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Heavy virus traces found in seafood, meat sections of Beijing market

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Among the Covid-19 cases who worked at Xinfadi market, most served at the stalls selling seafood and meat

BEIJING : Local authorities have found the trading sections for seafood and meat in Beijing's wholesale food market to be severely contaminated with the coronavirus and suspects the area's low temperature and high humidity may have been contributing factors, officials said yesterday.

The preliminary report comes as the country's capital tackles a resurgence of Covid-19 cases over the past week linked to the massive Xinfadi food centre, which houses warehouses and trading halls in an area the size of nearly 160 soccer pitches.

The latest outbreak infected 158 people since confirming the first case on June 11 in Beijing's worst outbreak since early February, and raised fears of wider contagion in China.

Among those infected who worked at the Xinfadi market, most served at seafood and aquatic product stalls, followed by the beef and mutton section, and patients from the seafood market showed symptoms earlier than others, Dr Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said yesterday.

Low temperatures favourable to viral survival as well as high humidity might be possible explanations for why seafood markets could be a source of outbreaks based on a preliminary assessment, Dr Wu said, cautioning that further investigation was necessary.

China has halted imports from European salmon suppliers this week amid fears they may be linked to the recent outbreak in Beijing.

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Health officials have also warned against eating raw salmon after the virus was discovered on chopping boards used for imported salmon, although the origin of the outbreak is not known.

Low standards of hygiene in wholesale food markets and vulnerabilities in its food supply chain need to be urgently addressed, a leading body of the ruling Communist Party said this week.

Earlier, Dr Wu had said that Beijing had brought its latest outbreak under control, although the capital can still expect sporadic new cases.

Now, authorities have closed schools again and locked down around 30 residential compounds, while airports in the capital cancelled two-thirds of all flights on Wednesday.

Officials are also collecting around 400,000 swab samples a day from residents for testing.

People lined up at the Workers' Stadium in central Beijing to be swabbed and a 25-year-old shop assistant surnamed Pang told AFP: "I don't really mind waiting, it's for the greater good and the benefit of society." - REUTERS, AFP

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