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No, photo not of Covid-19 ‘infected’ clothes, blankets – and you won’t get the virus from imported goods

Does this photo show clothing from people infected with Covid-19 in China, shipped to Africa to be sold cheaply?

That’s the claim in an audio clip circulating on WhatsApp. The clip is not dated, but Africa Check first received it on 22 March 2020. 

It is shared with a photo of what looks like clothes and blankets packed into plastic-wrapped bales, stacked in rows on a concrete floor.

“Those blanket or clothes was from the people of China who was sick from the coronavirus. And those things will be sent to the market in Africa,” says a man in the audio clip.

He warns people across Africa not to buy cheap, used clothing, and ends: “Please share this information to all your contact people and let them know that old, cheap things will be sent to African market for us to get this virus again and forever, probably.” 

A similar claim is going around Facebook, using the same photo. It claims the bales are full of “blanket and cloth from the people of China who were sick with the CoronaVirus” which have been “sent through the market in Africa”.

But does the photo show clothes and blankets used by people in China infected with Covid-19? And could you get the virus from imported textiles?

Photo 10 years old – Covid-19 appeared in 2019

A TinEye reverse image search reveals that the photo has been online for about 10 years. The search engine traced the earliest publication of the image to a now-defunct Brazilian shopping site in September 2010.

It has since been used by a variety of online retailers, including a Turkish company that ships clothing to eight African countries, and a UK-based clothing company that exports to Nigeria. 

The photo is much older than the new coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China, in 2019.

It doesn’t show clothes or blankets used by people with the disease.

China mainly exports new clothes

According to the Trade Law Centre, African countries have consistently imported over US$1 billion in used clothing for the past five years, with the lion’s share going to Kenya. The used clothing is then sold as cheap, quality clothing. 

The top world suppliers of used clothing are the EU, followed by the US. The used clothing is sourced from charity or thrift shops, which sell the surplus of clothes donated to them to exporters who then ship it to African ports.

China primarily exports cheap, new clothes to African markets. 

Virus won’t survive on imported goods

Theoretically, it is possible for the relatives of a deceased Covid-19 patient to donate their clothes to charity or thrift stores and then have these clothes passed on to African markets. 

But the virus would need to survive on the clothing the entire time and then still have a high enough viral load to be able to infect someone. 

The World Health Organization, or WHO, have said that while it is unclear exactly how long the virus which causes Covid-19 can survive on surfaces, coronaviruses may live on surfaces for at least a few hours and up to several days

Another study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that while the Covid-19 virus was detectable on some surfaces up to 72 hours after initial exposure, the viral load was significantly reduced

On a less stable surface like cardboard, no viable SARS-COV-2 virus was measured after 24 hours.

The WHO says it is safe to receive goods from Covid-19-infected areas. 

“The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low,” the health agency says

The Harvard Medical School in the US also said that there is no reason to fear getting Covid-19 from packages from China. 

It is possible, in theory, that used clothing and blankets from Covid-19 patients in Europe and the US will go on to be sold in African markets. But it’s highly unlikely. And the current evidence does not show that the virus would be able to survive the process. – Naledi Mashishi


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