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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that is 'safe' to receive packages from China.

e.g. from their Facebook page

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Is it safe to receive a letter or package from China?

Yes, it is safe. People receiving packages from China are not at risk of contracting the new coronavirus. From previous analysis, we know coronaviruses do not survive long on objects, such as letters or packages.

No citation is provided.

Doing some quick searches on coronavirus survivability, I found a recent paper titled Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and its inactivation with biocidal agents

It contains a table of the persistence of coronavirus on various surfaces.

In summary, the survivability of SARS is 4-5 days on metal and paper.

SARS is another coronavirus, and I believe the RNA sequence is 80% identical to 2019-nCov. Similar survivability could be expected.

Most of the tests in the above paper were carried out at room temperature. However it states that TGEV, another coronavirus, can last 28 days at 4°C.

A higher temperature such as 30°C or 40°C reduced the duration of persistence of highly pathogenic MERS-CoV, TGEV and MHV. However, at 4°C persistence of TGEV and MHV can be increased to ≥ 28 days

This appears to contradict the WHO claim.

Listed below are some examples of expedited international delivery from China to various countries.

  • USA

    • Fedex International Priority: 3.2 days.
    • UPS Expedited: 3.9 days
  • Japan: 3 days

  • Australia: 3 days

  • UK: 5 days

I do believe that most packages received from China will be safe but is the WHO ignoring the possibility of risk in the following scenarios:

  1. You live in a country in the vicinity of China with delivery times < 5 days

  2. You live in China and you open a package that was sent in the last 5 days.

  3. You open a package sent from China by express delivery.

UPDATE further references:

"SARS-CoV retained its infectivity for up to 9 days" Stability and inactivation of SARS coronavirus - Rabenau HF

"enveloped viruses, including H1N1 and human coronaviruses, remain infectious on surfaces after several days" Survival of Enveloped and Non-Enveloped Viruses on Inanimate Surfaces

  • Meta question, how safe from unintentional exposure to pathogens in general is it to receive any package? Maybe there's a cleanliness procedure we should all be doing anyway when we open our weekly Amazon boxes. – fredsbend Mar 4 at 22:05
  • @fredsbend Most pathogens do not survive long on surfaces, you are far more likely to encounter pathogens touching surfaces in public spaces. – Mike Seeds Apr 2 at 18:28
  • At the time of posting, these studies were not well known but have since been referenced by other academics and covered in the MSM. My opinion at this stage is that the WHO was wrong to declare that packages are safe, whether they come from China or another affected region. If the virus had poor survivability public health authorities would have no reason to perform mass disinfection of streets etc. As this gets closer to home, even if the survivability is a few hours it poses a risk. It is likely that millions of people have developed a false sense of security because of this WHO publication. – Mike Seeds Apr 2 at 18:43
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In an attempt to back up the WHO's claim but not using their data or statement. The 'Corona 2019' virus is a specific variant of the more general corona virus family. Further, this family is part of a broader family of viruses known as enveloped viruses, with envelops usually composed of lipids and proteins, and are required for a virus to be infectious to a host cell:

Functions of the envelope protein: Despite its enigmatic nature, research conducted to date has been able to propose three roles for the CoV E protein. The interaction between the cytoplasmic tails of the M and E proteins drives VLP production, suggesting that E participates in (1) viral assembly [56, 61, 89]. The hydrophobic TMD of E is also crucial to the (2) release of virions [40, 53, 159]. Lastly, SARS-CoV E is implicated in the (3) pathogenesis of the virus [18, 82, 87]. The progress made in these three aspects of E will be reviewed accordingly.

Source: https://virologyj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12985-019-1182-0

Enveloped viruses are easier to disarm since the envelop itself is easily destroyed by drying out, alcohol exposure, and temperature, which can denature the lipid layer and proteins. Studies have shown that regular drying from air can drastically impact the non-host lifetime of enveloped viruses:

Non-enveloped viruses, such as coxsackieviruses, rotavirus, or poliovirus, can survive for extended periods on surfaces (9, 10), while enveloped viruses, including H1N1 and human coronaviruses, remain infectious on surfaces after several days

Enveloped viruses were more sensitive than non-enveloped viruses in the second phase of viral persistence, which started when liquid was no longer observed on the lids; H1N1 and HSV-1 were inactivated in 5 d and 3 d, whereas [non-enveloped viruses] CVB4 was inactivated in 6 weeks and MVM continued to be infectious.

Source:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462923/

In the latter study, it is important to note that those survival times were likely optimal cases, since the study itself was attempting to see the survivability rate of enveloped viruses and was done under very specific circumstances and under controlled temperature. The general infectious viability of enveloped viruses in non-host, uncontrolled conditions is very low:

The genome of either virus could be detected on most surfaces 24 h after application with relatively little drop in copy number, with the exception of unsealed wood surfaces. In contrast, virus viability dropped much more rapidly. Live virus was recovered from most surfaces tested four hours after application and from some non-porous materials after nine hours, but had fallen below the level of detection from all surfaces at 24 h.

Source: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0027932

While it isn't stated explicitly for most of that study (only a small mention at the end), the viability of the virus stated is functionally because the H1N1 is also an enveloped virus.

Technically it comes down to what your view of what is "safe." However, by research of general enveloped viruses, and there has been no evidence that the 2019 corona virus is any different, an enveloped virus is unlikely to be infectious after a short period of time in an uncontrolled environment both from drying as well as temperature changes. Packages and other shipments would certainly count as an inhospitable uncontrolled environment for enveloped viruses. Statistically it is possible, but such a small chance that it is unlikely to be of any legitimate cause for concern, especially compared to directly infectious individuals and the like.

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    Nice to see proper skepticism, instead of just appeal to authority. Good work, though be careful not to cross this site's ban on original research. – fredsbend Mar 4 at 22:12
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You are quoting the WHO and then say 'no citation is provided'. The WHO is the source. They are well equipped to research these kind of questions and it is part of their job to issue recommendations and rules about these kind of things.

So receiving a package from China is safe, source the WHO. On the other hand, travelling to Wuhan in person is currently not recommended, source also the WHO.

As a commentor noted, this answer assumes that the statement is actually from the WHO and not a fake. This is the case, see this WHO site.

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    I do not doubt that the WHO is well equipped to research the virus, but I want to see a paper and actual test results. The statement "we know coronaviruses do not survive long on objects, such as letters or packages." The statement may be true for 2019-ncov but for the coronavirus family it is incorrect. The behaviour of the Chinese authorities i.e mass disinfection shows that they might be concerned about the virus surviving on surfaces. – Mike Seeds Feb 11 at 9:12
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    @MikeSeeds A proper peer reviewed paper on the Coronavirus won't be available until well after the current epidemic is over. The process of writing and peer reviewing takes a lot of time. The only information available now will come from either national or international health bodies like the WHO. The Chinese health ministry presumably also does similar research, I don't know whether they make public recommendations about sending packages. What other source do you want? – quarague Feb 11 at 9:24
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    This is an appeal-to-authority fallacy. The WHO isn't an infallible source. An answer here should give us a reference that we can follow up to check. You may be right that they have conducted experiments that produce these results - in that case they should be published so they can be reviewed for error and reproduced. If that hasn't happened, then there is no answer to the question. – Oddthinking Feb 11 at 12:24
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    You are perfectly describing the appeal-to-authority fallacy. Pointing out that the WHO said so in such circumstances would be a pretty poor answer (but at least it would be slightly higher up the evidence ladder than the originally doubted claim, which this answer isn't). – Oddthinking Feb 11 at 12:34
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    Let's not go too far. In a question about some unsourced and unlikely-sounding Facebook meme about the virus, it would be quite reasonable to source the WHO's guidance as evidence (and past well-received answers on this site have cited WHO information as their primary or only source). In this particular case, though, where the original claim was undisputedly made by the WHO, it's clear that the OP is looking for more direct support of the claim. – Sneftel Feb 11 at 12:41
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CDC: There is still a lot that is unknown about the newly emerged COVID-19 and how it spreads. Two other coronaviruses have emerged previously to cause severe illness in people (MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV). The virus that causes COVID-19 is more genetically related to SARS-CoV than MERS-CoV, but both are betacoronaviruses with their origins in bats. While we don’t know for sure that this virus will behave the same way as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, we can use the information gained from both of these earlier coronaviruses to guide us. In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures. Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods. Learn more about COVID-19.

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    Your source repeats the claim, but gives no evidence to support it. Why do they believe it is true? (The OP have reasons to believe it is false.) – Oddthinking Feb 29 at 8:22

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