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China rolls out “more accurate” anal swab COVID-19 tests; residents not pleased

Posted: Monday, February 1, 2021. 4:46 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: According to the Washington Post, citizens of the People’s Republic of China are up in arms over plans to introduce anal swabs for COVID-19 testing.

Apparently, after lockdowns, being rushed to mandatory testing and other indignities, those savvy enough to use the internet say this is too much, despite the science some Chinese doctors say support the method as being more accurate than the equally invasive throat swabs now being taken.

Recovering patients, doctors say, have continued to test positive through samples from the lower digestive tract days after nasal and throat swabs came back negative.

But in a Weibo poll quoted by the Post, 80 percent of respondents said they “could not accept” the invasive method.

Even Chinese doctors in support of the new tests said the method’s inconvenience meant it only made sense to use in select groups, such as at quarantine centers.

“If we add anal swab testing, it can raise our rate of identifying infected patients,” Li Tongzeng, an infectious-disease specialist at Beijing You’an Hospital, said on state-run broadcaster CCTV on Sunday. “But of course, considering that collecting anal swabs is not as convenient as throat swabs, at the moment only key groups such as those in quarantine receive both.”

China tried the testing procedure in small groups last year, with the results circulated in research journals. A group of Chinese researchers published a study in the Future Microbiology journal in August reporting that for some recovering coronavirus patients, anal swab samples still tested positive after they tested negative through throat swabs.

Chinese officials are worried about the approach of Lunar New Year next month, often called the world’s largest annual migration. Some 3 billion trips are made over the holiday during a non-pandemic year, which means even a single silent coronavirus case could rapidly leapfrog across the nation.

China is seeking to vaccinate 50 million people before the holiday, but that’s less than 4 percent of its population, far too low a rate to prevent mass transmission.

Officials have tightened restrictions in recent weeks, with tens of millions of people returned to lockdown in areas with isolated outbreaks. As before, travelers arriving from overseas go straight into two weeks of hotel quarantine — but now a third week of home quarantine has been added, and a fourth week of daily reports to health officials.

As for how the test is conducted, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention published instructions last March. It said that a stool sample should be taken from patients, and if that is not possible, to do an anal swab by inserting a cotton-tipped stick three to five centimetres (one to two inches) into the rectum.

Chinese social media was awash with comments of disbelief and concern about the new test procedure, as quoted by the Post. “It’s difficult for the nurses,” said one person on Weibo; “We must really try hard to avoid catching coronavirus!!” said another.


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