Thousands of workers have been divided into teams to disinfect areas in Shanghai – the epicentre of China’s largest Covid-19 breakout, state media reports said. The focus of the drive is mainly on areas that hosted Covid patients. The government sees this move as key to curbing the spread of the Omicron variant.
Hazmat suit-clad workers, spraying disinfectant on just any exposed surface became a common sight as China follows a rigorous ‘zero-Covid’ police. But experts opine that this obsession must stop, CNN reported.
In Shanghai, firefighters have been taken out of duties to work as disinfectors, volunteers have been hired by a local group to be part of disinfection squads, and emergency rescue teams have been enlisted in the drive.
Special chemical producing stations have been set up in some neighbourhoods, while in others chemical tanks and cannon-like devices to shoot disinfectant have been attached to vehicles. Disinfection robots have been installed at railway stations, and have been set up to patrol some quarantine centres.
However, these measures may be a waste of time, effort and resources.
EXTREMELY LOW TRANSMISSION RISK FROM EXPOSED SURFACES
Experts have said that the risk of transmission of the virus via contaminates surfaces is extremely low and that “sanitizing outdoor areas such as parks and city streets is largely pointless and worse still, could even pose a danger to public health.”
“The robots and street-spraying are performative acts designed to bolster public trust in government actions,” Nicholas Thomas, an associate professor at City University of Hong Kong, told CNN. Thomas had earlier pointed to how Chinese authorities have long cited environmental contamination as part of their rhetoric that the virus may not have originated in China.
“It is a problem when politics dominates and diverges from the science of the pandemic response — more and more effort has to be placed on bolstering the politics through acts that do not necessarily increase the bio-safety of the affected populations to the same degree as the effort it requires to undertake them,” he said.
LESS THAN 1 IN 10,000 CHANCE OF CONTRACTING VIRUS VIA CONTAMINATED SURFACE
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a science brief last year, said scientific studies showed the chances to contract the virus via a contaminated surface had a chance less than 1 in 10,000. The research has promoted several to not obsess with disinfection as opposed to any meaningful disease prevention measure.
“(It’s) highly unlikely that any cases result from touching contaminated surfaces. The virus dies quickly outside an infected person … and transfers very inefficiently by fingers. Handwashing with soap, or alcohol hand wipes, is all you need to get the incidence down to zero,” said Emanuel Goldman, a professor of microbiology at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School.
Even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it was highly unlikely, that people could contract Covid-19 via food or food packaging, Chinese authorities have on numerous occasions “pointed to cold-chain imports or other contaminated surfaces, like on aeroplanes or even international mail, as vectors of diseases.”
The fear of contracting the virus from food imports had led to unique measures such as testing the surfaces of imports for traces of the virus and mass disinfection of frozen goods from overseas. Some cities have also ordered the disinfection of international mail and parcels — even though health experts said earlier this year there was not sufficient evidence that showed non-cold-chain items could carry the virus.
This has been looked upon as Beijing’s attempt to reframe the narrative about the origin of the virus, first detected in China. It’s pushing for the theory that the virus could have been brought by imported frozen foods — a theory broadly dismissed by international experts.
“For countries which use elimination strategy, this is a significant risk. However, for most the countries now, this might not be significant at all,” said Leo Poon, a professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, adding that touching regular surfaces is “not a major transmission mode for Covid-19.”
Experts have warned of potential risks with such kind of a disinfection drives in places like Shanghai where resources have also stretched thin as the city struggles through a weeks-long lockdown.
“There really is no role for mass disinfection of outdoor areas, pavements and walls. They are unlikely to be contaminated or cause transmission via a mucosal surface (like eyes, nose or mouth),” said Dale Fisher, a professor at the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.
According to Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School’s Goldman, there can also be a negative impact of such work as people could be harmed by exposure to harsh disinfection.
While the WHO supports certain disinfection measures, its guidelines say “spraying disinfectants, even outdoors, can be noxious for people’s health and cause eye, respiratory or skin irritation or damage.”
In an advisory issued late last month, officials told people how to disinfect, urging them against “spraying disinfectants directly on people,” using “canon trucks” and drones, or disinfecting outdoor air.
“These practices are essentially ineffective, and can cause health hazards and environmental pollution,” a Shanghai official said.
This content was originally published here.