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Beijing Slams India's 'Unfair' Decision To Cancel Chinese Antibody Testing Kit Order

A health worker takes a swab test at a COVID-19 testing center in New Delhi on Monday. India's main medical research organization has canceled orders to procure rapid antibody test kits from two Chinese companies.
Manish Swarup
A health worker takes a swab test at a COVID-19 testing center in New Delhi on Monday. India's main medical research organization has canceled orders to procure rapid antibody test kits from two Chinese companies.

Chinese officials on Tuesday criticized India's decision to cancel orders for more than half a million antibody testing kits. India's decision, announced Monday, came amid accuracy concerns surrounding the Chinese-made kits.

"It is unfair and irresponsible for certain individuals to label Chinese products as 'faulty' and look at issues with preemptive prejudice," Ji Rong, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi, said in a statement.

This is the latest irritant between the world's two most populous countries, in a relationship that's come under increasing strain over the coronavirus.

Since the virus broke out in Wuhan, the Chinese government has sought to export testing kits and medical gear around the world, in what some U.S. officials have called a propaganda stunt. Spain, the Netherlands and Turkey are among the countries that have also canceled orders amid concerns over the quality of the Chinese materials.

On Monday, the Indian Council of Medical Research, a government body, advised Indian states to stop using rapid antibody tests made by two Chinese companies and return them to the suppliers. The medical research council warned that the tests, made by Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech and Zhuhai Livzon Diagnostics, show "wide variation in their sensitivity, despite early promise of good performance."

India's ambassador to China, Vikram Misri, tweeted earlier this month that 650,000 Chinese kits had been sent to India.

India has one of the world's lowest testing capabilities per capita, with about 700,000 samples tested so far, according to the ICMR, in a population of more than 1.3 billion. The Health Ministry has counted about 22,000 active COVID-19 cases and about 940 deaths.

Antibody tests, when accurate, show whether someone has been infected with the virus and help provide a sense of the pandemic's scale. It's not yet clear whether having antibodies to COVID-19 signifies immunity to future infection. Still, many policy makers see extensive antibody tests as key to reopening economies and easing social distancing rules.

India's cancellation came after the Delhi High Court, in an order Friday, capped the cost of all coronavirus testing kits at 400 rupees ($5.26) each. But purchase orders obtained by New Delhi Television showed the Indian government agreed to buy the Chinese kits at prices marked up by 140%.

In a statement, the Indian government said it had yet to actually pay for the kits. India "does not stand to lose a single rupee," it said.

On Tuesday, Chinese Embassy spokesperson Ji Rong defended the testing kits' quality, saying they had been "validated and approved" by Indian health agencies and had been exported to other countries with no complaints. The statement also said China "sincerely supports India in its fight against COVID-19."

But relations between the two countries, which share a disputed border of more than 2,000 miles, have faltered lately.

On April 17, India's trade ministry announced additional scrutiny of investments from companies in neighboring countries. It did not name China, but was widely seen as a move to prevent Chinese state companies from buying Indian assets at bargain prices during the coronavirus crisis. China has called these new rules "discriminatory."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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