Report: China Brings Back ‘Anal Swab’ Coronavirus Tests in Beijing

testing for covid
HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

Local media in China’s capital of Beijing report that with only two weeks to go before the Winter Olympics begin, city health authorities have resumed a controversial practice from early in the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic: using anal swabs to check for infections.

Insider on Wednesday translated a report from the state-owned Beijing News that described at least 27 residents of an apartment building in the Haidian district getting the anal swab test last week.

The Beijing News article mentioned the curious practice in passing. There was only a single reference to the swabs piled up among the equipment carried by the coronavirus testing unit dispatched to the Haidian apartments. The thrust of the article was that everyone involved felt nervous about the coronavirus outbreak in Beijing, but everyone was willing to do their part to control it.

Haidian is the epicenter of one of Beijing’s current coronavirus outbreaks. District health officials have so far admitted to two cases of local transmission. Both patients supposedly caught the omicron variant of Chinese coronavirus from the same third individual.

Chinese health officials claim the third person contracted omicron by handling packages from Canada, a scenario deemed highly improbable by U.S. and international agencies. City authorities sealed this Patient Zero’s home and workplace, then reportedly collected thousands of test samples from people who lived or worked in the same locations. 

China used anal swab testing on American diplomatic personnel in February 2021, prompting a complaint from the U.S. State Department to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The Chinese government said the anal testing was administered “in error.”

Japan also complained about China using anal testing on visiting Japanese citizens and demanded an end to the practice, saying the tests were physically uncomfortable and caused “great psychological pain.” At one point, China was reportedly using anal swab testing on most foreign travelers.

Anal testing is considered unnecessary, intrusive, and prone to returning false positives. There have been few reports of such tests from anywhere outside China.

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