The Chinese government has pledged to stop using anal swabs on American diplomats to detect potential COVID-19 infections after Washington protested the practice noting that it is undignified, the U.S. State Department said.
“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 State Department spokesperson told VICE World News on Wednesday, adding that Beijing had assured Washington that the test was conducted “in error” and that diplomatic personnel are exempt from the test, which is mandatory for arriving travelers in some parts of China.
“We have instructed staff to decline this test if it is asked of them, as was done in the past,” the spokesperson said. It is not clear how many U.S. diplomats have gone through such an odd procedure.
Some Chinese cities have begun using samples taken from the anus to test those it considers at high risk of contracting COVID-19. When news about the new practice was reported last month, social media users and travelers squirmed over the invasive procedure that doctors say can be more effective in detecting the virus.
Anal swabs require inserting a cotton swab 3 to 5 centimeters (1.2 to 2.0 inches) into the anus and gently rotating it. Last month, a Beijing city official said that anal swabs were taken from over 1,000 teachers, staffers and students at a primary school in the city after an infection had been found. Their nose and throat swabs and serum samples were also collected for testing.
Additional tests using anal swabs can avoid missing infections, as virus traces in fecal samples or anal swabs could remain detectable for a longer time than in samples taken from the upper respiratory tract, Li Tongzeng, a respiratory and infectious disease doctor in Beijing, told state TV last month. He added that such samples are only necessary for key groups such as those under quarantine.
Stool tests may be more effective than respiratory tests in identifying COVID-19 infections in children and infants since they carry a higher viral load in their stool than adults, researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) had said in a paper published last year.
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