Surveillance of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Testing in Clinical Laboratories in Korea

Ann Lab Med. 2021 Mar 1;41(2):225-229. doi: 10.3343/alm.2021.41.2.225.


In response to the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, an online laboratory surveillance system was established to monitor severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) real-time reverse transcription-PCR (rRT-PCR) testing capacities and results. SARS-CoV-2 rRT-PCR testing data were collected from 97 clinical laboratories, including 84 medical institutions and 13 independent clinical laboratories in Korea. We assessed the testing capacities to utilize SARS-CoV-2 rRT-PCR based on surveillance data obtained from February 7th to June 4th, 2020 and evaluated positive result characteristics according to the reagents used and sample types. A total of 1,890,319 SARS-CoV-2 rRT-PCR testing were performed, 2.3% of which were positive. Strong correlations were observed between the envelope (E) gene and RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp)/nucleocapsid (N) genes threshold cycle (Ct) values for each reagent. No statistically significant differences in gene Ct values were observed between the paired upper and lower respiratory tract samples, except in the N gene for nasopharyngeal swab and sputum samples. Our study showed that clinical laboratories in Korea have rapidly expanded their testing capacities in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, with a peak daily capacity of 34,193 tests. Rapid expansion in testing capacity is a critical component of the national response to the ongoing pandemic.

Keywords: Coronavirus disease 2019; Ct value; Laboratory surveillance; Real-time RT-PCR; Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2; Testing capacity.

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus / genetics*
  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification
  • COVID-19
  • Clinical Laboratory Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Coronavirus Envelope Proteins
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Humans
  • Laboratories, Hospital
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnosis*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • RNA, Viral / metabolism
  • RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase / genetics
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Republic of Korea
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / genetics


  • Coronavirus Envelope Proteins
  • RNA, Viral
  • Viral Envelope Proteins
  • Viral Proteins
  • envelope protein, SARS-CoV-2
  • RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase