Mutant virus found on croc meat packaging

The wrapping of prepackaged frozen crocodile meat in the fridge at the Tin Shui Wai home of a family hit by a highly contagious mutant variant of Covid-19 has tested positive for the coronavirus. The sample taken from the surface of the wrapping showed up as positive yesterday and the...

Jane Cheung

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The wrapping of prepackaged frozen crocodile meat in the fridge at the Tin Shui Wai home of a family hit by a highly contagious mutant variant of Covid-19 has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The sample taken from the surface of the wrapping showed up as positive yesterday and the Centre for Food Safety was trying to trace the source.

But experts said it was likely a 17-year-old girl, who was the first confirmed victim, or her 20-year-old sister or their 53-year-old mother - infected in turn with the Alpha variant first discovered in Britain - had contaminated the Thailand-sourced meat wrapping rather than the other way round.

Health authorities on Monday collected more than 60 samples from the home at Shing Yu House in Tin Shing Court including three from the frozen compartment of the refrigerator, from a pet shop in Mong Kok and at Tak Wing Industrial Building in Tuen Mun, where the teenager had tutorials.

Only the sample on the crocodile meat came back positive.

Crocodile meat is used in traditional Chinese medicine against respiratory problems like asthma and to alleviate coughing.

Government adviser David Hui Shu-cheong from Chinese University said the teenager told Center for Health Protection staff that she had sneezed into the fridge, so he believed it was likely the girl had contaminated the meat wrapping.

Infectious diseases expert Ho Pak-leung from the University of Hong Kong agreed, saying it was extremely unlikely the family had been infected by the packaging.

The teenager "had a high viral load in the respiratory tract," Ho noted, "and when at home she did not wear a mask or wash her hands frequently. When she opened the fridge she could have contaminated objects inside with her hands."

He reminded people to wash cutting boards and knives with detergent after using them to cut frozen meat and to wash their hands before touching cooked food.

Respiratory specialist Leung Chi-chiu said if samples taken from the crocodile meat inside the packaging also tested positive it would be a firm pointer, but that was a vague possibility.

Leung also suggested testing staff at the Mong Kok pet shop, where the teen bought a chinchilla cat, and see whether they had antibodies.

Another government adviser, Yuen Kwok-yung from HKU, said it was too early to make a firm call on the crocodile meat and the wrapping and on any part they played in the family infections.

In May last year a group of workers who fixed labels on Marks & Spencers' prepackaged chilled food imported from Britain at Kerry Logistics' warehouse in Kwai Chung were infected with Covid-19.

Authorities said at the time the chilled food could have picked up the virus on the wrapping at the production plant or during shipping. As the food was frozen there was a controlled temperature for a virus to survive.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong yesterday saw two imported cases from Indonesia, taking its tally to 11,881, including 210 deaths. But it was an eighth straight day without a local infection.

One of the Indonesia cases involved the more infectious L452R mutant strain - also in the Delta variant first found in India.

Authorities said they were moving Indonesia from the "high" to the "very high" risk category from Monday. After that travelers from the country - vaccinated or not - must show negative Covid-19 test results within 72 hours before a flight and undergo a 21-day quarantine upon arrival.

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

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