China tightens imports inspection after new COVID outbreak in Beijing

Another 25 cases were confirmed in Beijing on Friday, taking the total number of infections since last week to 183 following which China has launched a nationwide campaign to inspect food imports.

Authorities have been testing hundreds of thousands of people for the contagion while neighbourhoods have been locked down and schools closed to prevent a second wave of the epidemic that China had largely brought under control.

The virus was detected on chopping boards used to handle imported salmon at the market, and Beijing officials on Friday advised citizens to dispose of frozen seafood and bean products bought from Xinfadi. Xinfadi supplies more than 70 percent of Beijing’s fresh produce and has been temporarily closed due to the cluster.

Chinese authorities shared the genome data of the latest outbreak with the World Health Organization and international scientific community on Thursday.

Initial findings suggest it “came from Europe”, but differs from what is currently spreading there, said Zhang Yong of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is older than the virus currently circulating in Europe,” Zhang said in a report published by the Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog on Friday.

Zhang raised the possibility of the virus lurking in imported frozen food or in the wholesale market itself, resulting in similarities to older strains.

The virus is believed to have first appeared at a market that sold live animals in the central city of Wuhan.

Song Yueqian, an official at the General Administration of Customs, said the agency had launched a nationwide drive to inspect all fresh products kept in cold temperatures coming “high-risk countries”.

The products include seafood, meat and frozen vegetables, Song said at a press conference.

On Thursday, he said authorities had inspected 15,638 samples — all of which tested negative.

China also suspended imports of products from German meat company Toennies after an employee tested positive for the virus there, though Song said they “have not discovered any evidence of infection through eating food” so far.

“There is no evidence to prove other ways of transmission [besides aerosols, respiratory droplets or close contact],” Feng said.

But Feng advised consumers to avoid touching raw fish or meat and be aware of hygiene when preparing food.