HEALTH authorities in China are mass testing residents for Covid – using anal swabs, it’s reported.
Doctors say the invasive procedure can be more effective in detecting the virus than nasal swabs.
China, where coronavirus first emerged just over a year ago, is currently experiencing its worst surge in cases since March.
Outbreaks have seen multiple cities in northern parts of the country sealed off – after two cases of the UK variant were reportedly discovered.
It’s sparked a mass testing campaign with officials in Beijing aiming to test more than two million people in 48 hours.
Up until now people have been tested with the more traditional throat and nasal swab method, as well as antibody tests.
But residents are now being given rectal nucleic acid swabs, with those in designated quarantine facilities already receiving the test.
Chinese health experts claim anal swabs are more accurate in detecting Covid, saying traces linger longer in the anus than in the respiratory tract.
They work by inserting the swab about three to five centimetres (1.2 to two inches) into the rectum and rotated several times.
Similarly to the nasal method, the swab is removed and securely placed into a sample container.
The whole procedure is said to take about 10 seconds, according to China’s National Health Commission.
Li Tongzeng, deputy director in charge of infectious disease at Beijing You’an Hospital, told state broadcaster CCTV: “Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, we’ve tested for the virus using mainly throat swabs.
“In some asymptomatic cases or in individuals with mild symptoms, they tend to recover from the illness very quickly.
“It’s possible that there will be no trace of the virus in their throat after three to five days.
“What we’ve found is that in some infected patients, the coronavirus survives for a longer period of time in their digestive tract or excrement than in their respiratory tract.”
China started using the method more frequently after a nine-year-old boy tested with no symptoms positive for Covid last week.
More than 1,200 students at his school in the southern district of Daxing and their close contacts were tested with the anal swab method.
Until now, the swabs had mainly been used at is mainly used in key groups at quarantine centres because of its inconvenience.
Users of China’s popular Twitter-like Weibo social media platform reacted to the invasive method with a mix of mirth and horror.
“So lucky I returned to China earlier,” one user wrote.
“Low harm, but extreme humiliation,” another said, using a laughing emoticon.
Others who had undergone the procedure chimed in with dark humour.
“I’ve done two anal swabs, every time I did one I had to do a throat swab afterwards – I was so scared the nurse would forget to use a new swab,” one Weibo user joked.
CCTV said on Sunday anal swabs would not be used as widely as other methods, as the technique was “not convenient”.
As cases rise around the world, China has imposed stricter requirements on international arrivals in an effort to keep domestic transmission close to zero.
The country has also tightened restrictions domestically, with Beijing announcing that people from medium- or high-risk areas will be barred from the city from Thursday to reduce the risk of virus transmission over the Lunar New Year period.
Meanwhile, arrivals into the country must have multiple negative test results and quarantine for at least 14 days in a designated hotel on arrival, with many cities and regions imposing additional home observation requirements.
As of Wednesday, China has reported a total of 89,272 confirmed Covid cases.
The country’s death toll rose by one to 4,636 following an additional fatality on Monday.