World News

Shanghai links two of latest virus cases to cargo container from abroad

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) - The first of Shanghai’s latest coronavirus infections emerged in airport cargo handlers who cleaned a container that arrived on a flight from North America, city officials said on Monday, as it battles a surge of cases among airport workers.

FILE PHOTO: Workers in protective suits are seen at a makeshift nucleic acid testing site inside a parking lot of Shanghai Pudong International Airport, after new cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Shanghai, China November 22, 2020. Picture taken November 22, 2020. cnsphoto via REUTERS

The news comes as aviation data provider Variflight flagged cancellation of more than 40% of Monday’s flights at the Chinese business hub’s Pudong airport, one of the world’s busiest and a key gateway for international flights during the pandemic.

An airport cargo handler figured in a case reported on Nov. 9, and a colleague in another case reported on Nov. 10, after both together entered and cleaned the container on Oct. 30, said Sun Xiaodong, an official of Shanghai’s disease control centre.

Neither was wearing a mask at the time.

“Research at home and abroad has shown coronavirus could live in enclosed, damp environments,” Sun told a news conference.

The container was damp inside and sealed off, Sun said, adding that the virus strain detected in both cases was highly similar to that from North America, suggesting the source could be from abroad.

From epidemiological investigations and gene sequencing, Sun said, experts had concluded the source of infection in both cases can be traced to the container both were exposed to, but he did not say if samples had been taken from it.

After five months free of local infections, Shanghai has reported six local cases since Nov. 9, five in the past few days, also involving workers handling cargo at the airport and their close contacts.

Authorities say they have not yet found a link between the first two cases and the most recent ones, however.

One of the five recent cases involves a security inspector at a UPS logistics hub at the airport while two are UPS employees. UPS was not immediately available for comment outside U.S. office hours.

Since Sunday, airport officials have tested 17,719 employees at Pudong airport’s cargo handling area, of whom 11,544 proved negative, but test results for the rest have yet to be issued, said Zhou Junlong, vice president of the Shanghai Airport Authority.

“The confirmed cases have only been found at the airport’s cargo handling area, and the airport’s passenger area is unaffected,” Zhou told the same briefing.

Zhou said authorities would run regular nucleic acid tests for high-risk cargo workers and offer them emergency use of vaccines on a voluntary basis.

China recorded 11 new infections on Monday, including two local cases in Shanghai, the National Health Commission said. Mainland China’s tally stands at 86,442 cases, with the death toll unchanged at 4,634.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: here)

Reporting by Stella Qiu, Roxanne Liu and Brenda Goh; Editing by Kim Coghill and Clarence Fernandez