May 13, 2020 / 10:36 AM / 15 days ago

Chinese lab boosts Serbia's coronavirus testing capacity

(This May 12 story corrects Chinese name of lab to Huo-Yan, not Huo-Yun)

Scientists work with samples taken for testing for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the "Huo-Yan" (Fire Eye) National Laboratory for Molecular Detection of Infectious Agents in Belgrade, Serbia, May 12, 2020. Picture taken May 12, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

BELGRADE (Reuters) - A Chinese-built state-of-the-art laboratory is helping to nearly double Serbia’s testing capacity for COVID-19, the lung disease caused by the new coronavirus, in the latest example of close ties between Belgrade and Beijing.

The Huo-Yan National Laboratory for Molecular Detection of Infectious Agents in Belgrade is the first that the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) has helped to build in Europe and has the capacity to carry out more than 2,000 tests a day.

The laboratory’s 40 employees were all trained by Chinese colleagues who previously set up COVID-19 testing laboratories in Wuhan, where the new coronavirus first emerged, and 10 other Chinese cities.

To prevent infections, all 40 employees are being accommodated in nearby hotels and cannot see their families.

Jelena Begovic, a coordinator in charge of the laboratory, said another lab with a daily capacity for 1,000 samples, would also be built in the southern Serbian town of Nis.

Once the pandemic ends, the labs will remain at the disposal of Serbia’s healthcare system, she said, adding that there had been talks with the BGI about future partnership.

“Information is nowadays sometimes more valuable than gold. In that sense, (the lab) is also a source of information for them (the BGI) regarding this region... Through cooperation like this, I think we both can have huge benefits,” she said.

The BGI runs similar laboratories in the United Arab Emirates and Brunei, according to its website.

China sent doctors, ventilators and medical masks to Serbia in March, as the virus was beginning to spread across Europe, in a sign of what Beijing’s ambassador to Belgrade, Chen Bo, called the “iron friendship” between the two nations.

Beijing has also extended loans worth billions of dollars to build railways, roads and power plants in Serbia, a candidate for European Union membership.

Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Gareth Jones

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