China makes COVID-19 anal swabs compulsory for foreigners

China has made the swabs compulsory for arriving foreigners despite push back from the US and Japan.
China has made the swabs compulsory for arriving foreigners despite push back from the US and Japan. Photo credit: Getty Images

China has made invasive COVID-19 anal swabs mandatory for all foreign travellers arriving in the country.

According to UK paper The Times, testing hubs will be set up in Beijing and Shanghai airports.

China began testing for COVID-19 using anal swabs in late January, its National Health Commission claiming the tests provide a higher level of accuracy compared with the standard nasal or throat swabs.

Director of the respiratory disease department of Beijing You An Hospital Li Tongzeng told the Washington Post in January the testing was introduced after research showed traces of the virus remain in the anus longer than the respiratory tract.

"If we add anal swab testing, it can raise our rate of identifying infected patients."

At the time he said the anal swabs were only used for those in quarantine as collecting the swabs was "not as convenient as throat swabs".

The move to swab all international arrivals this way follows calls from the US and Japan to stop performing the "undignified" tests on their citizens due to the mental anguish they cause.

On Tuesday China agreed to stop using anal swabs on American diplomats after some members of US President Joe Biden's administration complained about the method.

"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," a spokesperson said, adding that Beijing told them the testing was an "error" and diplomats were supposed to be exempt.

On Wednesday the Japanese Government also spoke out over the "psychological pain" their citizens were experiencing from the tests.

"Some Japanese reported to our embassy in China that they received anal swab tests, which caused a great psychological pain," Katsunobu Kato, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, told a press conference.

The test, which takes around 10 seconds, involves a saline-soaked cotton swab being inserted three to five centimetres into the rectum and rotated several times. The swab is then removed and securely placed in a test container. The sample is then tested for traces of the virus.

China has managed to maintain a low rate of COVID-19 infections, with only 200 active cases currently amongst its population of 1.4 billion.