The Indonesian government has vowed to issue “strict punishment” for some staff of a state-owned pharmaceutical company accused of washing and reusing cotton swabs for COVID-19 tests at a busy international airport.

At least five people employed by Kimia Farma Diagnostika are accused of washing and reusing nasal swabs for thousands of coronavirus tests since December 2020, according to ABC News.

The staff conducted the rapid antigen tests for passengers at Kualanamu airport in the city of Medan, and police have estimated that they reused swabs from 150 kits up to 20,000 times.

The company recently revealed they had dismissed the workers allegedly involved and would fully support a police investigation.

“I strongly condemn the actions of unscrupulous Kimia Farma officers,” Indonesia’s state-owned enterprises Minister Erick Thohir said on Twitter.

“Such action must be subject to very strict punishment.”

Kimia Farma Diagnostika’s director Adil Fadhilah Bulqini condemned the workers in a statement and said that reusing swabs was against the company’s standard operating procedures.

A North Sumatra police spokesman said the group was suspected of siphoning 1.8 billion Indonesian rupiah ($160,500) through the practice of charging people for tainted tests.

If prosecuted, the suspects could face up to 10 years in prison, the spokesman said.

Tonang Dwi Ardyanto, a pathology expert from Sebelas Maret University, said the reuse of swab tests could have posed a number of health risks to passengers.

“After opening and using it, the swab tool is actually no longer suitable for use,” he said.

“So [the risk is from] not only COVID, but also bacteria, viruses and other pathogens.”


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