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China steps up checks after coronavirus fruit findings

China has tightened import rules after finding the virus that causes COVID-19 on packaging of fruit from Vietnam and Thailand.

At least nine Chinese cities have recorded positive coronavirus tests in relation to dragon fruit from Vietnam and longan fruit from Thailand, according to media reports.

China had already stopped at least some dragon fruit imports from Vietnam until the end of January because of coronavirus findings in late December.

Authorities have now started screening of imported food products, temporarily shut food stores and ordered people who bought the implicated fruit to quarantine.

In September this past year, China detected the SARS-CoV-2 virus on the packaging and boxes containing dragon fruits imported from Vietnam and suspended imports for a week.

These measures are despite organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) saying the virus that causes COVID-19 is not a direct food safety concern.

Current data indicates that neither food nor food packaging is a pathway for the spread of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food or on surfaces. Once in the environment, viruses degrade and become less infectious, according to guidance.

Detection of virus or viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) remnants on foods and packaging shows evidence of previous contamination but there is no confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 being transmitted by food or packaging and causing illness in people who touch them.

Global discontent
The United States was one of a number of nations that first raised concerns about China’s approach to COVID-19 at a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in November 2020.

Australia; Canada; the European Union; India and Russia also voiced their unease at the situation. A WTO specific trade concern has been supported by Brazil; Japan; Kenya; Mexico; New Zealand; Paraguay; Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Chinese COVID-19-related restrictions since June 2020 have included exporter statement requirements, suspension of imports from facilities with worker cases of COVID-19, testing, and port-of-entry rejections in the case of positive nucleic acid test results.

Additional measures comprised testing and disinfection of imported products; mandatory commercial declarations or variations to commercial contracts; virtual audits to maintain or regain market access; and requests for overseas food manufacturing plants to voluntarily suspend exports following detection of SARS-CoV-2 in workers.

China has reportedly found the COVID-19 virus in food imports from India, the United States and Canada following nucleic acid tests on imported food and packaging. As of June 2021, customs had detected 26 positive COVID-19 virus samples related to exports of packaged products such as chicken wings, seafood and fish.

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