Risk of getting coronavirus from imported Chinese goods 'very low': experts

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 30 2020 05:33 PM

MANILA - Imported Chinese goods pose a "very low risk" of spreading a respiratory disease from China that has infected at least 7,700 people, including a Chinese woman in the Philippines, said experts.

Coronaviruses cannot live very long on surfaces because they are parasitic, which means they are dependent on higher forms of life, said former Health Undersecretary Dr. Susan Mercado, now deputy secretary-general of the Philippine Red Cross Centers for Health and Humanitarian Action.

To thrive, the pathogen also needs moisture, which in a tropical country like the Philippines dries up quickly, added Mercado, who previously served as the director for Non-communicable Diseases and Health in WHO's Regional Office for Western Pacific.
 
"In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures," US agency Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its website.

"Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of 2019-nCoV associated with imported goods," it added.

The 2019 novel coronavirus that emerged from the central Chinese city of Wuhan a few weeks ago has killed at least 170, Beijing said Thursday. The Philippines on the same day confirmed its first case of the disease: a 38-year-old Chinese woman Wuhan who arrived in Manila last week.

FIGHTING AN INVISIBLE FOE

Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes, said the CDC.

N-95 masks—if worn correctly with its straps crisscrossed to provide a tight fit—can protect one from the disease better than surgical masks that "have so many open spaces", said Mercado.

The health expert also noted that a person typically touches his or her face 15 to 20 times in an hour so it is important to wash hands frequently and thoroughly, spending about 10 seconds each for the palms, back of the hands, fingers, thumbs and wrists.

Experts are not yet sure if alcohol can kill the new coronavirus, said Mercado.

She also urged the public to cover sneezes and coughs with a handkerchief or shirtsleeves, instead of their hands.

If the disease continues to spread, the public might have to refrain from shaking hands, "beso-beso" or bussing of cheeks, and holding hands during the "Ama Namin" in Catholic Masses, she said.

"This virus is tiny. We are infinitely more intelligent than this. But if we don't use our head and we panic, we become emotional, we will not outwit this virus," said Mercado.