Low standards of hygiene in China’s wholesale food markets and vulnerabilities in its food supply chain need to be urgently addressed after a new coronavirus outbreak in Beijing, a leading body of the ruling Communist Party said.
The resurgence of COVID-19 in the country’s capital over the past week, infecting more than 100 people and raising fears of wider contagion, has been linked to the city’s massive Xinfadi food centre.
The Communist Party’s top disciplinary body said the outbreak underlined the urgent need to improve sanitation standards and minimise health risks at markets.
“The epidemic is a mirror that not only reflects the dirty and messy aspects of wholesale markets but also their low level management conditions,” the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said in a report published on its website on Wednesday.
China’s sprawling food markets have emerged as an ideal breeding ground for the coronavirus, which has now infected more than 8 million people worldwide. The first major cluster of infections was traced to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, where bats and other wild animals were believed to be on sale.
The CCDI report noted that most of the markets were built 20 to 30 years ago, when drainage and wastewater treatment was relatively undeveloped.
An Yufa, a professor at China Agricultural University, was cited in the report as saying the markets must follow international practice and implement origin tracing systems as well as documentation on storage, transport and sale.
Officials in Wuhan province took 3,000 samples from tools, chopping boards and drains in 114 farmers’ markets and 107 supermarkets this week to check for potential new sources of infection. All came up negative, they said.
China has promised to ban the trade and consumption and wildlife in a bid to minimise disease transmission, though the use of wild animal products in traditional medicine will still be permitted.
Beijing cancels hundreds of flights, trains as COVID-19 cases spike
Beijing moved on a war footing on Wednesday, cancelling hundreds of domestic flights and trains while ramping up the mass testing of 90,000 people to stem the spread of the coronavirus, as the city reported 31 new COVID-19 cases, pushing the tally to 137.
Two airports in Beijing have cancelled 1,255 domestic flights, nearly 70 per cent of the scheduled trips, the official media reported. Beijing currently does not operate international flights.
The national railway operator will allow passengers, who had booked train tickets in and out of Beijing as of Tuesday, to refund tickets without any extra charges.
Starting Wednesday, Beijing halts return to campus, and resumes online courses for middle and primary school students, as well as suspends college students' return to campus, the reports said.
Beijing has asked libraries, museums, parks to limit visitors up to 30 per cent of full flow and halted cross-province group tours, the reports said.
The flight and train cancellations came after Beijing became a "no-go-zone" on Tuesday as many provincial cities raised alerts on travel to the Chinese capital.
Beijing on Tuesday upgraded its emergency response to COVID-19 from level III to II starting.
The city is also testing 90,000 people who had visited Xinfadi wholesale market in the last six days and a senior city official warned that the situation is "extremely severe".
After Beijing's COVID-19 infections increased, it seems that the capital has now become a "no-go zone" for other parts of China, as many places have raised alert on travels to Beijing and strengthened health check on arrivals from Beijing, state-run Global Times reported.