The Chinese public has been alerted to the transmission of COVID-19 from objects to humans as cities across the country report cases of courier workers

A courier delivers goods in Shanghai on April 10, 2022. Photo: VCG

At a time when many Chinese cities are affected by COVID-19, the possibility of transmission of the virus from objects to humans is also in the public spotlight, as a number of cities have reported infections among couriers. Experts remind the public to carry out disinfection carefully after receiving the packages.

For the Omicron variant, if the surface of an object is smooth, such as glass, stainless steel or plastic, the virus can be detected days or weeks after contamination. Low temperatures, humidity and a confined environment can provide the virus with a better environment for survival, said Yu Chuanhua, a professor of epidemiology and health statistics at Wuhan University, People’s Daily reported.

Yu’s claim has been echoed by other experts. “The currently prevalent Omicron variant can survive outside the body for more than 72 hours,” an immunology expert told the Global Times on Thursday on condition of anonymity.

On Wednesday, seven couriers from a logistics park in Taiyuan, capital of north China’s Shanxi Province, tested positive for COVID-19. In Shuozhou, a courier also tested positive. On the same day, all postal and courier services in the province were ordered to suspend operations.

On Wednesday evening, the Shanxi Postal Administration requested the resumption of express delivery services other than those involved in the chain of spreading the virus.

This is not the first time China has reported COVID-19 infections among couriers. In March, dozens of infections among courier workers were reported in Hangzhou, east China’s Zhejiang province. This outbreak is believed to be caused by couriers infected with packages sent from overseas which then infected other people.

Shanghai, Jinhua in Zhejiang, Wuhan in Hubei province (central China), Shijiazhuang in Hebei province (north China) and Hohhot in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia (north China), have also reported confirmed cases among postal workers and couriers in March.

In 2021, many cities also reported infections caused by food imported from the cold chain and some cities reported cases believed to be caused by materials or other items sent from overseas.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, China has adopted very strict regulations regarding express shipments, especially cross-border shipments.

To minimize the occurrence of similar chains of infection, China has adopted very strict measures, including multiple disinfection of packages sent from overseas, extended rest time before delivery, requirement for vaccinations and testing. frequent couriers, and the obligation for recipients to test for COVID-19 upon receipt of the package.

With these measures in place, recent outbreaks caused by object-to-human transmission also suggest the possibility of increased survival time of the virus on inanimate objects, the immunologists noted.

However, experts have also tried to allay public concerns amid repeated reports of infections among couriers.

It is even less likely that the general public will be directly infected by receiving a package, notes the expert. The most likely scenario is for a courier to become infected due to contact with a positive object or environment and cause further transmission.

For the public, the way to reduce the risk is to minimize the use of couriers during an epidemic, in particular to reduce contact with couriers from areas at high risk of an epidemic, the immunologist suggested.

For deliveries received, it is preferable that they can be left in a special area for a certain period of time before being disinfected and then opened. “But it’s even more important to care about the people delivering the goods,” he said.

Many cities have paid attention and implemented object-to-human chain of transmission management approaches that have alarmed the public.

In Shanghai, where many residential areas have been closed for about three weeks, city health authorities have pointed to the risk of infection to residents from childbirth.

“Residents may be infected by COVID-19 contaminated goods,” Wu Huanyu, deputy director of the Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a press briefing on Thursday.

A 41-year-old resident of Shanghai’s Jing’an district told the Global Times on Thursday that he always disinfects packages first when he receives them.

“Our community encourages us not to participate in group purchases without legal channels, as contaminated goods could also be a source of spread of the virus,” the resident said.

“When the goods are delivered to the entrance of the residential community, we disinfect them before sending them to each house,” a 28-year-old volunteer from Xuhui district who works part-time to help told the Global Times. upon delivery of goods, adding that “we are also reminding residents of our community to sanitize packages outside before opening them.”

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