We're all worried about the spread of the novel (new) coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from Wuhan, China. The first case was confirmed by the Philippine Department of Health a few days ago, and the government has taken precautions like banning the entry of travelers from the People's Republic of China (PRC) and its Special Administrative Regions like Hong Kong and Macau.
But there is a question that many of us want answered:
Can goods imported from China carry 2019-nCoV or other viruses?
Silly as it may sound, it's a valid concern. While avoiding close contact (estimated to be at 2 meters radius) with individuals who have been to China or are from China is somewhat possible, it's impossible to avoid contact with Chinese-made goods in the Philippines or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
China is the top import source of the Philippines, bar none. In 2018, we imported USD 21.39 billion worth of goods from PRC. The lions share of the imported goods were, as expected, electronic in nature. And with the popularity of online shopping platforms and apps (i.e. Shopee, Lazada) with goods that are directly shipped from suppliers in China, is there a chance that the virus could come in with your next cash-on-delivery order?
What about cars? Chinese cars are starting to become more common on our roads with the entry of many new brands in the market at very attractive price points.
We had wanted to ask officials from the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) regarding the matter, but they're understandably busy. We did, however, get a somewhat clearer answer from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.
According to their official information (which is still being updated) the CDC says that there are still a lot of unknowns with regards to the current outbreak, but given the similarities that 2019-nCoV has with two other coronavirus outbreaks (SARS and MERS), the information gathered from those instances can be used to formulate risk factors.
The CDC says that coronaviruses like SARS and MERS have “poor survivability” on surfaces, which is a good thing. They say that the risk factor is low with products from China given that the coronaviruses -if somehow present on manufactured goods- will have to survive for days or weeks whilst being shipped at ambient temperatures.
The CDC says “there is no evidence to support transmission of 2019-nCoV associated with imported goods” nor are there 2019-nCoV cases in the US that are associated with contact with imported items from China.
While the CDC does state the information with regards to goods sent from China to the U.S., shipping from the PRC to the Philippines still takes a couple of days. In the matter of automobiles, that takes a few weeks.
If an infected factory worker or exposed courier in China somehow coughed on an iPhone, your order on a popular shopping app, or your new Chinese-made car, the chances of a coronavirus surviving in transit appears to be low.
If you wish to read up on it, visit the official CDC webpage regarding information regarding 2019-nCoV.