Import delays, consumer disquiet after Qingdao “live” coronavirus discovery
Seafood imports into China look set to face more scrutiny after Chinese health experts claim to have separated a live strain of the coronavirus from the outer packaging of imported frozen cod.
The discovery occurred during the tracing of a COVID-19 outbreak in the major seafood processing hub of Qingdao, where the entire population of 11 million was tested for the virus last week.
Even as China's economy and imports picked up in the past month, seafood imports meanwhile are still being delayed by a centralized testing process, which looks set to be replicated in Qingdao and other ports to check all incoming seafood freight. Hitherto, all of China’s reported discoveries of coronavirus have related to “dead” virus traces found on packaging, with boxes of seafood from several countries held by Chinese authorities.
Qingdao’s government looks set to introduce a system similar to that in place in the key port of Shenzhen, which last month introduced a centralized test center network that is now testing all frozen food imports into the province. Containers are required to be driven into the warehouse buildings in Longgang district, where they’re parked for inspection and testing. The facility operates on a 24-hour basis and aims to limit waiting times to six hours, according to a statement from the Market Regulation Bureau, which operates the testing procedures. Currently, the average processing time is eight hours.
Chinese media coverage of the discovery in Qingdao has been relatively muted, perhaps due to the frequent discovery of virus traces in seafood packaging in recent months. Yet the Qingdao discovery risks raising anxiety among consumers over imported seafood product, judging by a long chain of comments on the story, which was posted by CCTV on its official Weibo account.
“The best thing to do is to avoid imports. Domestic product is best,” said one comment similar to many on the thread. Another comment questioned if the original discovery of the virus in a Wuhan seafood market was in fact related to imported seafood.
“There is clearly a link to foreign seafood,” the Weibo user wrote.
The seafood import trade is an important source of revenue for major online and offline retailers, as well as major state-run traders like COFCO, which have been drawn into seafood distribution by the high margins achievable in selling premium products like oysters and salmon.
Photo courtesy of Shenzhen Municipal Market Supervision Bureau