Beijing mulls anal swabs as COVID cases surge

Beijing officials may roll out anal swabs to seal cracks in epidemic prevention system

Workers in protective suits take swabs in Shenyang, Liaoning Province.

Workers in protective suits take swabs in Shenyang, Liaoning Province. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Chinese authorities are weighing the possibility of administering anal swab tests on Beijing residents as they experience a fresh outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus.

After China declared victory over COVID-19 on March 19, 2020 — claiming it had zero cases — it has in fact seen multiple outbreaks across the country in Xinjiang, Beijing, Yunnan, Wuhan, Jilin, Qingdao, Tianjin, Inner Mongolia, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. A major new surge of cases started to break out in Hebei Province in early January and has spread to cities near Beijing such as Shijiazhuang and Xjingtai, as well as other provinces.

China has imposed strict lockdowns on 22 million people in cities and neighborhoods in large swathes of Hebei Province, Heilongjiang, and districts of Beijing. As was the case in Wuhan last year, multiple videos have surfaced showing officials welding shut the doors to apartments where people were allegedly being quarantined.

By Jan. 20, China was reporting 100 new cases a day, including a spike in local transmissions, particularly in Daxing District, with all 1.6 million residents banned from leaving their homes. On that day, two cases from that district were confirmed to have the virus strain first found in the U.K.

On Jan. 22, Beijing started testing 2 million citizens of the capital city within 48 hours. Soon, videos emerged showing thousands of people standing tightly together in long lines snaking across the city, in areas such as Wangfujing.

China's state-run mouthpiece the Global Times on Jan. 23 indicated the government is considering subjecting Beijing's citizens to anal swabs. The article mentioned that a 9-year-old boy had been exposed to a battery of tests including serum antibody tests, as well as nasal, throat, and anal swabs, before testing positive for COVID-19, but failed to point out which test had detected the virus.

Li Tongzeng, a deputy director in charge of infectious disease at Beijing You'an Hospital was cited as saying that studies had found the virus survives longer in the anus and excrement than the upper body tracts. The article added the virus can be present in the throats of asymptomatic patients for three to five days, so anal rather than throat swabs should be considered.

Li reportedly told CCTV that anal swabs can increase accuracy in "key groups." However, he conceded the technique is "not as convenient as throat swabs," and suggested they should only be applied to "key groups" at quarantine centers.

Yang Zhanqiu, a deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told the state-operated tabloid the disease is primarily contracted through the upper respiratory tract, rather than the digestive system. Yang argued the most efficient testing was with nasal and throat swabs.

Yang added, "There have been cases concerning the coronavirus testing positive in a patient's excrement, but no evidence has suggested it had been transmitted through one's digestive system."

Updated : 2021-03-04 09:09 GMT+08:00