The chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday said the COVID-19 strain that led to an outbreak of infections at a massive wholesale market was likely imported, but downplayed salmon as the primary suspect.
Media reports from China linking the outbreak to Beijing's Xinfadi market said that among the 40 positive samples, one was from a cutting board used to slice salmon, a detail that quickly captured headlines across the country.
Wu said far more details are needed before drawing significant clues about the findings.
"We cannot conclude that salmon is the source of infection just because novel coronavirus was detected on a chopping board of a seller," the CDC's Wu Zunyou told the People's Daily on Monday.
Preliminary findings show the COVID-19 strain is of European origin, Wu said, indicating that the infection came from outside the country, though not necessarily Europe.
More than likely, the virus was brought into the market by an infected, asymptomatic person, and the close quarters and activity at the market led to the outbreak, Wu added. He said, however, the the cold chain for seafood and other fresh foods could conceivably have prolonged the virus' life to allow for transmission over long distances.
Following the news, retail stores including Walmart China pulled salmon from shelves. Regin Jacobsen, CEO of Faroese salmon supplier Bakkafrost, told IntraFish Monday that sales to the country would be disrupted while the country "sanitized" the salmon supply chain, but added that the Chinese government would not place blame on salmon itself.
"China knows a lot about this virus and they know the outbreak is not from salmon," Jacobsen said.
A wetfish market in Wuhan, China is suspected to be "ground zero" for COVID-19, which has spread globally to nearly 8 billion people, causing over 430,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which has tracked the data.