By Javier García
Beijing, Aug 14 (efe-epa).- In at least nine places across China, traces of the new coronavirus have been detected during the last 40 days in packets of frozen seafood, fish and chicken – most of them imported from Latin America – triggering alarm bells in the country about these products and their consumption.
Experts have warned that the virus can survive up to three months in very low temperatures, and even though there is no evidence so far about it being transmitted through food, the news has led to concerns in a country which imports frozen food from 105 nations across the world.
In order to feed its over 1.4 billion inhabitants, China – where only 12.6 percent of the land is cultivable – largely depends on food imports, a major part of which arrives in the frozen form from faraway countries.
Latin American exports of meats, seafood and poultry to China have been growing in recent years.
Almost all traces of the virus discovered in frozen food in the last six weeks have been found in the packaging and not the product itself, which has led to China strengthening checks and imposing strict handling and processing protocols on imports.
The latest case took place on Thursday, when in the southern city of Shenzhen in the Guangdong province, samples from a batch of frozen chicken wings imported from Brazil tested positive in nucleic acid tests.
The local center for disease control and prevention said that the virus had been found on the “surface” of the product, and the Shenzhen municipal authorities revealed that the product was supplied by Aurora, the third biggest processor of chicken and pork in Brazil.
Brazilian diplomatic sources told EFE on Friday that the Chinese authorities had not yet specified the full extent of the test results and further details were awaited.
In another routine inspection on Thursday at a restaurant in the eastern city of Wuhu, the virus was detected in the external packaging of white shrimp imported from Ecuador.
A similar discovery had been made on July 10 on shrimp packets supplied by 3 Ecuadorean companies: Santa Priscila fishing, Empacreci and Edpacif.
Similarly on Wednesday, the virus was also detected on the outer packaging of imported frozen seafood in the eastern Shandong province, although the country of origin was not yet specified in this case.
Beijing had immediately suspended imports from the three Ecuadorean companies in July, although Santa Priscila and Empacreci were again authorized to export to China recently after improving their control protocols.
The owner of the Wuhu restaurant said that the infected packets of shrimps had been stored in their freezer for some time, which could mean that the packets may have been part of older batches of the product that were not withdrawn in July.
Subsequently the Chinese General Administration of Customs ordered the “immediate withdrawal” of all frozen shrimps shipped by the three companies since Mar. 12 and asked for them to be destroyed.
Seafood packets with traces of the virus have also been found in cities as far apart as Xiamen (southeast), Dalian (northeast), Pingxiang (central), Chongqing (central) as well as the southern Yunnan province, where the coronavirus was again found in Latin American products.
Chinese media outlets have expressed concern over the issue as Latin American countries have struggled to contain the Covid-19 pandemic with more than 5.6 million confirmed cases so far – with both Brazil and Ecuador being seriously affected – and the risk that the packaging could spread the disease among consumers.
Liang Zongan, the director of the department of respiratory medicine at the University of Sichuan, told reporters that the virus lasted longer in low temperatures, leading to its discovery in frozen foods or their packaging.
However he said that there was “no need to panic” and the possibility of the food itself being contaminated due to the virus in the packaging was “very small.”
Liang also said that the chances of contracting the disease from food were very low.