The discovery on Friday of COVID-19 on the chopping board of a seller of imported salmon at Beijing's main wholesale seafood market is set to disrupt demand for product in the Chinese market, according to several Chinese newspaper reports over the weekend.
It is unknown how the virus made it onto the chopping board at Xinfadi market in Beijing's Fentai district, but the discovery came in conjunction with a cluster of cases and has forced its closure.
The Xinfadi market claims to be the largest wholesale fresh food market in Asia, and supplies Beijing with 80 percent of its meat and vegetables across an area the size of 160 football fields, Reuters reported.
The market is a key supplier to several of the city's large retailers and caused many of them to remove imported salmon from their shelves across Beijing.
Carrefour and Wumart were among the supermarkets to stop selling the product, according to an article in Saturday's Global Times, despite virologists saying that COVID-19 cannot be transmitted from fish to humans.
Lin Li, chief scientist of a team that monitors aquatic disease and control in Guangdong Province, told the newspaper it’s not possible for live salmon to be contaminated with the virus given it lives in the ocean, neither can frozen salmon be a source of the novel coronavirus which can only exist in active cells.
It may be possible for salmon to be contaminated by virus-contaminated water during processing, transportation or packaging, Lin said.
Despite this, the outbreak in the seafood market will inevitably impact demand, with consumers fearful of any possibility of transmission.
China imports about 80,000 tons of chilled and frozen salmon each year, according to news site Jiemian.
Chile, Norway and the Faroes are the main suppliers, with rapid growth in the market in recent years playing a key role in producers' strategies.
Norway exported 3,141 metric tons of salmon to China in April, up by 97 percent year-on-year, according to data from the Norwegian Seafood Council. The country held 45 percent market share of fresh salmon to China from January to April 2020.
Chile, meanwhile, has more to lose, shipping around 35,000 metric tons of salmon products to China in 2019.
"As the probe into the cause of the latest outbreak is underway, salmon business around the world will be affected," Cui He, president of the China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance (CAPPMA), told the Global Times Sunday.
"The impact of the Xinfadi outbreak will expand from wholesale markets to supermarkets and restaurants, so the whole food chain may feel the pain," Cui said, although it's too early to gauge the impact.