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Surging coronavirus tests cause reagent shortage
  • By Jeong Sae-im
  • Published 2020.03.02 14:36
  • Updated 2020.03.02 16:56
  • comments 0

With the rapidly rising number of the new coronavirus tests, the nation is suffering a shortage of imported reagents for nucleic acid extraction, a necessary procedure for the virus testing.

The health authorities said they would seek to develop reagents locally.

For COVID-19 testing, examiners extract nucleic acid (RNA) that contains the genetic information of the suspected patient’s specimen and amplifies it with a diagnostic kit to check for an infection. In Korea, four companies’ diagnostic kits have received approval for emergency use.

The nation has sufficient diagnostic kits but is short of reagents used for nucleic acid extraction.

Seegene, which won the nod for the emergency use of its diagnostic kit on Feb. 12, imports reagents for nucleic acid extraction from Roche Diagnostics but recently suffered a supply shortage. Seegene’s diagnostic kits account for 40 percent of the domestic demand for COVID-19 testing.

Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there was no problem in the supply of diagnostic kits, at a briefing on Sunday. However, it was true that Roche Diagnostics’ supply of reagents for nucleic acid extraction was not stable, he said.

“To resolve this issue, we are discussing with the headquarters of Roche Diagnostics,” he added.

The Korean offshoot of Roche Diagnostics said the company was operating the reagent manufacturing plant in full capacity but could not meet the explosive surge of the local demand.

The company noted that some media reports blaming the Chinese demand for the supply shortage in Korea were not accurate.

“Some news reports said reagents were redirected from Korea to China due to China’s request for more reagents, but the reports are not true,” an official at Roche Diagnostics Korea said. “The company has never suspended or reduced the domestic supply.”

The Korean unit was in close collaboration with the global headquarters to cooperate with the government as much as possible, he added.

However, the government said it had to seek an additional reagent supplier, as the nation was adding about 10,000 new COVID-19 tests per day.

“We will move some of the tests from institutions that are expected to run out of reagents to other institutions. At the same time, we will get local reagents that can replace imports or develop them ourselves,” an official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare said.

Kwon also emphasized that the government was preparing for various scenarios so that people will not have any problem when getting tested for the new coronavirus.

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