Why China is still obsessed with disinfecting everything

As China struggles with its largest-ever increase in covid cases, scientists say the government’s decision to continue the story of a significant surface infection risk means that time and money are poured into the wrong things during a crisis. Is, scientists say. Measures to prevent airborne transmission are more effective.

The policy of prioritizing disinfection is part of a broader state-controlled narrative that politicizes the health crisis and is designed to legitimize government response. It also plays a role in China’s favorite description of the origin of the covid: that it can be imported into Wuhan through frozen food.

Isolation of epidemic pathways

There has been a lot of scientific discussion internationally about the extent to which surfaces contribute to the spread of covid. For example, a University of Michigan study, published in the April 2022 issue of the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, estimates that the probability of catching a covid from a contaminated surface is 1 in 100,000 – much lower than the benchmark researchers suggested below. Is. Risk.

And while the risk is not zero, most public health organizations, including the World Health Organization, have decided that it is too little to guarantee proactive action other than hand washing. Outside of China, most countries long ago stopped encouraging people to disinfect things as a way to avoid covid. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance a full two years ago in May 2020, to reflect the fact that it was largely unnecessary.

Instead, the overwhelming consensus is that aerosols and droplets transmit the virus more easily than surfaces. Indeed, the same April 2022 Michigan study found that the airborne transmission is 1,000 times larger than the surface transmission.

“People only have bandwidth to do a lot of protective health behavior. Amy Pickering, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, says it’s ideal for her to focus on the things that have the most impact in reducing her risks. “And that would be to avoid wearing masks, social distance, crowded indoor spaces.”

In China, the media and government frequently point to research to justify the constant fear of surface transmission. Studies conducted by researchers in Hong Kong, Japan and Australia have found that covid virus can survive for days or weeks on various surfaces.

But many have not been peer-reviewed, and in any case, these laboratory results do not reflect real life, says Ana K, a postdoctoral researcher at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK. Says Pitol. “If you put a huge drop inside the virus-protecting medium, and you put it inside the container, and you put it in the incubator, of course, it will live for many days, sometimes even weeks,” she says. “But the question we have to ask is how long does it last in real life.”

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