In the eyes of Jin Yujuan, the novel coronavirus is a formidable opponent sitting under her very nose.

As lab technicians at the pathogen microbiology laboratory of the disease control and prevention center of Longgang District in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, Jin and her colleagues are busy testing the coronavirus samples taken from those patients suspected of novel coronavirus infection around the clock.

Each test can be full of challenges.

“We need to be as cautious as if we were dismantling bombs at every step: unpacking packages, opening sampling tubes and extracting nucleic acids,” Jin said. “All the samples come from suspected cases of novel coronavirus infections. If the nucleic acid is extracted carelessly, the virus may pose a threat to us through different ways such as spilling and aerosol.”

Jin said the virus has a capsid outside and the nucleic acid is wrapped inside. In the process of testing, each sample should be processed first to break the capsid, and then the nucleic acid should be extracted in a special way. The process of extracting nucleic acid needs two technicians to cooperate to prevent the virus from “escaping.”

Since mid-January when some suspected cases of the epidemic were found in Shenzhen, Jin and her colleagues have worked without taking days off to test the suspected virus samples. Over the past months, they tested 70 samples every day on average and 130 samples at peak times.

“I sampled the throat swabs from the first batch of close contacts in Longgang District,” technician Zhou Jianming said. In order to collect more effective samples, Zhou had to extend the cotton swab deep into the throats of those close contacts, even causing some to retch.

During break times, Zhou takes off his mask, goggles and gloves. Ligature marks can be seen on his face.

“The process, from putting on protective clothing to completing a batch of sample tests to taking off protective clothing, takes about four hours. During this period, we have to be highly concentrated and cannot go out of the laboratory, let alone eat, drink or go to the toilet,” Zhou added.

Yang Hui, 41, is a veteran among these lab technicians. In 2003 when the outbreak of SARS hit China, she came to work at the health and epidemic prevention station of Longgang District after graduating from Guangdong Pharmaceutical University.

“The conditions of the laboratory are much better now,” Yang said.

Yang often stays in the laboratory during the daytime after her night shift to help sort out the data, prepare the protective equipment, and train new technicians who have come to lend their support.

The confirmation of every novel coronavirus pneumonia case comes from these tests, so technicians race against the clock in the lab to fight the virus in their own way, Yang said. Enditem

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