Can you get infected with COVID-19 from imported Chinese products?

Fears that COVID-19 can spread by attaching themselves to the surfaces of goods exported from China are far-fetched and should be ignored. March 26, 2020
By Sajjad Malik

Staff members work at the workshop of a technology company in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong province, March 12, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

The outbreak of COVID-19 has affected almost all facets of private and public life. As people are shutting down and limiting their interaction with the outside world, fake news and rumors are creating a big problem. 

Part of the problem is due to the absence of correct information on some important areas related to the viral spread. For example, many people have no idea how long the virus can stay on the surface of metals and other materials. 

The ambiguity led to speculation that COVID-19 can travel with merchandise imported from an infected country. This question was of particular interest in the context of China which is the "world factory" and major exporter to almost all countries.

The situation has dramatically changed in China since the first appearance of the disease last December. The government and people of China are now helping other nations to combat it. And, it is also important to explore some of the speculation like the one about the coronavirus moving around the world on goods from China. 

Though, we are still in the early phase of defeating the virus and understanding its full deadly powers require more time, experts agree it is nearly impossible for the coronavirus to survive the long haul from one country to another. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said last month that there is no evidence so far to prove that COVID-19 has been transmitted via imported goods. "The important big take-home message is that this is probably a small proportion of the transmission of respiratory viruses," said Dr. Timothy Brewer, professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Out in the community, these viruses are probably not surviving for a long time on surfaces."

The ships laden with good go through hard outer conditions with ambivalent temperatures and weather, which makes it highly unlikely for the virus to survive. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, theoretically, it may be possible to be get infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching one's own mouth, nose or eyes. But in case of imported goods, the time factor is important. 

An analysis of 22 earlier studies of similar coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS, published online last month in the Journal of Hospital Infection, showed that coronaviruses can remain infectious on surfaces for up to nine days at room temperature. However, exported goods often pass through volatile outside temperatures and environments that reduce the chances of survival.

A virus needs a combination of environmental conditions such as temperature, lack of UV exposure and humidity to remain viable. However, such a combination is not likely in shipping packages, according to Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, speaking to Live Science's sister site Tom's Hardware.

Scientists also believe that a key element for survival and spread of the virus is presence of human cells. So, naturally, it is not possible for it to live for a longer period and reproduce itself while sitting on the top of a metal, glass or hardboard surface.  

Hence, fears that goods imported from China will be contaminated are out of place. Also, one wonders why China is being singled out when the virus has become a global pandemic. The anxiety that imported goods from China can cause infection is misplaced. If products from China can do it, so will be the case for imports from other countries.

Fear and anxiety are quite normal in the face of the pandemic. People should be cautious but not over-reactive or to discriminate. It is desirable to follow the set procedures to avoid infections, but at the same time, we need to be realistic in our fears, and respect facts and science.

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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