Claims the coronavirus can survive on frozen food have health authorities scrambling to either prove or debunk this chilling theory about how mystery cases may be being transmitted.
New Zealand’s recent confusion over the origins of a new outbreak led to claims that it may have originated from a worker in a cold storage facility in Auckland.
The theory followed claims from Chinese media that the coronavirus was detected on frozen chicken wings imported from Brazil.
The Shenzhen Epidemic Prevention and Control Headquarters warned the public to take precautions with frozen food following the findings.
As a result, the New Zealand cold storage facility will be subjected to “environmental testing”.
“We do know from studies overseas, that actually, the virus can survive in some refrigerated environments for quite some time,” said New Zealand’s director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
“I know that the virus re-emerging in our community has caused alarm and the unknown is scary. That causes anxiety for many of us.
“We start by looking at all the options and ruling then out, and that’s the position we’re in at the moment.
“We are working hard to put together the pieces of the puzzle as to how this family got the virus. We are testing all close and casual contacts.
“In general, the role of surfaces for transmitting the virus has probably been overemphasised in the past. There’s much more focus now on transmission in indoor environments, and respiratory droplets.”
While it may be possible for the virus to survive on frozen food, virologist Chris Burrell says it’s very unlikely.
“In the lab, if we want to keep a virus sample infective then we freeze it,” the former emeritus professor at the University of Adelaide told The New Daily.
He said scientists took advantage of a viruses’ ability to survive for longer in freezing temperatures and, in the right conditions, some viruses can survive for decades – even in dead bodies.
US scientists have proven viruses can live for decades in a hibernated state. In 2005, using pieces of genetic material from frozen corpses, they recreated the 1918 influenza virus that killed at least 20 million people worldwide.
But the temperatures required to store a virus for this long are about -150°C – far colder than the temperatures used to store frozen foods.
“When we do that, those viruses can last for years. But those viruses are at high concentration, purified and in the ideal material for them to survive,” said Associate Professor Ian Mackay from the University of Queensland.
“They’re not freeze-thawed and left in the sun or left in plastic or touched by lots of hands.”
Therefore, contrary to claims by Chinese authorities, the chance of contracting COVID-19 from frozen food is incredibly slim.
It won’t stop investigators from doing their due diligence.
“I’m sure it’s worth investigating, but it is a less likely cause of the infection,” said Prof. Burrell.
“A person would be much more likely to get it if someone sneezed in their face.”
Professor Mackay said that New Zealand’s cases more likely came from “leaky quarantine” housing returned travellers or from asymptomatic people. It may even be that the virus was “quietly bubbling away underneath the surface in Auckland as the nation celebrated ‘eliminating’ the virus”, said a news.com.au report.
Fears of the virus spreading through food come as health authorities try to find the mystery source of “silent transmission” of the disease in the Australian community.
NSW on Thursday reported 12 new cases of COVID-19, three of which were acquired locally without a known source.
A major factor behind Victoria’s stage four restrictions was untraceable transmissions.
Meanwhile, Victorian authorities believe they have found patient zero responsible for the current COVID-19 outbreaks in the state.
It’s believed ‘patient zero’ was a Rydges staffer, not a security guard, as previously thought.
Leaked emails obtained by The Age reveal that a night duty manager may be the link between the hotel quarantine and the community spread.
The night manager became infected then passed the virus onto security staff who then spread it to their families in the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne, says the report.
However, it is not known exactly how the night manager was infected in the first place, but it is believed it was most likely a returned traveller in quarantine that was the source.
There was no suggestion the infection was caused by improper behaviour.
Would you take a little more care handling frozen food until this theory has been ruled out? Or do you think such claims are irresponsible unless proven?
If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.