By Javier García
Beijing, Dec 4 (efe-epa).- The frozen food supply chain is becoming a principal inroad for the coronavirus in China, presenting a fresh challenge for a country that has the pandemic all but under control.
China has a slow drip of Covid-19 coming in from abroad — around a dozen a day — as citizens return home, but a system of rigorous checks and quarantine makes it almost impossible for the virus to spread into the general population.
However, packaged frozen goods, especially meat and seafood, arriving from all over the planet, are becoming a problem for the Asian giant.
These products are screened for contamination on arrival and in November authorities detected traces of Covid-19, most often on the packaging of a product, on an almost daily basis.
CASES UP WITH WINTER’S ARRIVAL
China has detected several cases linked to imported goods since July, but it was not until last month that it became an almost daily occurrence, a trend that correlated with a worsening of the pandemic in the Northern Hemisphere and the arrival of winter.
In June, six batches tested positive for Covid-19, five in August, two in September and four in October, according to data from state news.
But in November, that number was 25.
The majority of the Covid contaminated packaging came from Ecuador with seven in total, and Argentina, with four.
But the cases were not limited to these two South American countries. Imports from Germany, France, the Netherlands, Russia, India, Brazil, Chile, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia also bore traces of coronavirus.
Shandong province on the Yellow Sea has detected the majority of the affected imports.
The region is home to the port city of Qingdao, which in October carried out a mass screening of its population — more than nine million people —when authorities detected an outbreak of 13 cases.
It was this outbreak on 12 October that put an end to China’s 57-day streak without any local cases of Covid-19, according to its center for disease control (CDC). It was traced to two dockworkers who had come into contact with a delivery of frozen cod from an unknown origin. Tests later revealed traces of Covid-19 on the packaging.
The two dockworkers were diagnosed as asymptomatic carriers on 24 September and taken to the Qingdao Chest Hospital, which handles imported cases. According to an official investigation, the hospital failed to properly disinfect its equipment, which saw the virus spread to other patients.
The goods that most commonly test positive for Covid-19 are prawns, fish, beef and pork but at the beginning of November, authorities also found traces of the virus on delivery containers that had been brought in by sea and air.
DISINFECTING PACKAGING, CONTAINERS AND BOATS
The Chinese government on 9 November approved a sweeping plan to disinfect cold chain containers, a strategy that is to last until the end of December and that will involve 1.6 million products with a collective weight of around 30,000 tons.
Workers were ordered to disinfect the outer packaging of products, the containers, the delivery trucks and boats.
Under a new rule published Thursday, frozen products cannot be sold in China until they have passed a certificate of inspection, which requires a quarantine period, a nucleic acid test and a report on its origin and logistical route into the country.