Travelers being put in a very uncomfortable position.

Over the past year every country has developed their own way of tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have shut down borders for long periods of time, while others have replaced canceled basketball games with anime or erected giant gorillas made of straw.

It’s hard to judge if any policy is right or wrong until we have the luxury of hindsight, but the Japanese government has taken a pro-active approach and called on their Chinese counterparts to put an end to inserting cotton swabs into the anuses of Japanese nationals who go there.

On 1 March, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato held a press conference and addressed the issue of anal testing for COVID-19 in China. “We have just made a request to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Beijing City authorities to exempt Japanese people from anal PCR testing,” Kato told reporters, “At this point, we have not received an answer that the testing method will be changed, but we will continue to work on it.”

It would seem the lack of response could be interpreted as China saying, “Yeah sure, we’ll think about it.” This was confirmed by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson who told NHK, “China responds to changes in the status of infections and is preventing epidemics from a scientific point of view.”

▼ A video demonstration of an anal PCR test on a dummy

According to reports in China, samples retrieved from the anal cavity are said to test positive for a longer period than from the nose or throat. This means that such testing would be less likely to overlook infected people who could slip through screening and spark clusters.

Anal swabs were introduced in China in recent months for higher risk people. However, this comes at a cost. “The Embassy of Japan in China some Japanese nationals have reported undergoing anal PCR testing when traveling to China,” said Kato, “and that they have suffered a great deal of psychological stress.”

Some Chinese citizens too have complained online that this kind of PCR testing is “awkward” and “extremely humiliating.” Meanwhile, not all Japanese netizens back home are convinced that it’s such a bad idea.

“When in Rome…”
“If the accuracy is good, then we should get over ourselves and present our anuses calmly to help prevent this disease from killing people.”
“Do they really need to go to such extremes?”
“I was hospitalized the other day and got an anal PCR test. It was fine, but I felt bad for the nurse who had to do it.”
“Isn’t there a delay for the virus to reach the anus, compared to the nose or throat?”
“I hope this isn’t a trick to harvest big data.”
“Am I the only one who thinks that getting an anal PCR test is easier than getting stabbed up the nose by a cotton swab?”

So it would seem that the pros and cons of a nasal or anal PCR test are debatable, and perhaps the cause of a lot of the mental anguish was due to the fact some Japanese travelers weren’t expecting to be subjected to a rectal exam upon arrival. If so, it would be understandable but also a lesson in researching the rules and laws of places you travel to thoroughly before departing.

In the meantime, relations between China and Japan are thorny at the best of times, so we can probably expect Japanese rectums to be used as a political bargaining chip until a substantial and stable reduction in COVID-19 infections are achieved.

Source: NHK News Web, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
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