My eyes welled with tears after the nasal swab forced itself right up my nose, triggering a sharp sensation. Tears streamed down my face.
Very few distinctive sensations – or feelings of extreme discomfort – are as unpleasant as the nasal swab, but this could only be for me, and, if one is superstitious, linked to my assigned slot number – 13.
Most of the others I spoke to at Hong Kong’s Covid-19 mass testing programme seemed to be fine with their experience.
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In fact, stubbing my toe may be far less unbearable. I also had to undergo a throat swab. But the nasal one felt like water in my nose going in the wrong direction.
I was among early participants on Tuesday of the more than 615,000 Hong Kong residents who signed up for the citywide coronavirus test as of lunchtime.
I made my last-minute registration on the eve of the scheme’s launch. Before settling on my eventual test venue, I saw that the nearest testing facility at Queen’s College in Causeway Bay was full for the first four days and the earliest slot I could obtain was on September 5.
There were seven venues in my district available, but two had no slots on the first day. Other places had limited places throughout Tuesday, but I ultimately picked the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, given its ample availability first thing in the morning.
From 9am, which was my booked slot, a steady stream of people were already leaving the convention centre, a green packet in hand, the most noticeable sign they had taken the test. The pack contained 10 masks, a giveaway from the government to those willing to volunteer for the free programme.
The physical test was over in mere moments, done faster than ordering and being served a cup of coffee.
The entire journey from start to finish – around 15 minutes – was multiple times quicker than queuing ages at bank branches, a ubiquitous scene in the city.
Unlike my own test ordeal however, multiple people interviewed by the Post in the opening hours of the centre shrugged off the discomfort, raring to start their day.
Numerous personnel donning gloves, masks, plastic goggles or face shields outside my test venue were waiting to greet and guide people through the one-way system.
Once I was inside and showed my confirmation message, I was swiftly informed in Cantonese by staff to stop filming.
I made my way to the front of the convention hall, one of the many rooms inside the cavernous venue, passing my first airport-style thermal temperature scanner. I was greeted by a queue but with social-distancing in place – wider intervals between people, marked by yellow floor stickers – for the formal registration.
For the second time, I was asked to stop filming.
The queues were short and swift as staff efficiently processed participants who collected their test tubes for the swabs. My line of 18 people or so shrank in about three quick minutes.
Before registering myself, I received a temperature check and a squirt of hand sanitiser.
I then waited briefly in my second queue, where I was once again told not to film as staff pointed to a sign warning of the ban on recording of any kind. I was given a number – unlucky 13 – to head into one of the booths for the test.
I asked this time if I could take a few selfies and a video of my experience, to which I was kindly given permission.
When it finally came for the test to be done, I put my bag down, somewhat flustered already. I was asked to take a seat and offered hand sanitiser again. A tissue was placed by my side and after much gesturing as I was not clear about the instructions uttered through masks, I figured out that I was being told to place my own mask on the tissue. I was handed another piece of tissue to cough or sneeze into should the need arise after the nasal and throat swabs.
I asked if I should not breathe during my nasal swab, because I had heard just how painful it could be, to which I received a nod from the staff member involved. Then I tilted my head back.
The invasion of my nostrils lasted three seconds each. An hour after the procedure, the discomfort still lingered.
Three days from now, I expect to get a negative test result.
The swab tests are completely unlike the saliva test I did before, which is harder to administer given the small window – normally first thing in the morning and before breakfast – to yield a reliable result. This is why medical authorities may prefer swabs.
This article ‘The Covid-19 test made me cry’: what it’s like to get tested under Hong Kong’s mass screening scheme first appeared on South China Morning Post