Pudong cases traced to overseas container, another worker positive

The first of Shanghai's latest coronavirus infections emerged in two airport cargo handlers who cleaned a container that arrived on a flight from North America
Pudong cases traced to overseas container, another worker positive
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A volunteer in protective gear delivers a package to a resident at a locked-down residental complex in Pudong.

The first of Shanghai’s latest coronavirus infections emerged in two airport cargo handlers who cleaned a container that arrived on a flight from North America, city officials said yesterday.

Meanwhile, another worker was confirmed as a new COVID-19 case yesterday during mass testing among staff working at the cargo sections of the Pudong International Airport.

An airport cargo handler figured in a case reported on November 9, and a colleague in another case reported on November 10. Both of them entered together and cleaned the container on October 30, said Sun Xiaodong, deputy director of the Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Neither of them was wearing a mask at the time.

“Research at home and abroad has shown coronavirus could live in enclosed, damp environments. The timing of their infection matched the incubation period of the disease,” 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, experts had concluded that the source of infection in both the cases was the container they were exposed to, Sun said.

Since Sunday, airport officials have tested 17,719 employees at Pudong airport’s cargo handling area and a FedEx (China) employee was confirmed as a new COVID-19 case last night.

The 36-year-old man surnamed Zhang worked at the freight station in the west area of the airport, health authorities said. Every other test had been negative, they said.

Zhang lives at 450 Hangcheng No. 7 Road of Zhuqiao Town in the Pudong New Area. He visited a restaurant on Shizhen Road, an airport restaurant, and the Shixin Road outlet of FamilyMart in the last two weeks, authorities said.

Disinfection has been conducted at these venues, and the residential complex has been listed as a medium-risk area.

Seventeen close contacts are being quarantined. An epidemiological investigation is underway.

Since November 9, six freight transport workers at the airport have been confirmed positive for COVID-19. The wives of two of the staffers are also confirmed as infected.

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

The airport authority is carrying out disinfection of the affected area and has reinforced protection measures for staff, 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 said.

He said authorities would run regular nucleic acid tests for high-risk cargo workers and offer them emergency use of vaccines voluntarily.

“Disinfection of inbound commodities, facilities at cargo areas and the relevant environment will be enhanced,” he said. Supervision and inspection of working procedures and prevention measures among cargo companies and stations at the airport will also be strengthened, said Zhou.

China Post, the nation’s major international cargo transporter, said freight arriving by both air and sea are receiving multiple rounds of disinfection. Trucks transporting the cargo will be disinfected and the bags and packages inside will be disinfected by mist sprayers.

The goods will be held in a ventilated place for at least half an hour before being delivered, a China Post official said.

Global logistics giant DHL said it will disinfect imported freight according to regulations. Nucleic acid testing and disinfection measures are being conducted in cooperation with China Customs.

“The company has released a work safety guideline to all the portal hubs and service centers,” DHL said.

Pudong airport was operating smoothly and only a few flights had been delayed or canceled yesterday. The airport is handling about 100,000 passengers daily, including about 5,000 international passengers, the airport authority said.

“The recent COVID-19 cases have nothing to do with the T1 and T2 terminals,” said Zhang Lei, the airport’s safety operation director.

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