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Concerns mount virus returned to New Zealand in refrigerated containers

PortandTerminal.com, August 12, 2020

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – In an announcement that has the potential to upend global maritime food shipping, New Zealand officials are investigating the possibility that its first COVID-19 cases in 102 days were infected by food imported in refrigerated containers.

Four members of the same family have tested positive in Auckland. How they became infected has baffled health officials because the family had not travelled abroad. If there are no COVID-19 cases in New Zealand and the family had not travelled abroad – how exactly did they become infected?

Refrigerated cargo?

Authorities are now looking into whether the virus may have arrived from outside the country in refrigerated cargo containers, or “reefer” containers as they are known in the shipping industry.

Ashley Bloomfield, director general of health in New Zealand, said: “We are working hard to put together the pieces of the puzzle on how this family got infected.

“We know the virus can survive within refrigerated environments for quite some time,” he told a news conference.

Investigations were zeroing in on the potential the virus was imported by freight. Bloomfield said surface testing was underway at an Auckland cool store where a man from the infected family worked.

China has reported several instances of the coronavirus being detected on the packaging of imported frozen seafood in recent weeks.

The World Health Organization website states there is currently no confirmed case of COVID-19 transmitted through food or food packaging. However, it also notes that studies have shown that the virus can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic.

Residents of Auckland, home to around 1.7 million people, were given just hours to prepare for the return to level 3 restrictions on Wednesday, requiring people to stay at home unless for essential trips.

“Going hard, going early with lockdown is still the best response,” Ardern said. “Our response to the virus so far has worked … we know how to beat this.”

With reporting from Reuters and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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