Transport of Covid-19 samples grounded

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on March 04, 2020

Airlines, customs officials want them to be tagged as ‘substances affecting humans’

Transport of specimens of Coronavirus (Covid-19) to-and-from various countries for research and analysis has hit a roadblock as airlines are refusing to carry it due to the classification of the virus.

The outbreak of Covid-19 has kept health officials worldwide on their toes as they try to ensure that suspected cases are isolated and managed according to appropriate national health protocols.

However, there have been some delays with the classification of specimens of Covid-19 as UN 3373 (biological substance as Category B) being questioned by airlines, customs and other authorities who contend that the specimens should be categorised UN 2814 (infectious substances affecting humans and categorised as Category A).



As specimens of SARS, swine flu, MERS and similar types of viruses were previously classified as UN 3373, WHO advised national health authorities to ship specimens of Covid-19 too as UN 3373.

“To ensure that the global response to suspected cases of Covid-19 is as rapid as possible, it is important that specimens are transported to laboratories without delay. Please assist in this response by facilitating the movement of specimens offered as UN 3373 and packed in accordance with PI 650,” said International Air Transport Association, a trade association of airline companies which operates international services and establishes standard practices.

‘A disservice to humanity’

Transportation of infectious substances — classified as Division 6.2 — is a must for diagnosis, research and development of medicines to cure an ailment, said the global agency.

B Govindarajan, COO, Tirwin Management Services, a Chennai-based training and consulting firm on dangerous goods regulations, said that it is the duty of airlines to transport suspected virus-infected material by the safest and quickest mode to labs for possible ways to counter the fast-spreading infection.

Classification of virus

Regulatory authorities and the IATA suggested that such materials be identified as Category B infectious substances under UN 3373 and securely packed following Packing Instruction 650, which involves foolproof-packing of such substances.

“Under the guise of an extremely cautious approach, if the commercial airlines choose not to carry the speciments, it will turn out to be a disservice to humanity. Their refusal would deny a rightful opportunity to carry out diagnosis, research and development of anti-virus solutions,” said Govindarajan.

Published on March 04, 2020

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