Police estimate that at least 9,000 people have been swabbed with reused antigen rapid test kits at North Sumatra’s Kualanamu Airport, in the latest development to the arrest of five lab workers for their involvement in the disturbing case earlier this week.
At a press conference yesterday, North Sumatra Police Chief RZ Panca Putra Simanjuntak told reporters that the five suspects consist of Kimia Farma Medan lab business manager PC and his subordinates DP, SP, MR, and RN — with each of them having different roles in the scheme. PC, who also headed the Kimia Farma lab at Kualanamu Airport, was said to be the brains of the operation.
Panca said the suspects have been reusing test kits to cut costs since December 2020, and police estimated that they pocketed around IDR1.8 billion (US$124,552) for themselves. The suspects allegedly washed and cleaned used cotton swabs — which are supposed to be discarded after use — and repackaged them for reuse at the airport lab.
“In one day, there were between 100 to 200 passengers who took the swab test. If we count just 100 people, multiply by 90 days, that’s already 9,000 people,” Panca said.
Police have not determined whether or not the reused cotton swabs transmitted COVID-19 or any other diseases between the 9,000 victims.
During the interrogation, PC claimed that he wasn’t directly involved in the crime, though he didn’t deny his knowledge of the illicit practice.
Indonesian pharmaceutical giant Kimia Farma said in a statement that the five employees were the brains behind the crime, and that they have been fired from the company. The antigen rapid test service at Kualanamu Airport has since been closed until further notice.
The five suspects have been charged with violation of articles under Indonesia’s health law and customer protection law, which could see them imprisoned for up to 15 years or fined up to IDR3 billion (US$207,576), if convicted.