In the first month of the new year, China began noticing an unexpected rise in COVID-19 cases in the country. To control local outbreaks, the authorities are now using anal swabs to detect Coronavirus affected people.
The Chinese officials said last week that the anal swabs had been administered to more than 1,000 students and teachers at a school which is located in Beijing's Daxing district after a nine-year-old boy tested positive for the COVID-19.
Even though China contained the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the second half of 2020, the country is facing new threats from the virus variants found outside the Asian country. The increase in recent COVID-19 cases linked to new Coronavirus variants put pressure on the government. So, the authorities decided to embrace a unique way to detect as many cases as possible to curb the spread of the virus.
This particular method of Coronavirus testing is not new in China. In some hospitals, the healthcare workers have been testing the rectal samples or feces of COVID-19 patients, after researchers found that the virus could be detected in an individual's digestive system for longer than in their respiratory tract.
As per the guidelines published by China's National Health Commission, cotton swabs should be inserted three to five centimeters inside the rectum during an anal swab. Li Tongzeng, a senior doctor from Beijing's You're Hospital, told CCTV that this method can increase the detection rate of infected people.
When a 21-year-old Chinese man returned from Australia to his hometown Weihai in the province of Shandong, he had two anal swabs while being at a quarantine facility in September 2020. He said that it felt like having diarrhea.
Two nurses told Alex Wang to hold onto a chair and use one hand to pull his buttocks apart while taking samples from his rectum. "At first I was shy. But I understood the country was under pressure to prevent outbreaks," he said.
But the users of China's popular social media platform, Weibo, reacted to the method with a mix of mirth and horror. Some people also worry that the unpleasant test will be rolled out to the general public.
One of the Weibo user wrote, "The nasal one was uncomfortable enough, I can't imagine this one."
Another user joked, "I'm worried I will fart while being swabbed."
"Low harm, but extreme humiliation," another individual said.
However, according to Li, conducting both throat and anal swabs would help reduce the chances of missing any infected person. But since the latter one is not widely accepted by many, the test is now only required for the "key populations", especially those who are in quarantine.
As per a study in Weihai that included several cured patients, researchers found the Coronavirus was positive in anal swabs but negative in other sample types. In another study which was conducted in the southern city of China's Guangzhou, the experts noticed that the detection of the virus in anal swabs was a possible warning indicator of severe COVID-19.