COVID infecting people via mail, frozen food? There’s no evidence to prove it

Josephine Ma, South China Morning Post

Posted at Jan 19 2022 06:49 AM

A claim by Beijing health officials that the Omicron variant arrived in the Chinese capital via a letter from Canada has been met with a collective shrug by most scientists.

The coronavirus has been around for two years now, and a lot of research has been done on how it is transmitted.

That includes infection from contaminated surfaces - known as fomite transmission. Most scientists agree that there is a very slim chance of this happening, given that the virus cannot survive for too long on surfaces. Even if it does survive, the traces left on a surface may not be enough to cause an infection.

Scientists have looked into this possible transmission route in high-risk settings such as cruise ships and hospital wards for Covid-19 patients. While it cannot be ruled out, the consensus is that this is not a major route of transmission. The virus is mainly spread via respiratory droplets when infected people talk, breathe, cough or sneeze.

Still, Beijing has continued to claim that contaminated surfaces, particularly imported frozen food, could be to blame for local clusters in the country. Chinese scientists have even suggested cold-chain imports might have caused the initial outbreak in Wuhan.

Officials have linked contaminated frozen food or goods to outbreaks in Beijing, Dalian, Kashgar, Tianjin, Shanghai, Qingdao, and most recently an Omicron case in Shenzhen. But so far, the live virus was only isolated from the packaging of imported frozen cod in Qingdao.

The claim that Covid-19 could have spread via international mail stretches this transmission theory even further, given that the virus cannot live on a surface at room temperature for long.

Much research has been done on how long the virus can survive on surfaces, but it is generally agreed that the controlled laboratory environment is not the same as a real-life setting, where it would be difficult for transmission to take place.

If Chinese officials were correct that imported goods have brought Covid-19 to multiple cities then it would be a major transmission route - but there is no evidence to prove these claims, or similar cases elsewhere.

In fact the more it is highlighted, the more it looks like these officials are living in a parallel universe. The rest of the world remains unconvinced, and it detracts from efforts to trace the real source of transmission - which is important if Beijing wants to keep the virus at bay.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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