Explainer: China’s claim of coronavirus to frozen foods

Beijing (AP)-China is controversial over allegations that it has detected the coronavirus in the packaging of imported frozen foods.

Frozen shrimp imported from an Ecuadorian company were banned for a week on Tuesday in a continuous series of such temporary bans.

Experts say the virus can survive in cardboard or plastic containers for some time, but it’s unclear how serious the risks it poses. Like many of the issues surrounding the pandemic, the issue was rapidly politicized.

China has rejected complaints from the United States and other countries, saying that it puts the lives of its people first. Experts generally say that the presence of the virus in the package is not considered a significant health risk.

Let’s take a look at this issue and some of the conclusions so far.

China crackdown

Packaging was the first major problem with outbreaks in China related to the wholesale food market, including the June outbreak in the suburbs of Beijing. As a result, smoked salmon have been removed from supermarket shelves and snowballed into multiple cases involving chicken, beef, and seafood in nearly 20 countries nationwide. Some supermarkets have stickers that declare that imported meat is virus-free.

Infections among cargo handlers are also suspicious of packaging. However, human-to-human transmission has not been ruled out, and China has not yet released evidence that packaging was actually the transmission route.

Overseas complaints

Trading partners such as the United States, New Zealand, Canada and the EU have stated that China’s methodology is unclear and has never seen solid evidence that its products carry the virus. The United States questioned whether China’s crackdown was science-based, suggesting that the ban could be an unfair trade barrier.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, called the US accusation “totally unfounded and unreasonable.” China’s measures “need to follow the spirit of putting people’s lives first and protecting people’s health,” he said last week.

In a statement to the Associated Press, the World Health Organization said cases of live viruses found in the package appeared to be “rare and isolated.” The virus can “survive for long periods of time under refrigerated conditions,” but there is no evidence that people are infected with COVID-19 because they consume food, he said.

Surface transmission

The virus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is overwhelmingly transmitted through respiratory droplets and small particles that pass through the air, emphasizing the importance of wearing a mask.

However, the virus can also be present on the surface, and public health officials are urging people to wash their hands carefully and avoid physical contact with others. In general, the cooler and drier the conditions, the longer the virus can survive on the surface.

Wiping countertops, railings, and other surfaces is a common way to ensure safety. Some people have also gone to the extreme of disinfecting packages brought into their homes, either by themselves or by delivery services.

Expert opinion

Traces of the virus found on the package can be infectious or non-infectious. Timothy Newsam, a virologist at the University of Sydney, said the highly sensitive tests used could detect both active viruses and their debris indistinguishably.

“It’s possible and may represent some risk, but it’s certainly at the lower end of the risk of infection,” he said. “We know that low temperatures stabilize the virus. Nevertheless, I think the risk of transported and surface infections-it is low.”

Andrew Pekoshi of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health said a positive test “does not indicate an infectious virus, but that some signal from the virus is present on its surface.”

“I haven’t seen convincing data that SARS-CoV-2 in food packaging poses a significant risk of infection,” he said.


Victoria Milko, Associated Press Health and Science Writer, contributed to this report.

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Explainer: China’s claim of coronavirus to frozen foods

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