Concerns of a new wave of COVID-19 have prompted China to stop importing Norwegian salmon, as the virus has been detected on cutting boards used for imported salmon at the Xinfadi food market in Beijing.
In the past four days, over 100 new cases of infection have been reported in the Chinese capital alone, with the majority of cases linked to the specific food market said to be the largest in Asia.
Following the outbreak, China is stepping up its inspection of fresh and frozen meat as well as seafood products.
Meanwhile, stores in China have stopped selling salmon, which may spell bad news for major exporters, such as Norway. While China is not the world's largest export market for Norwegian salmon, the outbreak could have consequences for Norwegian exporters, who described the world's most populous country as a “solid market”. Anders Nordøy Snellingen, the manager of the Norwegian Seafood Council's global operations, said they are monitoring the situation closely.
“There have been no official statements from China that indicate that Norwegian salmon is associated with the outbreak”, Nordøy Snellingen told national broadcaster NRK. At the same time, he predicted that the outbreak could lead to short-term logistical problems in getting salmon into China and especially Beijing.
Beijing stores were already described as having gaps in salmon shelves. Restaurants specialising in Norwegian salmon dishes are also noticing a major change, as customers keep inquiring about the origin of the fish in what a restaurant employer described as “salmon panic” to NRK.
According to Victoria Braathen of the Norwegian Seafood Council, there has already been a wave of cancellations in orders of fresh salmon.
“We have stopped all sales to China and are now waiting for more clarity on the situation", Norway Royal Salmon sales and marketing manager Stein Martinsen said.
“We can't export any salmon to China right now. The market is closed”, Bakkafrost CEO Regin Jacobsen said.
On Monday, 15 June, the Oslo Stock Exchange experienced a dramatic fall, which was blamed on the seafood sector, the newspaper Finansavisen reported. Some of the losses were later recovered.
Norwegian salmon is a very popular product in China. Last year, Norway exported 23,500 tonnes of salmon to China worth NOK 1.6 billion ($170 million). So far this year, Norway's exports have plummeted by 5 percent.
Norway pioneered salmon aquaculture in the 1960s, and has since risen to become Europe's largest supplier of farmed fish. In 2018, Norway exported 1.3 million tonnes of farmed salmon worth NOK 67.8 billion ($7.8 billion), with the EU being its primary importer. Fish is the Nordic country's second leading export after only petroleum products.