China’s Global Times propaganda newspaper speculated on Sunday that the ongoing World Health Organization (W.H.O.) investigation in Wuhan may find that the Chinese coronavirus pandemic did not originate there, but spread via imported frozen food.
Most scientists agree that frozen food and food packaging is not a significant mode of infection for the Chinese coronavirus.
“Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus],” the official page of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reads.
This has not stopped Beijing, primarily through its state media outlets, from repeatedly blaming frozen food for waves of coronavirus outbreaks nationwide. The Global Times, citing Communist Party-approved “experts” and “netizens,” the social media users the Party does not censor, has now expanded the frozen food theory to posit that the Chinese coronavirus may not have originated in Wuhan. A team of W.H.O. inspectors began site visits and interviews in Wuhan this weekend after two weeks in mandated quarantine, seeking answers regarding where the virus first originated and, possibly, how to contain it.
Leaked Chinese government documents revealed doctors confirmed the first case of Chinese coronavirus on November 17, 2019. No evidence exists of any confirmed cases before this.
“Is it possible that the coronavirus was passed on from cold-chain products into Wuhan, or more specifically, to the Huanan seafood market, where the sale of frozen products was once so prevalent?” the Global Times asked, anyway.
Contradicting Chinese government officials a year ago, the Times based its hypothesis on the claim that the Huanan market, which many of the first coronavirus cases were reportedly linked to, mostly sold frozen seafood. In reality, the seafood market had a reputation as a “wet market,” selling live exotic animals killed on-site.
“Huanan seafood market was deemed to be the ‘original’ place where the virus jumped from animals to humans at the very beginning despite there was no solid evidence to demonstrate that wildlife animals were sold here or that locals have the habit of consuming bats,” the Global Times claimed. “The market was closed on January 1, 2020.”
The bat mention is a reference to early theories that the virus originated in bats and that humans became infected after eating them. Scientists have subsequently turned their attention to another potential culprit: the pangolin, a type of anteater popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). While trafficking in pangolin is technically illegal, poaching remains a significant problem in China. No mainstream animal origin theories involve fish or other sea animals.
In January 2020, Gao Fu, the director of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, explicitly blamed “wildlife sold illegally” at the market for the virus.
“The origin of the new coronavirus is the wildlife sold illegally in a Wuhan seafood market,” Gao Fu, director of China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters. He said at the time that investigators had traced 31 of 33 acquired samples of the Chinese coronavirus back to wildlife at the Huanan market.
Gao, who answers to the Communist Party in Beijing, later claimed that the market was a “victim” and claimed his original statement was incorrect.
“At first, we assumed the seafood market might have the virus, but now the market is more like a victim. The novel coronavirus had existed long before,” he said in May.
What Chinese officials later appeared to deny – that the Huanan market sold wild animals for food – was readily evident to visitors in February 2020.
“The now-shuttered Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market advertised dozens of species such as giant salamanders, baby crocodiles and raccoon dogs that were often referred to as wildlife, even when they were farmed,” the Associated Press noted in a February report that repeated the Chinese government’s claim that 31 of 33 collected coronavirus samples were traced back to “wildlife booths.”
Chinese government “experts” told the Global Times that the cases were linked to “areas selling frozen food,” without providing evidence or explaining the contradiction with reports from non-government sources. The newspaper also called speculation that foreign frozen food had triggered outbreaks in other major cities nationwide a “fact,” despite the lack of evidence.
“The possibility that the coronavirus was passed on from contaminated cold-chain products into Wuhan cannot be ruled out,” the Times insisted.
Scientists in the free world largely disagree that frozen food is a matter of concern in spreading the virus.
“It’s theoretically plausible, but the risk is much lower than the other more established routes of transmission for this virus,” Siddharth Sridhar, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), told Time magazine in November, calling screenings of imported food for coronavirus “looking for a needle in a haystack.”
“Currently there is no evidence of food, food containers, or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in a statement to Time.
“The risk of getting sick with COVID-19 from eating or handling food (including frozen food and produce) and food packages is considered very low,” the U.S. CDC concurs on its website.
The W.H.O. investigative team reportedly visited the Huanan market on Sunday but spent half of its day at another market, the Baishazhou, which has no known links to the pandemic.
“We went to two markets today. The Baishazhou this morning and Huanan this afternoon. We had some good discussions with market regulators, vendors, suppliers, and community leaders,” the head of the team, Peter Ben Embarek, told the Global Times. Ben Embarek did not elaborate on the reasoning behind visiting the Baishazhou market.
Even taking into consideration early reports linking the virus to the wildlife trade at the Huanan market, the chances of public health officials finding any useful evidence there is slim given that Communist Party officials openly admitted to destroying early samples of the virus and “disinfecting” the area, leaving little to be found. Interviews with workers at the market and other locals are also unlikely to yield helpful intelligence, as families of early coronavirus victims denounced the local Wuhan Communist Party last week for silencing them and keeping them from being able to speak to the W.H.O. team.