Mass testing is a hallmark of China’s stringent zero-COVID policy, which seeks to completely eradicate the virus. As the Chinese government’s paranoia reaches new heights, a Chinese city has gone further and extended the measure to fishermen—and their catch.
To contain an emerging coronavirus outbreak, the coastal city of Xiamen has begun imposing daily nucleic tests on fishermen and the fish, crabs, and prawns they haul in.
“During operations, fishermen must undergo one test every day. When fishermen and their catch reach the shore, both ‘humans and goods’ have to be tested,” read an official notice issued late last month.
Footage of health workers sticking cotton swabs into the mouths of fish and swabbing crustaceans went viral online on Wednesday, as fishing recently resumed after a summer moratorium. It drew ridicule from Chinese social media users as yet another example of China’s questionable COVID control policies.
“Do they isolate the fish if it tests positive?” a user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo commented.
Adrian Esterman, an epidemiologist from the University of South Australia, described the measure as “unnecessary.”
“Fish basically cannot carry coronavirus. Firstly, they don’t have the receptors that coronaviruses latch on to. Secondly, the body temperature of fish is not suitable for the viruses to survive,” Esterman told VICE World News. “The chance of a fish being infected with coronavirus is pretty much zero.”
While the virus could potentially survive on the surfaces of frozen fish, as a previous case in Hong Kong showed last year, the risk of getting infected from contaminated surfaces is very low. Studies have found that less than 5 in 10,000 are infected through fomites—objects and surfaces that may carry the virus.
According to the notice, the rules were implemented as fishermen in Fujian province conducted “illegal trade” with foreign boats and led to an import of coronavirus since June, thus causing “great danger to society.” The province has detected nearly two thousand cases in the recent wave, most of which were imported.
The notice also encouraged people to report violations to authorities and offered up to half a million yuan ($73,630) as reward.
A local newspaper that covered the enforcement of the policy on Tuesday blurred the report online after it stirred controversy.
Despite occasional public backlash, Chinese officials have pressed on with stringent lockdowns and zealous disinfection campaigns, cleaning overseas mail and spraying disinfectant on streets. More recently, thousands of tourists were stranded at Sanya, after the popular resort city was hastily placed under a lockdown earlier this month.