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Reports: China ordered US diplomats to take anal swab COVID tests

COVID-19 state drive-thru testing in El Paso, Texas, Oct. 26, 2020. (BRIANA SANCHEZ/EL PASO TIMES/TNS)
February 25, 2021

U.S. diplomats in China say they were ordered to undergo anal swab COVID-19 testing, according to new reports this week. China allegedly told U.S. State Department officials it was done in error, but has publicly denied the allegations.

“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.

News of American diplomats subjected to China’s anal swab testing was first reported by Washington Post last week.

China mandated anal swab testing – which they declared more accurate that nasal swab testing — for incoming travelers in some areas of the country, although they claim diplomats are exempt from the tests.

The State Department spokesperson told VICE that China insisted the anal swab tests were given to American personnel in error. The State Department told personnel to refuse any future attempted anal swab testing.

“The Department is committed to guaranteeing the safety and security of American diplomats and their families while preserving their dignity, consistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, as well as other relevant diplomatic law provisions,” the spokesperson said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian denied the claims publicly, however. On Thursday, Zhao told reporters, “China has never asked U.S. diplomats in China to go through anal swab tests.”

China’s state-run Global Times announced an increased use of anal swab testing in China this year after a Chinese study determined anal swab testing was “optimal” when evaluating hospitalized patients before discharge.

“Intriguingly, SARS-CoV-2 detection was positive in the anal swab of two patients and negative in throat swab and sputum samples,” they wrote. “We propose anal swabs as the potentially optimal specimen for SARS-CoV-2 detection for evaluation of hospital discharge of covid-19 patients.”

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention published instructions on how to conduct the test: if a stool sample cannot be provided, a cotton-tipped swab should be inserted one to two inches into the rectum.

However, some Chinese doctors called the test inconvenient and said it was mostly used in quarantined patients.

Li Tongzeng, an infectious-disease specialist at Beijing You’an Hospital, said, “Considering that collecting anal swabs are not as convenient as throat swabs, at the moment only key groups such as those in quarantine receive both.”