Why is China still obsessed with disinfecting everything?


Scientists say that as China grapples with its biggest-ever increase in covid cases, the government’s decision to continue to challenge the government’s narrative that surfaces pose a significant risk of infection means time and money are being poured into the wrong things during a crisis. Measures to stop airborne transmission they are much 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 the government’s response. It also plays a role in China’s favorite narrative. origins of covid: that it may have been imported into Wuhan via frozen food.

Different pandemic paths

The scientific debate about how much surfaces contribute to the spread of covid is quite a lot internationally. For example, a study published at the University of Michigan, April 2022 in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiologyestimates 1 in 100,000 chance of catching covid from a contaminated surface – that’s well below the benchmark researchers suggested as a tolerable risk.

And while the risk is not zero, the vast majority of public health organizations, including the World Health Organization, judged Too low to warrant active precautions other than recommending hand washing. Most countries outside of China have long given up on encouraging people to disinfect as a way to ward off covid. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guide exactly two years ago, in May 2020, mostly to reflect the fact that it is unnecessary.

Instead, the overwhelming consensus is that aerosols and droplets transmit the virus much more easily from surfaces. In fact, the same April 2022 Michigan study found that airborne transmission was 1,000 times more likely than surface transmission.

“People only have the bandwidth to do so many preventative health behaviors. It’s ideal for them to focus on what will have the greatest impact on reducing their risk,” says Amy Pickering, assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. “And that would be wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding crowded enclosed spaces.”

The media and government in China often point to research to justify fears of surface contamination. Studies led by researchers in Hong Kong, Japan and Australia have found that covid viruses can survive. days or weeks on various surfaces.

But many have not been peer-reviewed, and anyway, these lab results don’t reflect real life, says Ana K. Pitol, a postdoctoral fellow at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in England. “If you put a large droplet in a virus-proof environment and put it in a container and put it in an incubator, of course it will survive for days, sometimes even weeks,” she says. “But the question we have to ask is how long it will survive in a realistic situation.”


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