As coronavirus spreads, is it safe to buy products shipped from China?

We don’t know very much about Covid-19, commonly called the coronavirus, other than it can spread from human to human through contact and that it originated in Wuhan, China. We also know that many China-based businesses and factories have closed due to the outbreak. But is it still safe to buy products shipped from China amid the coronavirus? 

The short answer is yes. Thankfully, there is no way the coronavirus could be active long enough on a surface for it to be transmitted through the touching of a package or a product shipped from one of the manufacturing epicenters of China like Guangdong, Zhejiang, and Shandong. 

“I would not worry about the virus hazards,” said David Evans, a professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Alberta in Canada. “I would be very, very surprised if there was any type of active detectable virus on pretty much any surface.” 

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Evans said it comes down to how the virus’ particles are assembled. He said that, like other viruses, the coronavirus has a lipid bilayer — a fatty membrane all around it — that’s very fragile and can be damaged easily. 

“If [the bilayers] were dispersed on a surface, it would rapidly inactivate the virus as it dried out and stuck onto that surface,” Evans said. 

He said there are a few viruses that actually can live on surfaces, like the norovirus, which has been an issue on cruise ships, but that people shouldn’t worry about the coronavirus spreading via the surfaces of packaged goods. 

“Whether or not they can actually deliver [products] is another story because of chaos in the factories right now,” Evans said. 

About 50 percent of regional factories in China have shut down since the coronavirus outbreak began late last year, and many production facilities are behind on products. Quarantines, as well as fear among China’s workers, have led to these factory closures, and although some of them are coming back online, they aren’t necessarily at full production, and inventories are thinning. 

Companies like Google and Apple have outposts in China and are feeling the effects of the virus. Google shut down its offices last month, and Apple temporarily shut down all stores and offices located in mainland China earlier this month. 

In total, there have been more than 82,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide, and more than 2,800 confirmed deaths.

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