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Coronavirus

Hong Kong consortium rolls out $126 home coronavirus test

Prudential-backed group targets those worried about risks of visiting hospitals

The home-testing consortium hopes to appeal to Hong Kongers with little or no symptoms but a desire to clarify their coronavirus infection status.    © Reuters

HONG KONG -- A consortium bringing together insurer Prudential PLC with several Hong Kong startups and health care providers has started selling home coronavirus testing kits in Hong Kong.

The kits will be sold at a cost price of 985 Hong Kong dollars ($126) each and users are expected to cough and spit into test tubes. Their samples then will be picked up by specially trained staff within 24 hours. Medics will contact those who test positive for COVID-19.

"Some people might be reluctant to get tested in high-risk places such as clinics and hospitals, especially those with no or mild symptoms," said Danny Yeung, chief executive and co-founder of Prenetics, a genetic testing company leading the effort. "The home test kit can provide a convenient alternative that relieves these worries and get more people tested as a result."

The nonprofit initiative, named "Project Screen," is also backed by logistics startup Pickupp, the school of biomedical sciences at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Supreme Mason Healthcare.

The samples will be analyzed in Prenetics' labs, which can process up to 3,000 tests a day, according to Yeung. Prenetics, which has raised over $50 million from investors including Ping An Insurance Group, Lippo Group and a fund backed by Alibaba Group Holding, offers genetic testing services around Asia, Europe and South Africa.

Prudential will provide a HK$300 subsidy for kits for medical workers and their family members. The consortium said that customer data will not be used for purposes other than virus testing.

In Hong Kong, COVID-19 tests are available at government clinics for HK$50 each and more than HK$3,000 at private hospitals.

Wide-scale testing is deemed the key by many countries to flattening the coronavirus infection curve, allowing authorities to isolate confirmed cases as soon as possible. Hong Kong has conducted about 12,000 tests per 1 million people, one of the highest rates in Asia, while South Korea has done 7,000 tests per 1 million people.

Yet, testing kits can still produce false negatives, experts warned. "There could be sampling errors, for example, the virus load is too low to be tested during the first day of inception, or customers did not fully follow our protocol when collecting samples," Yeung said.

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