Indonesian cops investigate reuse of cotton swab in Covid-19 tests at airport

The Indonesian police are investigating the case, which involves officers of state pharmaceutical company Kimia Farma.
The Indonesian police are investigating the case, which involves officers of state pharmaceutical company Kimia Farma.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - The Indonesian police are investigating a case involving officers of state pharmaceutical company Kimia Farma who reused a cotton swab on passengers taking Covid-19 antigen rapid tests, at an airport in North Sumatra province.

A cotton swab used to rub the nasopharyngeal cavity of passengers at Kualanamu International Airport was washed and then reused on other passengers, the police said. The police have yet to find the motive.

Each traveller is charged between 200,000 rupiah (S$18) and 300,000 rupiah at Indonesian airports for on-site Covid-19 testing, if he does not show any proof that he tested negative for the coronavirus in the past 24 hours. Tests are also conducted on arriving passengers.

Such tests are available at private clinics and hospitals, as well as at drive-through facilities where people can apply for testing via various mobile apps.

The North Sumatra provincial police special crime division conducted a raid at the airport on Tuesday (April 27) afternoon following a suspiciously high number of complaints filed by people who were turned away from the airport after testing positive.

The police detained a number of testers and seized evidence during the raid.

"We are looking into it," North Sumatra police chief Dadang Hartanto said.

In a statement sent to reporters on Wednesday, Kimia Farma's chief executive Adil Fadilah Bulqini said: "We fully support police investigation on the case. What Kimia Farma's rogue field testers did has harmed the company… and is a severe breach of rule."

The investigation followed the Indonesian government's move on Monday to temporarily ban all foreign visitors who have visited India in the past 14 days.

Indonesians who have travelled to India in the past 14 days will be quarantined for 14 days and be subject to case analysis with genetic sequencing to detect any possible faster-spreading coronavirus variants.

New variants of the coronavirus first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil, that appear to spread more efficiently, were reported to have fuelled infections in India. The South Asian country relaxed its guard as these new variants were spreading.

Indonesia has so far had a successful vaccination drive with about 12 million of its population having received the first dose of Covid-19 vaccination, and 7.2 million having received the second one.

The world's fourth most populous country had 100,256 active coronavirus cases on Tuesday, a significant decline from around 177,000 at the peak in early February.

India currently has around 2.9 million active cases, from as low as around 138,000 in February.