China brings back controversial anal Covid swabs weeks before Winter Olympics

China has re-introduced controversial anal swab tests for Covid amid the spread of the Omicron variant, two weeks before the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Anal Covid tests involve placing a two-inch long cotton swab inside a patient's rectum, rotating it, before removing it and sending it to a lab for analysis.

The method became prevalent in Beijing after a nine-year-old boy tested positive in January 2021, but the swabs became a point of controversy in March 2021 when their use was expanded to foreign travellers visiting the city.

Beijing's epidemic control department said at the time that international arrivals could be ordered to take one, but that not everyone flying into the city had to.

Concerns have been raised about anal swabs from officials in the US, Japan, South Korea and Germany.

China was forced to deny that they were a requirement for US diplomats, and doctors defended the tests to state media, claiming that they can better detect infections as traces of the virus last longer in the rectum than in the respiratory tract.

Now, The Beijing News report that 27 people in one of the city's apartment buildings were anally swabbed on January 15 this year, after a 26-year-old inhabitant of the building became the first recorded case of Omicron in Beijing.

According to local reports, there have now been 11 confirmed Omicron cases in the capital as of Thursday, and strict lockdown and testing measures have been introduced.

Beijing's Haidian district – where the cases were detected – has now been closed off with barriers whilst testing continues.

This week Covid cases reached their highest levels in China since March 2020, leading authorities to cancel the sale of Winter Olympics tickets.

Fans from outside of China were already banned, and now only 'selected' people will be able to spectate.

Organisers also said today that the Olympic torch relay will be cordoned off from the public. The relay had already been scaled back significantly given the country's Covid restrictions.

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