Nguyen Thanh My
Weekly Covid-19 tests of workers cost my company nearly VND4 billion ($175,380) a month in lost production.
We spend over four hours a week gathering up everyone for testing. Around 100 samples are taken per hour on average.
Every week we spend another VND60 million on Covid tests, or VND240 million a month.
Our workers have stayed at the workplace since late July, not allowed to make contact with anyone outside the perimeter. The cost of their stay has increased by nearly 30 percent since last month.
Another textile company I know has around 5,000 workers, with a portion of them also staying on-site. Only 2,215 people are allowed at a time in a workshop due to coronavirus restrictions.
To do the weekly tests the company has to stop operations for at least three shifts of eight hours each. This costs around VND1.453 trillion per month, not counting the cost of housing them. It is a huge burden for the company to maintain production while adhering to pandemic restrictions.
The southern Tra Vinh Province has a few companies with over 5,000 workers and several with less than 1,000, but only two medical facilities approved to perform RT-PCR tests.
In the event, the weekly Covid tests, mandated by the provincial People’s Committee, are not friendly to businesses and hospitals alike, especially with a large number of businesses about to resume operations at the same time.
Health workers take samples for Covid-19 testing from workers at the Quang Chau industrial park in Bac Giang Province in May 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
Why must there be weekly tests? How many coronavirus cases have been detected this way? Is there any other method that would lower costs for businesses, ensuring workers remain at work and infections are detected quickly?
I asked these questions to three engineers in my company, who all have applied math degrees, for their take on a solution. The next morning they turned in their homework.
They said the RT-PCR test, known for its accuracy, is usually used to confirm if someone who either has symptoms or had contact with infected people has the disease.
But if the goal is simply to monitor people, other testing methods, like the quicker and cheaper antigen tests, could be used instead. Then, our company could test daily without having to shut down operations.
To do the quick antigen test, we need to separate workers into two groups based on their coronavirus risk profile, one at normal risk of infection and the other, comprising security guards and drivers, considered to be at high risk.
We test each group daily in a cycle, with a full cycle taking around 14-28 days, meaning a person will be tested only once in 14-28 days. Testing costs will drop dramatically to around VND72.8 million, and could even be reduced to VND36.4 million if we combine test samples. Compared to the VND240 million, it is a dream.
If this method is applied to that textile company, they could cut down testing costs to around VND465.2 million a month from the current VND1.453 trillion.
With companies having sizes and structures, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution to coronavirus testing.
But I hope the government’s new approach to the coronavirus fight – striving to achieve the new normal – will come with corresponding measures that allow businesses to choose whichever method suits them best, ensuring both safety and lesser impact on production.
We need independent thinkers and innovators who are willing to break new ground and clear new paths instead of relying on old-fashioned, traditional thinking and methods.
They are our best chance to make it out of this pandemic unscathed.
*Nguyen Thanh My is an entrepreneur, inventor and scientist. The opinions expressed are his own.
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