China suspects that COVID-19 may arrive by international mail

FILE PHOTO: A delivery man sorts packages from the trunk of his electric tricycle in Beijing, China August 21, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Por Josh Horwitz

SHANGHAI, Jan 18 (Reuters) – China urges citizens to wear masks and gloves when opening mail, especially from abroad, after the country’s authorities suggested that the first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus found in Beijing it could have arrived via a package from Canada.

Authorities have vowed to step up disinfection of foreign mail and insist that postal staff handling it be fully vaccinated.

The precautions come less than three weeks before the capital opens the Winter Olympics and as several cities work to stamp out new outbreaks of coronavirus infections.

“Reduce purchases of goods abroad or receipt of mail from abroad to a minimum,” state broadcaster CCTV said in a social media post late Monday.

“Make sure you protect yourself during face-to-face deliveries and wear masks and gloves – try to open packages outdoors.”

Health authorities indicated that the person infected with the omicron variant opened a package from Canada that had passed through the United States and Hong Kong and that transmission through the package “cannot be ruled out.”

The case highlighted the importance of “self defence”, CCTV said.

China’s National Health Commission made similar suggestions on its official WeChat messaging network account on how to handle packages, not just those from abroad, and authorities in the cities of Shanghai and Nanjing echoed them.

China has been an outlier in stating that COVID-19 can be transmitted through cold chain imports such as frozen meat and fish, despite the World Health Organization downplaying the risk, and has been pushing a narrative through state media that the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in late 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

In recent weeks, China has been battling a resurgence of cases in several cities, some of them of the highly transmissible omicron variant. On Tuesday, it reported 127 new local cases with confirmed symptoms.

The Chinese State Post Office on Monday issued a notice stating that international mail must be disinfected after arriving in China, and that staff processing and delivering international mail must have received the COVID-19 vaccine and a booster.

China Post has also been reminding overseas mail recipients to disinfect contents “in a timely manner” with stickers affixed to packages.

(Reporting by Josh Horwitz; additional reporting by Dominique Patton in Beijing and the Shanghai newsroom; editing by Brenda Goh, Robert Birsel; translated by José Muñoz at the Gdańsk newsroom)

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