Parliament’s Industry Committee this week demanded that the government halt imports of frozen fish into Egypt for a period of three months, following scientific reports linking frozen food products to the spread of the Covid-19.
Evelin Matta, a member of the committee, said on Saturday that many countries had taken similar steps after Chinese health authorities had recommended that salmon imports from European suppliers should be suspended over fears that fish products could be linked to a new spread of the virus.
She added that scientific reports under study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) had concluded that the coronavirus could live on frozen food for up to three months, and therefore it was necessary for the Ministry of Trade and Industry to take precautionary measures to temporarily halt imports from abroad.
Matta said that a three-month ban on importing fish products would not have negative effect on the local market, as Egypt enjoys self-sufficiency in fish.
According to the General Authority for Fish Resources Development (GAFRD), Egypt leads the African continent in fish production at 1.9 million tons per year, with 1.6 million of these coming from fish farming and placing Egypt as the most important country in Africa for fish-farm output.
The GAFRD also stated that Egypt’s exports of fish fall between 30,000 and 50,000 tons annually, and that the country is 97 per cent self-sufficient in fish. Egypt’s imports of fish were limited to 322,000 tons in 2019.
Essam Ibrahim, deputy head of the General Authority for Veterinary Services, told Sada Al-Balad news website that all imported fish and foodstuffs were checked to ensure that they are free of the coronavirus and of all other diseases and viruses.
“The examination of fish, meat and poultry imports regardless of their country of origin is part of the precautionary measures taken since March, as well as regular checks on samples from local markets,” he added.
The coronavirus crisis has affected Egypt’s overall non-oil imports. Minister of Trade and Industry Niveen Gamea announced on Monday that the crisis had contributed to a 24 per cent decrease in the volume of non-oil imports during the first four months of this year.
She added that Egypt’s trade deficit had shrunk by $5.57 billion, a decline of 35 per cent over the same period last year.
China imposed a temporary ban on salmon shipments from Europe after a new cluster of Covid-19 infections was reported, with the Chinese government believing that the new outbreak can be traced to a food market in Beijing. The virus was found on chopping boards used to cut salmon in the market, suggesting that it could have come from Europe.
The authorities in Beijing said that the virus had also been found on other food items such as frozen chicken and soft drinks, and it announced a temporary suspension on importing frozen poultry from specific sources.
The WHO stated earlier that it is highly unlikely that people can contract Covid-19 from food or food packaging, as the virus is a respiratory illness. The primary transmission route is through person-to-person contact and direct contact with respiratory droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The WHO recommends washing vegetables and fruit and other food products that are not subject to thermal treatments with water before consumption, in addition to washing hands well with soap before preparing food to avoid contracting the virus.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly