Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, January 17th, 2022 11:47 pm EST
OTTAWA — Chinese health officials’ claims that the Omicron version of COVID-19 was introduced to a resident of Beijing via a piece of Canada’s Regular Mail were dismissed on Monday as being ridiculous and comical.
A Chinese state-controlled news outlet was the first to report that the January 7 infection of a Beijing resident was the result of receiving a letter or parcel from Canada that passed through Hong Kong.
The Chinese report attributed that scenario to the deputy director of the Beijing Center for Disease Control at a briefing, even though organizations such as the World Health Organization and Canada Post say the risk of contracting the coronavirus from a piece of mail is low.
Margaret McCuegg-Johnston, a China expert at the University of Ottawa who spent more than three decades in the federal public service working on China’s issues, said Chinese officials need to familiarize themselves with the latest scientific material on the spread of COVID-19. is required.
“Unlike in the early days, scientists have clarified that it does not live on surfaces. To suggest that it would be on the mail from Canada in the days leading up to it is ridiculous,” she said.
Canada Post says the World Health Organization and the Public Health Agency of Canada have stated that the risks associated with handling mail, including international mail, are low.
“According to PHAC, there is no known risk of coronavirus entering Canada on a parcel or package. In general, because of the poor survivability of coronaviruses on surfaces, there is a low risk of spread from products or packaging shipped over a period of days or weeks,” a Canadian Post statement said.
“Currently, there is no evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted through imported goods or packages.”
McCuag-Johnston said the Chinese allegation shows that its leadership is still angry in Canada after a long-running dispute over the arrest of high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018, an extradition case that was dropped last year , which had allowed him to return to China.
Meng was arrested in Vancouver on a US extradition warrant in December 2018 for violating US sanctions on Iran. Nine days later, China arrested two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and charged them with being spies – dismissing the allegations from Canada and dozens of Western allies as baseless retaliation.
The case brought Canada-China relations to the lowest level ever. The US dropped its extradition case against Meng in September, and he was allowed to be freed and return to China. Kovrig and Spavor were brought back to Canada together.
It is not clear whether Canada-China relations have triggered any meaningful rebound since that major issue was resolved between them.
McCuegg-Johnston said Chinese President Xi Jinping was personally outraged by Meng’s arrest and could choose to target Canada whenever appropriate. She said she could explain this latest insight around the Canadian postal system.
“Canada is the country that is targeted, suggesting that we are still in Beijing’s crosshairs,” she said.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos was not aware of the controversy when asked about it at a news conference on Monday.
He said that while he may have his own opinion as to why China is making this claim, he deferred to experts how COVID-19 can be spread.
“We will investigate with authorities around the world and our partners,” Duclos said.
“I think this is not only something new, but interesting and certainly not in line with what we have done internationally and domestically.”
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole called the Chinese claim “humorous” and said it was a reminder that news reports coming out of China cannot be trusted.
O’Toole reiterated his party’s criticism of the government for not conducting a comprehensive national security review of the proposed purchase of a lithium mining development company by a Chinese firm. O’Toole said Canada needs to protect its access to lithium because it is a key component in batteries for electric vehicles.
“Canada must protect our supply and access to critical minerals such as lithium to protect our economy and our competitive advantage,” O’Toole said.
A statement from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada said all potential acquisitions involving critical minerals are subject to review by the Canadian security and intelligence community, before deciding whether a full-scale national security review is warranted.
The department said it is bound by commercial secrecy and cannot comment on the present matter. But in general, it said it can assess individual cases based on the “nature of mineral deposits” and whether a company has a full-scale operation in Canada or “primarily a regulator with few local employees or assets.” or is domiciled here for other reasons.”
The company in question operates a mine that is under exploration in Argentina and is registered in Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 17, 2022.