Coronavirus: Beijing market outbreak investigation zeroes in on seafood stalls
- Top epidemiologist says there are similarities to the situation in Wuhan at the start of the outbreak last year
- Areas where seafood, beef and lamb were sold found to have more traces of the virus than other sections
Until a week ago, the Chinese capital had been free of local transmission for 55 days. But as of Wednesday, there were 158 new cases, according to the official numbers.
“More seafood vendors were infected, followed by beef and lamb vendors,” Wu said. “The seafood vendors also showed symptoms earlier than others.”
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The chief epidemiologist said environmental samples taken from the market had also shown the areas where seafood, beef and lamb were sold had more traces of the virus than other sections.
“The findings reminded us of the first outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan last year, which happened at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market,” he said, adding that the focus of the Huanan investigation was the wild animal stalls, even though the seafood sellers were right next to them.
Wu said comparing the findings of the two investigations, in Wuhan and Beijing, provided a “direction to unravel the mystery”.
“Seafood involves water and frozen products – the low temperature and high humidity is suitable for the virus to survive,” he said. “We need further analysis on why these stalls have become a centre of transmission.”
Dirk Pfeiffer, chair professor of One Health at City University of Hong Kong’s School of Veterinary Medicine, also said more investigation was needed, since fish were believed to lack the receptors needed to be infected by the virus.
“But fish meat could become contaminated by humans during handling and maybe there are processing factors associated with the fish, like ice for cooling or extensive use of water, that play a role,” Pfeiffer said, adding that this would need to be verified with further research.
In April, a team of scientists writing in Asian Fisheries Science, including experts from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, concluded that the new coronavirus could not infect aquatic food animals and did not play a role in spreading it to humans. But they said the aquatic animals and related products could potentially become contaminated with the coronavirus, especially when handled by people who were infected, and that proper food handling and sanitation was needed to prevent this risk.
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Meanwhile, the National Health Commission has advised people not to wash any type of meat under a tap to avoid splashing, in its latest guidelines on Covid-19 prevention issued on Thursday. It also said hands should be thoroughly washed with soap and hot water after handling raw meat, poultry and seafood products and advised people not to touch their eyes and nose when buying or handling raw food.