WHO downplays danger of coronavirus latching on to food packaging

FILE PHOTO: Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization on Thursday downplayed the danger of the coronavirus latching on to food packaging and urged people not to be afraid of the virus entering the food chain.

Two cities in China said they had found traces of the coronavirus in imported frozen food and on food packaging, raising fears that contaminated food shipments might cause new outbreaks.

“People should not fear food, or food packaging or processing or delivery of food,” WHO head of emergencies program Mike Ryan told a briefing in Geneva. “There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in transmission of this virus. And people should feel comfortable and safe.”

WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said China had tested hundreds of thousands of packages and “found very, very few, less than 10” proving positive for the virus.

More than 20.69 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and almost 750,000‚Äč have died, according to a Reuters tally.

The WHO urged countries now that are striking bilateral deals for vaccines not to abandon multilateral efforts, since vaccinating pockets will still leave the world vulnerable.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia had become the first country to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing, a move Moscow likened to its success in the Cold War-era space race.

Moscow’s decision to grant approval before then has raised concerns among some experts. Only about 10% of clinical trials are successful and some scientists fear Moscow may be putting national prestige before safety.

The WHO does not have enough information to make a judgment on the expanded use of the Russian vaccine, Bruce Aylward, WHO senior adviser, said at the briefing.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Michael Shields and John Miller; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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