China halts European salmon imports over suspected link to virus outbreak
By Nerijus Adomaitis and Kate Kelland
OSLO / LONDON (Reuters) - China has stopped importing European salmon suppliers because of fears that they may be linked to a corona virus outbreak in a Beijing market, although experts say the fish themselves are unlikely to transmit the disease becomes.
State-run newspapers reported that the virus was found on imported salmon chopping boards in the Xinfadi market in Beijing, the source of a group of infections that triggered fears of a second wave of the pandemic in China.
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The reports prompted large supermarkets in Beijing to remove salmon from their shelves.
"We cannot send salmon to China now, the market is closed," Regin Jacobsen, CEO of the salmon supplier Bakkafrost listed in Oslo, told Reuters.
"We have stopped all sales to China and are waiting for the situation to be resolved," said Stein Martinsen, head of sales and marketing at Norway Royal Salmon.
Genetic traces of the virus from the outbreak of the Beijing market indicated that it could be from Europe.
Keith Neal, emeritus professor of epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham in the UK, said that any link to salmon is likely to be the result of cross-contamination.
"Markets can be crowded places, like Wuhan, they help fuel spread," he said, referring to the Chinese city where the virus originated.
Neal said it was not surprising to find a connection to Europe given the spread of the virus worldwide.
"China has given this virus to the world and it has always been very likely to give it back. The search for a tribe predominating in Europe is likely to reflect people returning to China after traveling to Europe," he said.
The Norwegian Food Safety Authority said there was no evidence that fish could be infected.
The shares in Norway's Royal Salmon, Bakkafrost based in the Faroe Islands and Mowi and Salmar from Norway decreased by 12-5 GMT by 3-5%.
Both Bakkafrost and Norway Royal Salmon said the employees had been tested for the virus and none had been tested positive.
According to Bakkafrost, China accounts for about 5% of global salmon demand.
Order cancellations were limited to China and had no impact on other markets, said the Norwegian Seafood Council, a marketing company.
(Additional reporting by Victoria Klesty, letter from Terje Solsvik; editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter)
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