China claims virus found on NZ frozen meat, Ardern says 'not our beef'

Meat exports surged 10%, led by beef, which partially offset the November decline in dairy...
New Zealand products were in the same cool-store, but the Government was not officially advised that New Zealand meat had traces of Covid-19. Photo by Thomas Bjorkan.
Authorities from the Chinese city of Jinan say they have found traces of Covid-19 on beef, tripe and packaging from New Zealand and a handful of other countries, Reuters reported.

However, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she has been advised it was not a product from New Zealand and our officials were investigating further.

Officials say the products and packaging that have been found to have had Covid-19 have come from New Zealand, Brazil and Bolivia, while two other provincial capitals detected it on packaging on pork from Argentina.

Ardern told TVNZ today she is "being advised it's not our beef".

"We've been advised that's Argentinean beef, so just trying to get to the bottom of what's been reported there as we speak but rest assured we'll keep doing that," she told Breakfast.

"But to this point I've been advised it's not our beef but we'll keep working away on that."

She said in a press conference this afternoonOn the meat situation - Ardern said the Government was advised that there had been positive tests from Argentina.

New Zealand products were in the same cool-store, but the Government was not officially advised that New Zealand meat had traces of Covid-19, she said.

"I want to get to the bottom of this," she said.

"This is incredibly important to New Zealand," she said.

Ardern said APEC is important for New Zealand and the last thing the world needs right now is protectionist trade policies.

She said the RCEP agreement is important for New Zealand because it opens the country up to the world more.

Ardern said the "green shoots" of NZ's Covid-19 recovery puts the county in a good position to talk to other nations.

She said NZ remains in a good position, but our freedoms are under threat as Covid increases around the world.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the Herald they have not been informed officially of any coronavirus on New Zealand products.

"There are media reports that the city of Jinan, in China's Shandong province, has detected coronavirus on beef products imported from New Zealand.

"New Zealand has not been informed of this officially by the Chinese authorities.

"New Zealand officials are working now to ascertain the origin and veracity of these reports."

The packages entered through ports in Shanghai, the city's municipal health commission said.

More than 7500 people who may have been exposed tested negative for coronavirus, it said.

China is ramping up testing on frozen foods after frequently detecting Covid-19 on imported products.

It is not known how Covid-19 got onto the products that came from New Zealand, with a number of procedures taking place before it leaves our shores.

Frozen pork cases were also reported in the city of Zhengzhou and Xian. It's not clear if the cases are related.

The World Health Organisation has consistently said the risk of contracting Covid-19 from frozen packaging is low.

The role of frozen food and cold temperatures in potentially transmitting the virus was in the spotlight in New Zealand when officials probed the source of a mystery outbreak in August that began with a worker in a cold store facility.

"We do know from studies overseas, that actually, the virus can survive in some refrigerated environments for quite some time," director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, told reporters at the time.

But how concerned should we actually be?

Having previously stated it's "highly unlikely that people can contract Covid-19 from food or food packaging", the World Health Organisation (WHO) reiterated its stance earlier this year

"People should not fear food, or food packaging or processing or delivery of food," WHO's head of emergencies programme Mike Ryan told a briefing in Geneva in August.

"I would hate to think that we would create an impression that there's a problem with our food or there's a problem with our food chains.

"There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in transmission of this virus. And people should feel comfortable and safe."

Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva said the risk of Covid-19 transmission by food or food packaging was "negligible".

"Advice from the World Health Organization is that transmission by airborne droplets and aerosols is the dominant pathway for Coivd-19 infection," she said.

"We are closely watching and reviewing international developments about transmission and taking advice from the Ministry for Primary Industries and experts at the New Zealand Food Safety Science Research Centre about how we respond to these emerging risks as our knowledge about the virus grows," Karapeeva said in a statement.*

Since the early days of the response to Covid-19, the industry had been working to strict protocols that were developed with the Ministry for Primary Industries and provided guidance and a minimum standard for processors for operating.

"The protocol, which is consistent with other industries and guidance from the World Health Organisation, means we have a robust first line of defence against the transmission of the virus," Karaveeva said.

Under the protocol, employees observe physical distancing. In situations where this is not practicable, extra controls are put in place including personal protective equipment, she said. Employees also undergo temperature checks.

Karapeeva said companies are also recording who is working at each site and in which team or bubble they are operating in.

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