CHINA has linked the coronavirus outbreak in Dalian, a major port city that has become the country’s latest hotspot, to cold-chain foods and authorities are stepping up scrutiny of imported products.

The northeastern city is battling the biggest flareup in the country’s current virus wave, placing tens of thousands of university students under lockdown. The first identified case was linked to a cold-storage facility and several other infections were reported among employees in the cold-chain industry, local media said, adding that this is the third cold-chain related outbreak in the city.

Dalian is an important cold-chain storage and transportation base, handling about 70% of China’s total imported cold-chain products. Cities across the country have stepped up investigation of cold-chain foods from Dalian in recent days. Shopping centers and food companies were asked to suspend sales and conduct nucleic acid tests on these products immediately, Global Times said.

China claims that the virus can persist in conditions found in cold-chain food and packaging, and authorities have been testing imported meat and seafood for traces of the virus. International health authorities have downplayed the likelihood of such transmission, with the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying the chance of getting coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) from frozen foods is very low.

“There is still controversy about the scientific merits of the coronavirus being transmitted in cold-chain products, but from a practical perspective, it doesn’t matter,” said Darin Friedrichs, senior Asian commodity analyst at StoneX in Shanghai. “Chinese officials and scientists believe it is possible and poses a real threat, and they are going to take action.”

The cold-chain scrutiny in Dalian could hit European and US seafood markets ahead of the holiday, given that China is a major processing and re-export hub, Mr. Friedrichs said. It could also have logistics implications outside of cold chain, spurring issues at ports that handle bulk cargo and further disrupting global freight markets, he added. — Bloomberg