China is focusing on cold chain wares to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks after frozen Argentinian beef, German pork and Indian squid tested positive for the virus.
Cities across China, the world’s largest importer of beef and pork, have pledged to step up the screening and sterilization of imports.
The latest campaign to protect China’s borders from the reintroduction of Covid-19 began after officials in the northeastern city of Tianjin, one of the country’s largest ports, linked an infection of a warehouse worker with imports of frozen pork from Germany last week had brought.
It is important to have a sense of perspective. The vast majority of transmission is due to human-to-human infection via airborne transport
In the days that followed, food packaging tested positive for coronavirus in cities from east Jining to south Xiamen and central Zhengzhou.
The Shanghai city government announced that it would begin testing goods in supermarkets and warehouses as part of immediate measures to ensure the safety of frozen goods. The announcement named beef from Argentina, shrimp from Ecuador and fish from Indonesia as priorities.
Beijing also made nationwide efforts to disinfect and track cold chain imports. According to regulations, a single positive Sars-Cov-2 test, the virus that causes Covid-19, can result in a company’s goods being suspended for a week, while three positive tests can result in a month’s exposure.
Tianjin officials’ claims about the source of infection have been rejected in Germany. A spokesman for the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture told the public broadcaster Deutsche Welle that, despite theoretically possible transmission, “no cases of Sars-Cov-2 infections have remained known. . . Contact with contaminated meat products or surfaces ”.
Siddharth Sridhar of the Institute of Microbiology at Hong Kong University said, “It’s important to have a sense of perspective. The vast majority of transmission is due to human-to-human infection via airborne transport. “
He said there is a theoretical “non-zero” risk of infection from the virus being transmitted from cold surfaces, but that there have been no clear-cut cases of it spreading this way.
However, Chinese health authorities remain firmly convinced that cold chain transport carries a serious risk of infection. National leaders have repeatedly warned local officials to be vigilant against the recurrence of Covid-19, despite the country largely keeping the virus under control since March.
The offer of complete eradication has resulted in a zero tolerance approach. Small infection clusters are faced with strict bans and city-wide test drives.
While experts continue to debate the need for China’s resource-intensive efforts to minimize the risk of frozen food outbreaks, some research has supported Beijing’s claims of transmission risks.
An August article, led by Dale Fisher, an infectious disease expert at Singapore National University, noted that frozen foods could potentially lead to outbreaks in regions where the disease has been controlled.
The authors of the paper, which was not peer-reviewed, stated that Sars-Cov-2 could survive being refrigerated or frozen on cubes of pork, salmon, and chicken. They didn’t do the same packaging test.
“We believe it is possible that contaminated imported food can transmit viruses to workers,” the authors wrote. “An infected grocer has the potential to become an index case for a new outbreak.”