China has expanded its use of anal swabs to screen for Covid-19 with anyone flying into Beijing now vulnerable to the tests despite growing protests from foreign governments.
A staffer at a Beijing epidemic control department told Chinese state media that all international arrivals in the capital could be ordered to take the tests by health officials, although they are not compulsory for everyone.
And in Shanghai, travellers from high-risk regions and those who arrive on planes with at least five positive cases must take a full battery of tests, including anal swabs.
The US, Japan, South Korea and Germany, have all raised concerns about the tests, although China has denied claims that they are required for US diplomats.
A diagram used by a Chinese doctor to explain the use of anal tests for Covid-19, a practice which has drawn protests from various foreign governments
China’s disease control centre says the test is performed with a sterile swab that is inserted up to two inches into the anus before being gently rotated out.
Doctors have told state media that the tests can prevent infections from being missed because traces are detectable there for longer than in the respiratory tract.
But Jin Dongyan, a virology professor at the University of Hong Kong, said it might also pick up inactive traces that pose no danger of being passed on to others.
Another expert in Europe said the virus does shed for longer in the stool than in nasal samples, but patients in that stage of recovery are no longer a contagion risk.
Earlier this week, Tokyo complained about the tests on some Japanese travellers to China, saying they had caused ‘great psychological pain’.
South Korea’s foreign ministry meanwhile says that its citizens can now submit stool samples instead of ‘Chinese authorities taking them directly’.
US media also reported last month that American diplomats had been required to take the test, but Beijing rejected the claims.
‘To my knowledge…China has never required US diplomatic staff stationed in China to conduct anal swab tests,’ foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
And Germany has also raised concerns about the tests, saying that some of its citizens had faced ‘tightened procedures’, according to Vice News.
‘We have repeatedly raised that issue vis-à-vis the Chinese government, especially with regard to the medical tests and examinations that are taking place against the will of the persons concerned,’ a German diplomatic source told the website.
Anal swabs have been used in China to test coronavirus since last year, but the method is mainly used in key groups at quarantine centres because of its inconvenience, expert says
A viral video purports to show people walking stiff-legged with their arms slightly open while leaving a hospital following an anal swab test. Chinese authorities have called the video ‘fake’
A disease control worker in Shanghai told state media that travellers flying there must take anal tests if more than five people on the plane test positive for the virus.
Travellers from regions where the virus is rampant or those who test positive on arrival also need to undergo such tests, they said.
While anal swabs are not compulsory for all international arrivals in China, one staffer of Beijing’s Daxing district epidemic control department told the state-backed Global Times that international visitors to Beijing were subject to such testing.
‘If people are not familiar with the procedure for taking an anal swab test, our employees will help explain how it will be done,’ she said.
Last month, footage emerged purporting to show people waddling like penguins after taking one of the anal swabs.
But Chinese authorities labelled the video ‘fake’, promising citizens that they would not walk like that after taking the tests.
In addition to Beijing and Shanghai, the port city of Qingdao has also carried out the tests in addition to nasal or throat swabs, state media says.
But anal swab tests are not exclusive to foreign visitors.
During China’s last major round of infections in January, some cities performed them on unspecified segments of the local population.
The tests have also been carried out in Galicia, in Spain, where some hospitalised patients and newborn babies received the tests.
They were also given to those with psychiatric illnesses for whom it was impossible to administer nasal swabs, Galicia’s health department says.