Diplomatic row over China’s anal swab tests for foreigners

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China will discontinue anal swabs on US diplomats to test for COVID-19 following a Washington objection, while Japan has also protested against such tests on its citizens visiting China.

Vice reports the US 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 is quoted in the report as saying.

The spokesperson said Beijing had assured Washington that the test was given “in error” and that diplomatic personnel were exempt from the test, which was mandatory for incoming travellers 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.”

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian denied Beijing had asked US diplomats in China to undergo anal swab tests.

Vice reports that some Chinese regions have been ordering anal swabs for people under quarantine, including those who arrived from abroad. Authorities say the tests can avoid missing infections. It’s not clear how many US diplomats or their family members have gone through the tests.

The State Department spokesperson said it is committed to preserving the “dignity” of US diplomats and their families, consistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and other diplomatic law provisions.

In an online post earlier in February, Chinas National Health Commission said in some cases, the coronavirus can be more readily detected in anal samples than in throat and nasal samples. But it acknowledged rectal swabs are not suitable for mass use because they are inconvenient and unpopular.

According to the commission’s instructions, the anal samples are collected by inserting a cotton swab 3cm to 5 cm into the rectum.

Reports about anal COVID-19 testing prompted a wave of panic on Chinese social media last month.

 

Just a week after US diplomats complained about being subjected to the process, Sky News reports that Tokyo has now also called on Beijing to stop doing the same to its Japanese citizens.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said his government had received reports from its embassy in China of citizens who had been required to take a COVID swab test which they said had caused them ‘great psychological pain.’

The report says Beijing has so far not responded to Mr Kato’s request.

 

Full Vice report (Open access)

 

Full Sky News report (Open access)

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