Two Chinese cities have found traces of the coronavirus in imported frozen food and on food packaging, raising fears that contaminated food shipments might cause new outbreaks.
A sample taken from the surface of frozen chicken wings imported into the southern city of Shenzhen from Brazil, as well as samples of outer packaging of frozen Ecuadorean shrimp sold in the northwestern city Xian, have tested positive for the virus, local authorities said on Thursday.
The discoveries came a day after traces of the coronavirus were found on the packaging of frozen shrimp from Ecuador in a city in eastern Anhui province. China has been stepping up screenings at ports amid the concerns over food imports.
Shenzhen's health authorities traced and tested everyone who might have come into contact with potentially contaminated food products, and all results were negative, the city's notice said.
"It is hard to say at which stage the frozen chicken got infected," a China-based official at a Brazilian meat exporter said.
The Shenzhen Epidemic Prevention and Control Headquarters said the public needed to take precautions to reduce infection risks from imported meat and seafood.
The health commission of Shannxi province, where Xian city is located, said authorities were testing people and the surrounding environment connected to the contaminated shrimp products sold in a local market.
In addition to screening all meat and seafood containers coming into major ports in recent months, China has suspended some meat imports from various origins, including Brazil, since mid-June.
The first cluster of COVID-19 cases was linked to the Huanan seafood market in the city of Wuhan. Initial studies suggested the virus originated in animal products on sale at the market.
Li Fengqin, who heads a microbiology lab at the China National Centre for Food Safety Risk Assessment, told reporters in June the possibility of contaminated frozen food causing new infections could not be ruled out.
Viruses can survive up to two years at temperatures of -20C, but scientists say there is no strong evidence so far the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can spread via frozen food.
Xinfadi market in China's capital city Beijing, a sprawling food market linked to cluster infections in June when virus was found on the chopping board on which imported salmons were handled, will be reopened from the weekend.
How the virus entered Xinfadi market in the first place is yet to be determined, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said in its latest update of the investigation in July.
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