Indonesia Covid scam: 9,000 passengers tested with REUSED nasal swabs

Indonesia busts Covid scam after 9,000 air passengers were tested with REUSED nasal swab sticks which were washed and then repackaged

  • Several employees of a state-owned pharmaceutical company have been arrested over the scheme, which police say began in December
  • Thousands of passengers at the Kualanamu International Airport were tested with reused nasal tests, sometimes receiving false positive results
  • The workers are accused of pocketing the money for each reused test, potentially amassing as much as £89,674
  • Police are now investigating whether anyone contracted Covid-19 as a result of the reused tests 

Indonesian police have arrested several employees of a pharmaceutical company for allegedly selling used Covid nasal swab test kits that were used at a busy international airport.

As many as 9,000 passengers at the Kualanamu airport in Medan, North Sumatra, may have been tested using swab sticks that had been washed and reused, police said.

Between 100 and 200 passengers were tested every day, some with real kits and others with the repackaged ones. 

The scheme at the airport is believed to have been running since last December, with police estimating that the employees reused swabs from 150 kits up to 20,000 times.  

Medan’s police chief, RZ Panca Putra Simanjuntak, told reporters that Kimia Farma charged 200,000 rupiah (£10) for each test and alleged that the employees collected this sum each time a swab was reused.

As many as 9,000 passengers at the Kualanamu airport in Medan, North Sumatra, may have been tested using swab sticks that had been washed and reused, police said [File photo]

The employees may have pocketed as much as 1.8billion rupiah (£89,674) and that police had seized more than 149million (£7,421) in cash during arrests.

He said authorities are now investigating whether anyone was infected as a result of the reused swabs. 

Kimia Farma, a state-owned company is facing a potential lawsuit launched on behalf of the passengers, according to the South China Morning Post.

The company has condemned the workers allegedly involved, saying that they had been dismissed. 

In a statement, director Adil Fadhilah Bulqini said that reusing swabs was against the Kimia Farma’s standard operating procedures. 

Erick Thohir, Indonesia’s state-owned enterprises Minister, said in a Twitter post last week that the individuals receive ‘very strict punishment.’

‘I strongly condemn the actions of unscrupulous Kimia Farma officers,’ Thohir wrote.

‘Such action must be subject to very strict punishment.’   

In order to fly, travellers had to test negative beforehand. The airport offered onsite testing using nasal swabs as part of rapid test kits provided by Kimia Farma.

Local news outlet Detik said police had sent an undercover officer to pose as a passenger last week after passengers complained that they had received false positive test results.

The officer was swabbed and received a positive test result. He was then tested again at a separate facility and received a negative result.

Officers then raided the airport test site and found a used test kit that had been recycled was found at the site. 

Medan’s police chief, RZ Panca Putra Simanjuntak, told reporters that Kimia Farma charged 200,000 rupiah (£10) for each test and alleged that the employees collected this sum each time a swab was reused. The employees may have pocketed as much as 1.8billion rupiah (£89,674) [File photo]

Health experts have long criticised Indonesia’s testing procedures as inadequate.

Dr Irma Hidayana, a public health consultant, told abc.net.au that there was little oversight of the testing by central and local governments and that there was a lack of political will to  implement and enforce restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus. 

Indonesia has recorded 1.69million cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began last spring and at least 46,137 deaths from the disease, though experts suspect the true numbers of both cases and deaths are likely much higher.

On Tuesday, official figures recorded 4,369 new infections and 188 deaths. 

There is concern in the Muslim-majority country that the upcoming Eid Al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, may lead to an uptick in cases.

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