China is obsessed with disinfection against Covid. But does it do more harm than good?

In Shanghai, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, state media reported that thousands of workers have been organized into teams to disinfect districts, focusing on those known to host Covid patients – a move the government sees as key to curbing the spread of the disease. Omicron variable spread.

But the practice often extends much further than that. Any outdoor area appears to be at risk of being targeted by workers using leaf-blower-like disinfection machines, as China’s strict “zero-Covid” policy leads to an obsession with sanitizing everything.

In Shanghai, firefighters have been pulled from their duties to take on roles as disinfectants, a local youth league has recruited volunteers for disinfection teams, and emergency rescue teams from remote parts of China have been recruited into the campaign – often tying in. on heavy equipment and full of hazardous materials.

In some neighborhoods of Shanghai, special plants have been set up to produce chemicals, while in other areas vehicles have been equipped with chemical tanks and cannon-like devices to launch disinfectants into the streets, according to local media. Disinfection robots have been placed at railway stations, and are set up to patrol some quarantine centers.

But these efforts — and others, such as the insistence that workers wear hazmat suits and the loud taped messages that play out repeatedly to remind people how to prevent disease — may be a waste of time, effort and resources.

Experts say transmission of the virus through contaminated surfaces is very low – this is a disinfectant Outdoor areas such as parks and city streets are largely useless and worse, can pose a public health hazard.

Noting how Chinese authorities have long cited environmental pollution as part of their rhetoric, said Nicholas Thomas, an assistant professor at City University of Hong Kong, that the virus may not have originated in China.

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“It is a problem when politics dominates and departs from the science of responding to an epidemic – more and more efforts must be made to advance policy through actions that do not necessarily increase the biosafety of affected populations to the same degree as the effort required to do them.”

Imported virus?

Mass disinfection is part of a long-running campaign in China to combat the risks of transmission of the Covid-19 virus that much of the world has deemed too few to justify measures in the past to wash hands and keep certain surfaces disinfected, such as those in crowded public places and Eating or treating COVID-19 patients.

In a science briefing last year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said scientific studies indicate that each contact with a surface contaminated with Covid-19 contains less than 1 out of 10,000 chances to cause infection. Such research has led many to view the explicit focus on purification as Hygiene Theatre. Unlike any effective disease prevention measure.

Mass disinfection was not part of disease control measures in Western countries “because public health authorities followed the science,” according to Emmanuel Goldman, professor of microbiology at Rutgers College of Medicine, New Jersey.

“(It is very unlikely that any cases are due to contact with contaminated surfaces. The virus dies quickly outside the infected person… and is transmitted ineffectively through the fingers,” he said. “Hand washing with soap, or alcohol wipes, is all you need to reduce infection to Zero.”

In China, where strict practices have focused on stemming any spread of the virus, concerns about contaminated surfaces date back to the pandemic’s early months, especially after Chinese officials said the outbreak in The market in Beijing It likely started due to a worker infection from handling imported and frozen salmon contaminated with the virus.

Although the World Health Organization says it is “extremely unlikely” that people will contract Covid-19 through food or food packaging, Chinese authorities have on numerous occasions pointed to cold chain imports or other contaminated surfaces, such as aircraft or Even international mail, such as vectors.

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This has led to a suite of measures largely unique to China such as testing the surfaces of imports for traces of viruses and mass disinfecting frozen goods from abroad, while some cities have issued various orders to disinfect mail and international parcels – although nationally. Health experts said earlier this year that there was not enough evidence that such unrefrigerated items could carry the virus.

As Beijing has sought to reframe the narrative about the origin of the coronavirus, which was first discovered in China, officials have put forward the theory that the virus could have been Imported on frozen goods In the first place – a hypothesis widely rejected by international experts.

While there is some evidence that the virus can remain contagious on frozen packages, the way countries may want to deal with it varies, according to Liu Bun, a professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health.

“For countries that use the disposal strategy, this is a significant risk. However, for most countries now, this may not be the case. absolutely great.”

When it comes to touching normal surfaces, this is “not a major transmission mode for Covid-19,” he said, adding that some disinfection indoors might be a good idea.

potential risks

In places like Shanghai, where resources are already thin as the city struggles through weeks of lockdown, deploying volunteers and workers for disinfection purposes mayo Put the focus on the wrong risks.

said Dale Fisher, a National University professor from Yong Lo Lin School of Medicine in Singapore.

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There may also be downsides to such work, according to Goldman of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, who says people can be harmed by exposure to harsh sterilization.

While the World Health Organization supports disinfection such as wiping areas such as door handles in crowded public places, WHO guidelines “Spraying disinfectants, even outside, can be harmful to people’s health and cause irritation or damage to the eyes, respiratory system, or skin,” he says.
Earlier in the epidemic, a group of Chinese scientists warned a A letter to the science magazine Excessive use of chlorine disinfectants threatens to pollute the water and even endanger the ecosystems of nearby lakes and rivers.

There are signs of similar concerns from the Shanghai authorities, even as they continue their disinfection measures.

Late last month, officials made recommendations to residents on how to sterilize, urging them not to “spray disinfectants directly on people,” use “Canon trucks” and drones, or sanitize outdoor air.

“These practices are basically ineffective, and can cause health risks and environmental pollution,” a Shanghai official said.

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