DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — U.S. diplomats and security officials privately warned the state of Nevada not to use Chinese-made coronavirus test kits donated by the United Arab Emirates over concerns about patient privacy, test accuracy and Chinese government involvement, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.
The documents illustrate how the U.S. government actively — if quietly — tried to keep the state out of a project involving the Chinese firm BGI Group, which is the world’s largest genetic sequencing company and which has expanded its reach during the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. intelligence agencies have warned that foreign powers like China could exploit samples to discover the medical history, illnesses or genetic traits of test takers, though they have not offered any public evidence. Internal emails and documents obtained by the AP from the Nevada governor’s office through a public records request show U.S. authorities expressing such concerns specifically about BGI.
“I hope the Nevada COVID-19 task force leadership is aware of this so they can make an educated decision and know some of the U.S. Government’s concerns,” William Puff, a Homeland Security regional attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, wrote in an email forwarded to Nevada officials.
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The warnings from the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department led the office of Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak in April to direct a Nevada hospital not to use any of the donated 250,000 test kits as officials turned down an offered laboratory deal.
Geopolitics could play a role in the U.S. warning. President Donald Trump and his administration have been locked in a trade war with China and also have actively lobbied its allies not to use telecommunication equipment from Chinese firm Huawei, for instance, citing security concerns.
The donation offer to Nevada also involved a shadowy Emirati company called Group 42, which partnered with Shenzhen-based BGI to create a rapid-testing system in the United Arab Emirates. G42 and government officials in the UAE did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In response to queries from the AP, BGI said in an email that G42 made the donation to Nevada on its own without BGI’s knowledge and that BGI never had direct contact with the state. BGI’s COVID-19 tests have approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use on an emergency basis and are used in some labs in the United States — but “BGI has no access to either patient samples or patient data,” it said.
“BGI Group takes all aspects of patient data protection, privacy and ethics extremely seriously, and is committed to full compliance with all applicable regulations in the countries in which it operates,” the company said.
Source: AP News