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American diplomats in China complain they were forced to take anal COVID-19 swab tests

  • Washington said procedure was ‘undignified’ and told staff to refuse to take it 
  • Beijing has since claimed the test was given ‘in error’ as diplomats are exempt
  • China’s Foreign ministry spokesman denied the claims made by US officials

By Tom Pyman For Mailonline, 25 February 2021

American diplomats in China have claimed they were forced to take anal swab tests for coronavirus.

Washington complained the procedure was ‘undignified’ and told staff to decline the test if asked to take one.

Beijing has since claimed the test, mandatory for incoming travellers in some parts of China, was given ‘in error’, as diplomatic personnel were exempt. 

However, China today denied any knowledge of carrying out anal swab tests on US diplomats. To collect the nucleic acid samples, the swab needs to be inserted about three to five centimetres (1.2  to 2 inches) and rotated several times. A video widely circulated online shows a doctor holding a visual demonstration of the procedure

To collect the nucleic acid samples, the swab needs to be inserted about three to five centimetres (1.2  to 2 inches) and rotated several times. A video widely circulated online shows a doctor holding a visual demonstration of the procedure

To collect test samples, the swab needs to be inserted about three to five centimetres (1.2 to 2 inches) into the rectum and rotated several times.

After completing the motion twice, the swab is removed before being securely placed inside a sample container. The whole procedure is said to take about 10 seconds.

The Chinese capital began using the derriere detecting method more frequently during a mass testing drive after a nine-year-old boy tested positive for the virus last month.

Within a matter of days in January, more than three million residents in three Beijing districts have received coronavirus testing in a bid to stem the contagion, authorities said.

A US source told Vice of the claims: ‘The State Department never agreed to this kind of testing and protested directly to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when we learned that some staff were subject to it.’

Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news briefing in the Chinese capital: ‘To my knowledge…China has never required U.S. diplomatic staff stationed in China to conduct anal swab tests.’

A State Department representative said it was ‘committed to guaranteeing the safety and security of American diplomats and their families, while preserving their dignity’.

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, according to a Chinese disease control expert. 

Some Chinese cities used samples taken from the anus to detect potential infections amid stepped-up screening during a spate of regional outbreaks ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays.

Tests using anal swabs can avoid missing infections as virus traces in faecal samples or anal swabs could remain detectable for a longer time than in those from the respiratory tract, Li Tongzeng, a respiratory diseases doctor in Beijing, told state television last month.

Stool tests may also be more effective in finding infections in children and infants as their waste carries a higher viral load than adults, researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong said in a paper published last year.

But the accuracy and efficiency of anal swabs remain controversial among experts.

Yang Zhanqiu, a deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told state media Global Times that the nasal and throat swabs remain the most efficient test as the virus is proven to be contracted via one’s upper respiratory tract rather than the digestive system.

‘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,’ Yang said.

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