The citywide testing campaign began after six new cases emerged in the city, ending Wuhan’s 35-day streak of no new reported infections.
Two weeks in, the city has reported that 6.5 million people have been tested. By comparison, the US has tested a total of 14 million people in four months.
Thousands of medical doctors have been mobilized, and makeshift sites have been built to test communities as quickly as possible. These photos show how they’re making it happen.
Chinese state media has reported that in under two weeks, the city of Wuhan has collected more than 9 million samples and tested 6.5 million residents for the novel coronavirus in a sweeping new citywide initiative.
On May 11, the city announced plans for a widespread testing campaign meant to give all 11 million residents of Wuhan a free diagnostic test. The campaign came after six new cases signified the end of a monthlong streak of no new reported infections.
The city ended its 76-day lockdown on April 8 and had since returned to a level of normality with the reopening of transportation, businesses, parks, and restaurants.
But the string of six new cases prompted the government to act quickly. “There will not be a new minor peak,” China’s chief epidemiologist, Wu Zunyou, said in a statement. “We will not allow scattered cases to develop into massive outbreaks.”
While some are critical of the efficacy in testing so many people in such a short period of time, others see it as a way to assure the people of Wuhan that daily life can resume safely.
These photos show how Wuhan has implemented its new testing efforts, while the US and other countries continue to lag behind.
After a 35-day streak of no new reported infections, Wuhan recorded six new coronavirus cases in early May. Officials responded swiftly to the outbreak by ordering all 11 million of the city’s residents to be tested free.
The first to be tested were elderly and at-risk people, followed by those living in densely populated areas and communities with large migrant populations.
So far, China’s state media has reported that more than 9 million people have been sampled via swab tests and 6.5 million people were tested for the virus May 15-23.
According to state-run media, the largest single-day testing occurred May 22, when 1.4 million tests were conducted. By comparison, the highest daily number of coronavirus tests in the US stands at 441,248 recorded on Monday, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
The number of people tested in Wuhan nearly doubled from May 15 to May 16. According to Bloomberg, by May 23, the testing capacity increased by more than 26 times from the first day of the campaign.
Thousands of medical workers have been mobilized to join the citywide testing campaign. In some cases, healthcare workers went door-to-door to collect samples from elderly and disabled residents, China News reported.
Makeshift testing sites were set up at schools and plazas throughout the city, largely in the open air, with residents getting a specific appointment time. Over the weekend, authorities set up 231 extra testing booths.
“Our community was checked in a day,” Wang Yuan, 32, told The New York Times, adding that she expected results back in two to four days.
The city was able to ramp up testing capacity by testing samples together in batches. Before the campaign, labs were testing about 46,000 samples a day, but with the new batch system, nearly 1.5 million samples could be tested in a day.
To do batch testing, swabs from multiple people are combined into a plastic tube and analyzed with one test. If the full batch comes back negative, it can be discarded. If it comes back positive, the people who made up that batch are retested. This type of testing is considered practical for Wuhan, where the case count is low.
But it’s unclear what percentage of samples taken were pooled together for batch testing, according to CNN.
To ensure that all residents are signing up for testing, the government has sent people door-to-door, made announcements over loudspeakers, and, in some cases, threatened to bar people from entering grocery stores or banks if they are not tested.
The campaign has reached more than 90% of the city, and the government warned those who had not yet signed up for testing that they could have to pay for it themselves after Tuesday.
The government’s citywide campaign costs hundreds of millions of dollars. This decision follows China’s efforts to reflect an image of stability and success throughout the pandemic.
Though many residents have been supportive of the testing efforts, some have protested the campaign and fear being exposed to the virus through the in-person tests.
“We’re totally opposed to it,” a Wuhan resident named Herry Tu told The New York Times. “Because even if you weren’t infected to begin with, this testing just means contact … In reality, the government isn’t doing this for the benefit of the people. It’s for the outside world to see.”
But the government has sought to assure people that testing remains safe by forcing residents to wear a mask, stand at distance, and have their temperatures taken. Medical workers conducting the tests are required to change or disinfect their gloves after each test.
Some experts have been skeptical of the efficacy in testing such large numbers of people so quickly, and others have said the scale of the testing is excessive given such a small number of new cases.
Dr. Jin Dongyan, a virologist from the University of Hong Kong, told The New York Times that it would be difficult to accurately perform that many nucleic-acid tests in such a quick succession.
Others have acknowledged the testing campaign’s purpose could be psychological.
Samples are still being processed, but by Tuesday the government reported 206 new positive cases. According to Bloomberg, they were all asymptomatic.
To put this scale of testing into perspective, the US has tested 14 million people since January 22.
In the past few weeks, the US has been testing roughly 300,000 to 400,000 people a day, according to the COVID Tracking Project.