(Singapore, May 14, 2020) While the US is accusing Chinese hackers of attempting to steal coronavirus data on treatments and vaccines, a rapid coronavirus test touted by President Donald Trump and used to test White House officials reportedly produces false negatives in almost half of all cases.

According to an AFP report quoting a recent study by researchers at NYU Langone Health,  the researchers found that the Abbott test produced false negatives about a third of the time when virus sample is taken using a nasal swab was transported in a liquid solution, and 48 percent of the time when the swab was dry, which is the method recommended by the company.

AFP file photo

The test by Abbott Laboratories, which returns positive results in five minutes and negative in 13 minutes, was compared with machines that have a turnaround time of 45 minutes.

The results of the study – which has not yet been peer-reviewed and was posted on a medical preprint site – were contested by Abbott, which told AFP it was unclear that the samples were taken correctly.

“Abbott has distributed more than 1.8 million ID NOW tests and the reported rate of false negatives to Abbott is at 0.02 percent,” Scott Stoffel, a spokesman for the company said according to AFP.

He added that another study from the University of Detroit had found the test to be 98 percent accurate, the AFP report said.

The NYU study’s authors said they decided to investigate the test because the speed with which it produced results was seen as useful for their own institution, particularly the medical center’s emergency department, the AFP report said.

By comparison, a test made by Roche returns results in three-and-a-half hours while one by Cepheid takes 45 minutes, and both have similar reliability, said the study authors.

These tests look for the virus’ genetic material and use a method that quickly makes copies to amplify an initially small sample to a level that is detectable.

The test received wide attention when it received regulatory approval and was shown off by Trump at the White House at the end of March.

Also today, the US FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said organizations researching COVID-19 were at risk of “targeting and network compromise by the People’s Republic of China”.

They warned that Chinese government-affiliated cyber actors and others were attempting to obtain “valuable intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research”.

However, the two organizations gave no evidence or examples to support the allegation.

The warning added to the growing battle between the superpowers over the outbreak that began in China and has infected more than 4 million people and, killed nearly 300,000 worldwide.