MEDAN, KOMPAS.com – Regional Police in the Indonesian province of North Sumatra has estimated that reused antigen rapid test swab kits by Kimia Farma pharmaceutical company personnel at Kualanamu International Airport has affected thousands of travelers.
North Sumatra Regional Police chief Inspector General Panca Putra Simanjuntak said the syndicate, which was led by an individual identified as PC, Kimia Farma’s regional Business Manager, started to snare their victims in December 2020.
“We estimated that [the Kimia Farma ring] used the old rapid test kits on 100 to 150, even 200 travelers on a daily basis before they boarded their flights,” said Panca in a press conference in North Sumatra’s provincial capital Medan Friday.
“If those samples are used on at least 100 [people] daily over a 90 day period, or over 9 thousand people. The perpetrators made about Rp. 1.8 billion [$124,630.44] since their racket started in December 2020.”
Running the operation
Aside from PC, the police also detained his accomplices DP, SP, MR and RN. “PC coordinated the scam from Kimia Farma’s laboratory in Medan,” Panca said. SP and DP confirmed the investigators’ findings.
“We would choose swabs that have undamaged exteriors to be disinfected with 75 percent alcohol at the laboratory," both suspects confirmed. "These rapid test kits will be passed off as new and reused on passengers requesting rapid tests before their flight.”
Another accomplice, MR, would type negative or positive results on the used tests, depending on their original outcome. “PC also ordered me to manipulate [Covid-19 positive] data, to make it look like a genuine investigation report,” he admitted.
“On the other hand, RN ‘registered’ the victims and counted the total number [of travelers] who are manipulated into taking the tests.”
Highlighting the dangers of reused rapid test kits
Benny Satria, an expert member of the Covid-19 Task Force in North Sumatra, warned about the dire effects of reusing rapid test kits.
“The only medical equipment that can be reused and disinfected [with alcohol] are hazmat suits and reagent bottles. Swab rapid test kits and other medical equipment are regarded as B3, or hazardous and toxic waste,” he said.
"The [Covid-19 positive] swab sticks are known to carry [the coronavirus], and the virus cannot be rid by merely disinfecting the rapid test samples. The swab samples can spread [the pandemic].”
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The police charged the suspects under a 2009 medical law on the use of potentially dangerous materials, as well as a 1999 law on consumer protection. If found guilty, they faced up to five years in jail and a Rp. 2 billion [$138,478.26] fine.
The scandal has smeared the reputation of Kimia Farma, a leading Indonesian state owned pharmaceutical company that is currently developing a Covid-19 vaccine with their United Arab Emirates counterpart G42.
(Writer: Dewantoro, Medan Contributor | Editor: Abba Gabrillin, Aprillia Ika)