When put in an awkward position...


FROM nasal swabs, spit tubes to antibody tests, there are many ways to detect the Covid-19 coronavirus.

But in China, one test, deemed controversial, has been added to its list of tests because experts believe the method could “increase accuracy”.

Since January, the country has been using anal swabs, alongside with other usual methods, to test for Covid-19 at major entry points and high-risk areas.

The test involves inserting a cotton swab between 3cm and 5cm long into the rectum, where it is gently rotated several times.

Each test is done twice and each swab takes about 10 seconds.

Anal swab was first made known to the public around mid-January when a nine-year-old pupil from Daxing district in Beijing was found to be asymptomatic.

Subsequently, the nucleic acid test was carried out on all students and staff from the school.

Soon after, the awkward method was introduced to workers from the key industries and places with a reported outbreak, followed by international travellers from high-risk areas at major entry points of China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Qingdao of Shandong province.

The practice has startled netizens, triggering a round of discussions with drawings on the proper positions for an anal swab to be taken being circulated on the Internet.

A video clip showing several adults and children walking like penguins at a place that looks like a hospital aisle spread like wildfire.

The “story” that went around was that they had just undergone the anal swabs.

But the authorities have cleared the air, pointing out that it was edited and warning that rumour-mongers could face legal action.

Some netizens admitted that they were stressed out when informed that they had to undergo the test.

“When I bent over with my pants stripped off and a medical staff poked my anus, I could only feel shame, ” one of them said.

“I was poked twice, once at a shallower part and another deeper inside. No special feelings, just endless shame, ” wrote another.

The anal swab issue took a “breather” when the Chinese started to put their focus on the Spring Festival, the list of travel restrictions and preventive measures that resulted in a majority not returning to their hometown for the celebration.

It resurfaced however after three countries, as of last Thursday, raised their complaints on the use of the anal swab on their citizens.

The first to protest was South Korea. It was reported that the Chinese government has agreed to exempt the South Koreans from the unpleasant practice, and that they only have to submit their stool specimen when entering the Middle Kingdom.

Next came the United States, which claimed that its diplomats in China were subjected to the embarrassing test.

The US State Department spokesperson said it was committed to guaranteeing the safety and security of American diplomats and their families while preserving their dignity.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian denied the claims, saying: “As far as I know, China has never asked US diplomats stationed in the country to conduct anal swab tests.”

Last week, the Japanese government has also filed a formal request for its citizens to not undergo such test.

“Some Japanese citizens reported to our embassy that they received anal swab tests, which caused a great psychological distress, ” chief Cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato said.

In response, China’s Foreign Ministry did not confirm or deny whether the method was used on the Japanese citizens.

It also did not reveal if Tokyo’s request would be considered.

Anal swab is time-consuming compared to throat and nasal swabs, so why did Beijing insist on continuing with the practice?

Beijing You’an Hospital infectious disease department deputy director Li Tongzeng told state TV, China Central Television, that studies had shown the coronavirus survived longer in the anus or excrement.

“For the asymptomatic carriers, taking an anal swab could increase accuracy, ” he explained, adding, however, that the method would only be applied to “high-risk groups”, including those at the quarantine centres.

But his counterpart Yang Zhanqiu, a deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, has an opposite view.

Yang told the Global Times that since the virus had proven to be contracted via the upper respiratory tract rather than the digestive system, the most efficient tests were still nasal and throat swabs.

“There have been cases concerning the presence of the coronavirus in a patient’s excrement but no evidence suggested that it has been transmitted through one’s digestive system, ” he pointed out.

In another news last month, a woman has demanded a compensation of 200,000 yuan (RM125,439) from a hospital in Shenzhen city of Guangdong province.

The woman, identified only as Yi, said a doctor there had examined her anus without the presence of a nurse.

“I felt harassed, ” she told Southern Metropolis Daily when relating her awful experience at Bao’an Center Hospital on Dec 27 last year.

The hospital told the daily that the doctor had done the proper diagnosis and treatment.

“Although there are no standard guideline and rules on male doctors examining the sensitive parts of female patients, the hospital has required for the presence of another female during the process, ” it added.

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