International containers and imported cold-chain products are posing dual challenges for China to prevent a COVID-19 epidemic resurgence, which has prompted many cities to adopt preventive measures to avoid another large-scale outbreak.
Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a Wednesday media briefing that cases in Kashi, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and Shanghai showed that cross-regional transportation of containers in low-temperature environments is similar to cold-chain shipments and has caused sporadic infections.
As a preventive measure, Wu said Chinese authorities have incorporated measures from international logistics into local cold-chain transportation.
The number of cases involving COVID-19-positive imported cold-chain foods has increased significantly and affected more areas and products, such as seafood, meat and poultry.
The infections have also extended from cold-chain food to containers, according to Mi Feng, spokesperson of China's National Health Commission. But officials said no COVID-19 infections caused by direct consumption of contaminated cold chain foods have been found so far.
The Global Times found that Chinese cities have taken concrete measures to cope with these new challenges.
Starting from Wednesday, information on imported cold-chain food containers picked up from the port in Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning Province, will be registered on an imported cold-chain food traceability platform. The cargo owner or agent must declare data, such as the origin country, destination and contacts, before the container leaves the port.
Various locations such as East China's Shandong Province, Nanjing in East China's Jiangsu, Taiyuan in North China's Shanxi, Shenzhen in South china's Guangdong have set up supervision and control warehouses where imported cold-chain food will be given nucleic acid testing and thorough disinfection.
Shandong ordered every city in the province to build a large warehouse to test and disinfect imported frozen food by December 10.
Customs departments will work with local governments on disinfection. More than 1.6 million pieces of imported frozen food were disinfected at Chinese ports, with disinfection areas including outer packaging, containers, cargo pallets, trucks and fishing boats.
Global Times reporters recently visited seafood markets and cold-chain warehouses in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Wuhan and found that they were on alert to any risk involving imported products, especially frozen foods, but there was little impact on the logistics of imported non-frozen products.
A staffer at Hema Fresh, an online-to-offline retail supermarket under Alibaba Group in Beijing, told the Global Times it has reduced imports of seafood since September and now tests all frozen foods, whether imported or domestic.
Employees at cold-chain enterprises in Tianjin reached by Global Times said they believed the protective measures would be effective, as the comprehensive disinfection carried out the government helps reduce risks.
Previously, UPS and FedEx employees at Shanghai Pudong International Airport tested positive for COVID-19. The outbreak in Kashi, Xinjiang was also linked to containers from Tajikistan, Zhang Yuexin, a member of Xinjiang's anti-epidemic group, told the Global Times.
Health authorities said recent frequent reports of positive cold-chain cases are due to increasing detection and sampling for food and outer packaging.
As the frequency of detection and coverage increase, the probability of finding a positive result also grows, Li Ning from the National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment explained.
On a national scale, the positive rate is still very low. The positive rate of nationwide sampling and monitoring of imported frozen food is 0.48 per 10,000, and it is mainly found on the outer packaging of food, Li noted.
Wu, the epidemiologist, told reporters on Wednesday that summarizing the experience of the past 11 months, China is confident it can prevent a recurrence of the epidemic, especially a severe epidemic like the beginning of 2020.
Wu told reporters that China's recipe for dealing with COVID-19 was quick reaction, testing, quarantine and treatment for as many people as possible, the timely release of epidemic-related information to the public, and strong leadership.