Any traveler who flies into China can now be forced to undergo an anal swab to screen for COVID-19, according to new reports.
“China has made anal swab tests for the coronavirus mandatory for almost all international arrivals, deepening a row with other countries over a practice many have described as humiliating,” The Times of London reported.
The move has prompted protests from foreign governments.
“The Japanese government has already raised concern about its citizens being subjected to the ‘undignified’ procedure while American diplomats have also complained,” the British paper wrote. “Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said it would ask China to alter its testing regimen after some Japanese travellers reported suffering ‘psychological pain’ from the invasive procedure.”
Germany has also expressed displeasure 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.
In Shanghai, travelers from high-risk regions and fliers who arrive on airplanes with at least five positive cases must take a full battery of tests, including anal swabs, The Daily Mail wrote.
“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,” the Mail reported.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin defended the anal swabs as “science-based” and says the tests are “in accordance with the changes in the epidemic situation as well as relevant laws and regulations.”
The Mail cited Li Tongzeng from Beijing’s You’an Hospital, who said on state broadcaster CCTV that traces of the coronavirus are detectable longer in the anus or in feces than samples taken from the throat and nose.
“We found that some asymptomatic patients tend to recover quickly. It’s possible that there will be no trace of the virus in their throat after three to five days,” Li said. “But the virus lasts longer from the samples taken from the patient’s digestive tract and excrement, compared to the ones taken from the respiratory tract.”
“If we conduct anal swabs for nucleic acid testing, it would increase the detection rates of patients and lower the chance of a missed diagnosis,” the expert said.
In January, passengers on a flight from Changchun to Beijing in China were reportedly ordered to disembark after officials said one came from an area deemed as high risk for COVID-19. They were then brought to a hotel “where health workers took nose and anal swabs, said a passenger who asked to be identified only by his last name, Wang,” the National Post reported.
“Some people arriving into Beijing are being asked to undertake anal swabs as well, with one traveler who came from Hong Kong a few weeks ago telling Bloomberg News she was told to do the swab herself while in mandatory hotel quarantine,” the Post wrote.