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Division of labor 'key' to improving lab efficiency

By Chen Zimo | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-09-14 15:57

HONG KONG – A clear division of labor was the key to address the heavy workload at Huo-Yan Laboratory, according to members of the mainland team supporting the universal testing program in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Since the free citywide testing began on Sept 1, some 90,000 to 120,000 samples were collected for testing every day at the inflatable laboratory, which was set up at the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park Sports Centre for the program. As of 8 pm Saturday, more than 1.61 million samples have been tested. The program is due to end on Monday.

Xie Li, one of the mainland support team members, told a joint media interview that the testing procedure was clearly divided and assigned to specific groups, enabling technicians to focus on a specific task.

Xie, deputy chief medical laboratory technician at the second affiliated hospital of Guangxi Medical University, said all of the roughly 600 mainland technicians had been strictly screened before joining the support team for Hong Kong.

They have undergone training on national-level projects and were instructed by the city's leading biotech institution, Sunrise Diagnostic Centre. The team members are well-qualified with relevant technical certifications. They have all passed biosafety examinations on the mainland, she added.

Li Minmin, chief medical laboratory technician at the First Affiliated Hospital of Jinan University, said the laboratory operates on an "assembly line" basis to enhance its testing capacity.

Each person was assigned to the position they know best and they focused on their own part, she said. It was unlike their work at mainland laboratories, where one person usually carried out the whole procedure, she added.

This Aug 26, 2020 photo shows the inflatable Huo-Yan Laboratory in Hong Kong. [Photo/Xinhua]

Each day, the specimens collected at centers across the city are sent to the lab, where they are registered, unpacked, and scheduled for tests, Li said. Technicians there extract the nucleic acid of the samples and amplify it. It is called a polymerase chain reaction test, which is widely used to detect coronavirus infections in specimens.

Technicians working at different stages also need to cooperate closely with each other throughout the whole process, Li said.

The mainland technicians in the lab are highly skilled since they have received months of training and practice during the pandemic, she said. They were hand-picked from the best hospitals and had experience supporting local community testing in other mainland cities.

Li said she worked 12 hours a day in the first four days when the testing program was launched on Sept 1. After the third batch of more than 100 mainland technicians arrived on Sept 3, the laboratory began to operate on a three-shift basis to maintain 24/7 operation.

Eight hours of continuous work without eating, drinking, or using the bathroom is still a challenge for the mainland technicians, Li said. "Sometimes our goggles were filled with our own sweat, … but we are all used to it now," she said.

Deng Yanqin from the Fujian Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the work is intense and some members even wore diapers to reduce trips to the bathroom.

Deng said the testing work has been carried out smoothly and she is confident that the team could safely finish the program. She believes that when the pandemic is controlled, Hong Kong, as the Pearl of the Orient, will shine even more brightly.

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