China says it has detected the coronavirus on packages of imported frozen food, but how valid are its claims and how serious is the threat to public health?
Frozen shrimp imported from an Ecuadorian company was banned for one week on Tuesday in a continuing series of such temporary bans.
While experts say the virus can survive for a time on cardboard and plastic containers, it remains unclear how serious a risk that poses. Like so many issues surrounding the pandemic, the matter has swiftly become politicized.
China has rejected complaints from the U.S. and others, saying it is putting people’s lives first. Experts say they generally don’t consider the presence of the virus on packaging to be a significant health risk.
A look at the issue and some of the conclusions so far:
Packaging first became a major issue with outbreaks in China linked to wholesale food markets, including one in June on the outskirts of Beijing. That prompted the removal of smoked salmon from supermarket shelves and has snowballed into multiple cases nationwide involving chicken, beef and seafood from nearly two dozen countries. At some supermarkets, imported meat now comes with a sticker declaring it to be virus-free.
Infections among freight handlers have also placed suspicion on packaging. Person-to-person transmission hasn’t been ruled out, however, and China has yet to release evidence that packaging was indeed the route of infection.
Trading partners, including the U.S., New Zealand, Canada and the EU, say they’re unclear on China’s methodology and have seen no solid evidence that their products carried the virus. The U.S. has questioned whether China’s crackdown is scientifically based and suggested the bans may amount to an unfair trade barrier.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the U.S. accusations “totally groundless and unreasonable.” China’s measures are “necessary following the spirit of putting people’s lives first and protecting people’s health,” he said last week.
In a statement to The Associated Press, the World Health Organization said cases of live viruses being found on packaging appear to be “rare and isolated.” While the virus can “survive a long time under cold storage conditions,” there is no evidence of people contracting COVID-19 from consuming food, it said.
The virus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 is overwhelmingly transmitted through respiratory droplets and smaller sized particles passed through the air, underscoring the importance of mask-wearing.
Yet the virus can also be present on surfaces, and public health officials have urged people to wash their hands carefully and avoid physical contact with others. In general, the colder and dryer that conditions are, the longer the virus can survive on surfaces.
Wiping down countertops, handrails and other surfaces is a common way to ensure safety. Some people have also gone to the extreme of disinfecting packages brought into their homes, both by themselves or by delivery services.
WHAT EXPERTS SAY
Virus traces found on packaging can be infectious or non-infectious. The extremely sensitive tests being used can detect both active viruses and their remnants, without being able to distinguish between them, said Timothy Newsome, a virologist at the University of Sydney.
“It is possible and may represent some risk, but it’s certainly at the lower end of risk for transmission,” he said. “We know low temperatures do stabilize the virus. Nonetheless, I think things which have been transported and surface transmission — there’s a low risk of it.”
A positive test “doesn’t indicate infectious virus, just that some signal from the virus is present on that surface,” said Andrew Pekosz of Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“I’ve seen no convincing data that SARS-CoV-2 on food packaging poses a significant risk for infection,” he said.
Deep in the Mars-like landscape of Utah’s red-rock desert lies a mystery: A gleaming metal monolith in one of the most remote parts of the state.
The smooth, tall structure was found during a helicopter survey of bighorn sheep in southeastern Utah, officials said Monday.
A crew from the Utah Department of Public Safety and Division of Wildlife Resources spotted the gleaming object from the air Nov. 18 and landed to check it out during a break from their work.
They found the three-sided stainless-steel object is about as tall as two men put together. But they discovered no clues about who might have driven it into the ground among the undulating red rocks or why.
“This thing is not from another world,” said Lt. Nick Street of the Utah Highway Patrol, part of the Department of Public Safety.
Still, it’s clear that it took some planning and work to construct the 10- to 12-foot (3- to 4-meter) monolith and embed it in the rock.
The exact location is so remote that officials are not revealing it publicly, worried that people might get lost or stranded trying to find it and need to be rescued.
The monolith evokes the one that appears in the Stanley Kubrick movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Because it’s on federal public land, it’s illegal to place art objects without authorization.
Bureau of Land Management officials are investigating how long it’s been there, who might have created it and whether to remove it.
The Commonwealth and the NO MORE Foundation are launching a ‘16 Days of Actions’ blog series on Wednesday to help end violence against women and girls.
The series runs alongside the UN’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence campaign from November 25 to December 10.
It portrays multi-disciplinary national responses in addressing violence against women and girls, and supporting wider efforts to achieve gender equality.
The purpose is to highlight best practices from across the 54 member countries in tackling incidents of violence, delivering support services to victims and protecting survivors, according to Commonwealth Secretariat.
The Secretariat’s experts will author each blog with a focus on illustrating the novelty, scope and impact of a good practice currently in place in member countries.
These practices build on the unique experience of the 54 member countries, representing one-third of humanity and embodying every culture, faith and socio-economic landscape.
This means a practice, which has worked in one Commonwealth nation, can be replicated and scaled up in other countries with similar context.
Under the theme ’16 Days of Actions: For the women in my life’, the series is part of the Commonwealth Says NO MORE campaign.
The UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women campaign is marking the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence under the global theme, “Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!".
UN Women’s Generation Equality campaign is amplifying the call for global action to bridge funding gaps, ensure essential services for survivors of violence during the COVID-19 crisis, focus on prevention, and collection of data that can improve life-saving services for women and girls.
The campaign is part of UN Women’s efforts for Beijing+25 and building up to launch bold new actions and commitments to end violence against women at the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico and France in 2021, according to UN Women.
This year is like no other. Even before COVID-19 hit, violence against women and girls had reached pandemic proportions, said the UN agency.
Globally, 243 million women and girls were abused by an intimate partner in the past year.
Meanwhile, less than 40 percent of women who experience violence report it or seek help.
As countries implemented lockdown measures to stop the spread of coronavirus, violence against women, especially domestic violence, intensified – in some countries, calls to helplines have increased five-fold.
In others, formal reports of domestic violence have decreased as survivors find it harder to seek help and access support through the regular channels.
School closures and economic strains left women and girls poorer, out of school and out of jobs, and more vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, forced marriage, and harassment.
In April 2020, as the pandemic spread across the world, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “peace at home”, and 146 Member States responded with their strong statement of commitment.
In recent months, 135 countries have strengthened actions and resources to address violence against women as part of the response to COVID-19. Yet, much more is needed.
Today, although the voices of activists and survivors have reached a crescendo that cannot be silenced or ignored, ending violence against women will require more investment, leadership and action, UN Women said.
It cannot be sidelined; it must be part of every country’s national response, especially during the unfolding COVID-19 crisis, it said.
For the 16 Days of Activism, UN Women handed over the mic to survivors, activists and UN partners on the ground, to tell the story of what happened after COVID-19 hit.
The coronavirus pandemic has hurt the U.S. seafood industry due to a precipitous fall in imports and exports and a drop in catch of some species.
Those are the findings of a group of scientists who sought to quantify the damage of the pandemic on America’s seafood business, which has also suffered in part because of its reliance on restaurant sales. Consumer demand for seafood at restaurants dropped by more than 70% during the early months of the pandemic, according to the scientists, who published their findings recently in the scientific journal Fish and Fisheries.
Imports fell about 37% and exports about 43% over the first nine months of the year compared to 2019, the study said. The economic impact has been felt most severely in states that rely heavily on the seafood sector, such as Maine, Alaska and Louisiana, said Easton White, a University of Vermont biologist and the study’s lead author.
It hasn’t all been doom and gloom for the industry, as seafood delivery and home cooking have helped businesses weather the pandemic, White said. The industry will be in a better position to rebound after the pandemic if domestic consumers take more of an interest in fresh seafood, he said.
“Shifting to these local markets is something that could be really helpful for recovery purposes,” White said. “The way forward is to focus on shortening the supply chain a little bit.”
The study found that Alaska’s catch of halibut, a high-value fish, declined by 40% compared to the previous year through June. Statistics for many U.S. fisheries won’t be available until next year, but those findings dovetail with what many fishermen are seeing on the water.
Maine’s catch of monkfish has dried up because of the lack of access to foreign markets such as Korea, said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.
“The prices just went so low, they couldn’t build a business doing that this year,” Martens said.
The study confirms what members of the seafood industry have been hearing for months, said Kyle Foley, senior program manager for the seafood program at Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Foley, who was not involved in the study, said the findings make clear that the seafood industry needs more help from the federal government.
The federal government allocated $300 million in CARES Act dollars to the seafood industry in May. The government announced $16 billion for farmers and ranchers that same month.
“It helps to make the case for why there’s a need for more relief, which I think is our industry’s biggest concern across the supply chain in seafood,” Foley said.
The study concludes that “only time will tell the full extent of COVID-19 on US fishing and seafood industries.” Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Virginia, said the short-term findings reflect the difficulties the industry has experienced this year.
“The closure of restaurant dinning has had a disproportionate effect on seafood and a pivot to retail has not made up for all of the lost sales,” Gibbons said.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO), said “there is now real hope” that vaccines will play an essential part in helping end the COVID-19 pandemic.
The WHO Chief’s remarks came up on Monday after drugmaker AstraZeneca said its COVID-19 vaccine, developed with Oxford University, was up to 90 percent effective.
Tedros said the significance of this scientific achievement cannot be overstated, reports UN News.
Noting that no vaccine in history has been developed as rapidly, the WHO chief said that the scientific community had set “a new standard for vaccine development” and now the international community must set “a new standard for access”.
“The urgency with which vaccines have been developed must be matched by the same urgency to distribute them fairly”, he spelled out, warning of a real risk that the poorest, and most vulnerable will be “trampled in the stampede” to get inoculated.
Tedros explained that it was against this backdrop that WHO and its partners had established the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator back in April.
“The ACT Accelerator has supported the fastest, most coordinated and successful global effort in history to develop vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics,” he said.
He said that currently 50 diagnostics are under evaluation; rapid antigen diagnostics are now available for low- and middle-income countries; while life-saving treatments are being rolled out and new medicines tested.
Moreover, 187 countries are taking part in the COVAX facility, to collaborate on the procurement and rollout of vaccines, “ensuring the best possible prices, volumes and timing for all countries”, he said.
Despite the excellent progress, Tedros said that “only a fundamental change in funding and approach will realise the full promise of the ACT Accelerator”.
He revealed that $4.3 billion is still needed to support mass procurement and delivery, tests and treatments this year and another $23.8 billion would will be required in 2021.
“This isn’t charity, it’s the fastest and smartest way to end the pandemic and drive the global economic recovery,” he stressed.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), if medical solutions can be made available faster and more widely, they could lead to a cumulative increase in global income of almost $9 trillion by the end of 2025.
“The real question is not whether the world can afford to share vaccines and other tools; it’s whether it can afford not to,” Tedros said.