In late January, visitors to China were surprised to find they were being tested for COVID-19 via an anal swab. The method has proven to be controversial, with Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Katsunobu Kato, telling a news conference that the tests caused “great psychological pain” to Japanese visitors to China. Even US diplomats have been subjected to the uncomfortable experience, calling it an “undignified” method of trying to stop the spread of Covid.
Why is China using anal swabs?
The Chinese Center for Disease said the method of using anal swabs for coronavirus is “science-based”.
Authorities said it is being used to completely crackdown on the spread of Covid, especially if it is being imported from foreign lands.
The test sees a sterile cotton bud inserted up to five centimetres into the rectum, before being rotated out, slowly.
According to Li Tongzeng, deputy director responsible for infectious disease at Beijing You’an Hospital, traces of coronavirus can linger longer in the anus or excrement.
The scientist said it is more effective than rapid tests or standard nasal and throat tests as the virus can be “silent” in throats and noses for up to five days post-infection, according to Chinese state media outlet Global Times.
Li added that taking anal swabs can increase testing accuracy, as opposed to rapid tests which have been known to be hit and miss.
This particularly applies to school children, according to a report from the Chinese University of Hong Kong published in late 2020.
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Yang told Global Times: “There have been cases concerning the coronavirus testing positive in a patient’s excrement, but no evidence has suggested it had been transmitted through one’s digestive system.”
Following the global outcry, China has eased slightly on its views on testing foreign tourists via the anal passage.
South Koreans visiting China will now be able to submit stool samples directly.
Choi Young-Sam, a spokesman of the South Korean foreign ministry, said this would counter “Chinese authorities taking them directly”.
However, the practice is not unique to China. Reuters reported that Galicia, in northwest Spain, had been taking anal swabs from hospitalised patients.