government, calling the testing drive "a good thing" even if they thought it might be overkill.
"This is a good thing. It’s a way to be responsible towards others and to yourself," a 40-year-old man told the AFP.
In areas where testing is happening, officials have erected rows of tents and set up folding tables and stools. Social media posts on Wednesday showed dozens of residents lining up to have nasal or throat swabs taken by medical workers wearing safety goggles and protective suits.
District notices shared on social media urged residents to keep a distance from one another and to spread the word about the testing, in order to “leave no one behind." For all residents, testing is free - part of China's basic health care coverage for all.
However, some claimed that the testing drive wasn't just "overkill", they warned it might actively hurt the public health and make the outbreak worse.
One expert who spoke with the NYT said they feared more people would be infected by standing in long lines while waiting to be tested, rendering the massive effort not only unnecessary, but actively harmful.
One local griped that "the safety measures inside are really bad. [People] are too close and the testing person handled a lot of samples from people but I didn’t see him wash his hands."
That certainly doesn't inspire confidence in China's ability to stave off round 2.