China tells local governments to drop COVID tests on some goods

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China’s health authority said on Tuesday that local governments no longer need to test some imported goods for the coronavirus, in a move aimed at reducing the cost of its strict COVID-19 prevention measures.

China began testing the packaging of chilled and frozen food imports for the virus in June 2020, after a cluster of infections among workers at a wholesale food market in Beijing.

Six months later, Beijing also advised testing on ambient products too, even as scientists said the risk of coronavirus infection through contact with contaminated surfaces was low.

Local governments no longer need to test ambient foods or other goods for the virus, said the National Health Commission on its website, but it was not clear if the products would still be subject to checks at customs.

Chilled and frozen foods will continue to be tested,however, but exporters will not face import suspensions when their goods test positive at customs checks, added the NHC.

Efforts afoot to support ailing economy

The steps come amid growing efforts to support China’s flagging economy. China has linked previous COVID-19 outbreaks among dockworkers with the detection of the virus on frozen food.

But its intensive scrutiny and testing and disinfection of imported produce has added significant cost and disrupted trade.

The virus has been detected on hundreds of chilled and frozen food shipments since 2020, with major suppliers of meat,seafood and other products suspended for weeks. Some local governments have gone beyond national rules, with the city of Lhasa, capital of Tibet, banning imported frozen foods outright in an effort to reduce risk of the virus.