Chinese health authorities investigating a COVID-19 outbreak have said that they discovered live coronavirus on frozen food packaging, a finding that suggests the virus can survive in cold supply chains.
The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday said that it had found traces of live COVID-19 on the outer packaging of frozen cod in the eastern city of Qingdao, marking the first time that live coronavirus has been detected on the outside of refrigerated goods.
Researchers were investigating the source of a cluster of cases linked to a hospital in Qingdao.
Genetic traces had previously been found in samples of frozen food, but no living virus had been isolated before.
“It has been confirmed that contact with outer packaging contaminated by the new coronavirus can cause infection,” the agency said in a statement on its Web site, without specifying the origin of the batch of frozen food.
China, which until the Qingdao outbreak had recorded no new local cases in 55 days, has been one of few countries to point to possible transmission through frozen food.
When Beijing had a second outbreak in June after the coronavirus had been largely contained, officials suggested that the new cluster could have come from imported salmon.
China in August increased inspection requirements for imports of frozen products after traces of the coronavirus were found on frozen chicken wings from Brazil.
Researchers have also detected COVID-19 on imported shrimp and other frozen seafood.
The center did not say whether the outbreak in Qingdao was caused by the frozen food packaging.
The outbreak was traced back to two dock workers who are believed to have infected 12 other people at a hospital.
It was not clear whether the dock workers contracted the coronavirus from the packaging of frozen food, but the center warned those handling frozen products not to have direct contact with the goods.
The center said there had been no cases of consumers contracting the coronavirus, but some have begun calling for a temporary ban on frozen food imports.
Out of 2.98 million samples of food packaging, researchers found 22 samples that tested positive, the center said.
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