Recently, Chinese nucleic acid testing companies have been controversial and accused of making huge profits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among them, a company called Nucleus Gene has aroused widespread public doubts. These have triggered the health channel of People’s Daily, part of China’s state-controlled media, to publish an article on November 29 saying that chaotic nucleic acid testing needs stricter rules.
The commentary of People’s Daily pointed out that the results of nucleic acid testing haven been the most direct, basic and critical scientific basis for China to decide the pandemic prevention and control measures. Since the outbreak nearly three years ago, people and governments at all levels have paid an incalculable heavy price for the prevention and control of the pandemic. However, many cases of false nucleic acid testing firms, as mentioned in the article, not only have increased the difficulty of pandemic prevention and control, but also seriously reduced the public’s trust in nucleic acid testing.
The controversy caused by Nucleus Gene stems from its illegal operation in its nucleic acid testing business. Last week, the government of Lanzhou, Gansu Province issued a notice, saying that the staff of a local subsidiary called Nucleus Gene Huaxi mistakenly uploaded the information of individual persons with abnormal nucleic acid testing into the information database of COVID-negative persons, so that the information of some people to be transferred to the mobile cabin hospital showed negative nucleic acid testing. But this isn’t the first time the company has violated regulations.
Chinese web users further found that this company was only recently registered and established in August this year, with a registered capital of 10 million yuan but paid nothing before securing a large order for nucleic acid testing in Lanzhou. Some posted, “Give the right of rain to an umbrella seller, will the rain stop?” It means that nucleic acid detection companies profit from the pandemic.
What is even more surprising is that public information shows that Zhang Shanshan, the supervisor of the company, has been associated with 35 companies (working) nationwide. And this individual serves as supervisor for all these firms, most of which are nucleic acid testing companies.
Some web users have commented that it seems that wherever her company is, there will be a pandemic outbreak. And when an outbreak happens, mass testing will be launched there. A campaign of “Everyone Looks for Zhang Shanshan and investigates Nucleus Gene Huaxi” spread rapidly on Chinese social platforms.
In fact, there are more than 30 “Nucleus Gene Huaxi Medical Laboratory Co., Ltd.” in China, and the holding companies behind them all include Nucleus Gene, whose actual controller is Zhang Hezi. According to the official website, Nucleus Gene was established in Shenzhen in 2012. The company provides gene detection and nucleic acid detection services, and adopted an agency model to expand its business.
With the swell of the pandemic, the nucleic acid detection business has been very profitable in China. According to Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend, from March to September, 2020, the turnover of the company’s nucleic acid detection business reached 450 million yuan ($63 million), and the profits of more than 100 of its cooperative agents exceeded one million yuan. The official website of Nucleus Gene even claimed that it has finished more than 700 million nucleic acid tests.
This has aroused some concern: if nucleic acid detection and mobile cabin hospitals become commercial businesses, the pandemic probably will never end.
In this regard, on November 29, China’s State Council held a press conference, saying that “it will continue to strengthen supervision on nucleic acid testing companies, and serious violations of the law that issue false test reports will be resolutely dealt with according to laws and regulations.”