Japan has asked China to avoid using anal swabs to test its citizens for COVID-19, saying the method prompted complaints of “psychological distress.”
Tokyo’s intervention comes after reports that US diplomatic personnel in China had complained of being subjected to the intrusive tests — a claim Beijing denied.
China, which has largely brought the virus under control domestically, last month said that anal swabs can be more effective than normal throat and nose tests, as the virus can linger longer in the digestive system.
However, Japanese government spokesman Katsunobu Kato late on Monday said that Tokyo had made a formal request through its embassy in Beijing that people arriving from the country be exempted.
“Our embassy requested Japanese citizens be excluded from anal PCR [polymerase chain reaction] tests, as some Japanese expatriates ... expressed the opinion that the tests produce significant psychological distress,” Kato said.
“At this point we have not received a response that they change this... We will continue pressing the issue,” he said, adding that there was no information that any other country was using the method.
Asked about the complaint, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said Beijing’s testing methods were “science-based” and “in accordance with the changes in the epidemic situation, as well as relevant laws and regulations.”.
Last month, US media said that US Department of State personnel in China had complained about the method, but Beijing rebuffed the reports, saying it had “never requested US diplomatic personnel in China to undergo anal swabs.”
Officials in China have used anal swabs to test people it considers at high risk of contracting COVID-19, including residents of neighborhoods with confirmed cases as well as some international travelers.
However, they have acknowledged it would be hard to use anal swabs as widely as the other methods, which have been used to test millions in mass campaigns, as the technique was “not convenient.”
In related news, Japan yesterday said that an investigation would be launched after more than 1,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses had to be thrown out when a freezer storing them malfunctioned.
A medical institution reported that 172 vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which must be kept between minus-80°C and minus-60°C, were rendered useless after the freezer breakdown over the weekend, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said, wasting up to 1,032 doses.
Japan began its inoculation program on Feb. 17 and has so far only approved the Pfizer/
Kato said that the cause of the malfunction was not yet clear, but the firm that installed the freezer would investigate and report back.
He said Japan had installed about 100 vaccine freezers nationwide by the end of last month.
“We would like to respond quickly to whatever is necessary, based on what the results of the investigation carried out by the company that installed it,” Kato said.
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