Why is China still obsessed with disinfecting everything?

As China grapples with its biggest-ever spike in infections, the government’s decision further strengthens the narrative of surfaces posing a significant risk of infection, say scientists. means that time and money is being poured into the wrong things during a crisis, scientists say. Measures to prevent Airborne transmission much more efficient.

The policy of prioritizing disinfection is part of a broader state-controlled narrative that politicizes the health crisis and is designed to legitimize the government’s response. It also serves as a beloved Chinese story about the origin of covid: that it may have been imported into Wuhan through frozen food.

Distinguishing pandemic routes

The scientific debate about the extent to which surfaces contribute to the international spread of covid. For example, a study from the University of Michigan, published in April 2022 in the Journal of Environmental Epidemiology & Exposure Scienceestimates that the chance of catching cod from a contaminated surface is 1 in 100,000 — much lower than the standard The researchers suggested as an acceptable risk.

And while the risk is not zero, most public health authorities, including the World Health Organization, Have evaluated that it is too low to warrant aggressive measures other than handwashing recommendations. Outside of China, most countries have long given up on encouraging people to disinfect things as a way to avoid infection. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance two years ago, in May 2020, to reflect the fact that it is hardly necessary.

Instead, the overwhelming consensus is that aerosols and drops transmit viruses much more easily than surfaces. Indeed, the same Michigan study in April 2022 found that airborne transmission is 1,000 times more likely than surface transmission.

“People just have enough bandwidth to do a lot of health-promoting behavior. It’s ideal for them to focus on the things that will have the biggest impact on their risk reduction,” said Amy Pickering, assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. “And that would be wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding crowded spaces in the house.”

The Chinese media and government often point to research to justify the fear of continued transmission on the surface. Studies conducted by researchers in Hong Kong, Japan and Australia have found that the covid virus can survive day or the week on different surfaces.

Ana K. Pitol, a postdoctoral researcher at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK, says many of the results have not been peer-reviewed and these lab results do not reflect real life. “If you put a giant drop of water inside a virus-protected environment, and you put it in a container, and you put it in an incubator, it lasts for days, sometimes even,” she said. some week. “But the question we should ask is how long it lasts in a real situation.”

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