Corona Virus Update (COVID-19)

Anyone who’s spent any time watching apocalyptic TEOTWAWKI movies knows that the contagion starts small.  First scattered reports of a strange new disease come in from a remote part of the world.

Nothing to worry about. They tell us.

Oh, and “TEOTWAWKI” – you don’t know what that means?

It’s The End of the World as We Know It, which is pretty close to the start of most zombie/pandemic movies.

I don’t know if there are any movie plots out there (or in the works) involving a hazmat instructor who saves civilization.  Probably not.

But let’s talk for a minute about the Corona Virus and other emergent pathogens that show up from time to time.

You may remember the SARS “epidemic” a decade ago. I was in Hong Kong at the height of that and it was very otherworldly. Deserted shops, everyone wearing masks (which isn’t THAT unusual for HKG), and a noticeable reduction in activity in the normally busy streets.

At this point in time in 2020 the new Corona virus is infecting people at twice the rate of the SARS epidemic of 2003!

Hong Kong, as with the SARS epidemic is taking a big hit.  As of February 2020, visitor traffic to Hong Kong is down by ninety-nine percent!

At the same time (so we’re told) the Coronavirus is LESS deadly than SARS.  SARS had a mortality rate of around 10%.  With the Coronavirus it’s currently around 2%. Update May 2020: Actually now with broader testing, the mortality rate is way less than one percent but for vulnerable populations, it’s much higher.

What does all this mean for the hazmat transport industry and logistics in general?

Well, for one thing actual and suspected virus samples have to be transported globally.  The only practicable way for global transport is air transport.  It doesn’t make sense to consider a long ocean voyage to transport urgent specimens.

So how do the airlines protect their employees and the travelling public from these viruses?  Through a set of international standards originating from the UN and its air transport agency, ICAO, and as published by the airlines themselves in their IATA regulations.

ICAO stands for the International Civil Aviation Organization and is an arm of the UN.

IATA is the International Air Transport Association and is a lobbying group and standards organization owned by the airlines themselves.

So, when medical personnel (well, their couriers) tender infectious cargo to the airports everything must be in accordance with both IATA and ICAO rules. This involves key elements in the following areas:

  • Classification.  All shippers worldwide must follow the same classification system for infectious samples – the most predominant classifications being Category A (most dangerous pathogens) or Category B (those that still pose a hazard but don’t fall within Cat A).
  • Communication.  Standardized marks, labels, placards and documents are used throughout the supply chain.  The airlines themselves (IATA) insist on a red hatched form (called the IATA DGD [Dangerous Goods Declaration]) for all Category A shipments.
  • Packaging.  Specially tested packaging must be used for infectious substances. Some of which go through rather severe performance tests (such as immersed in a water bath to simulate rainfall and then freezing).  Additionally,  there is a 29 foot drop test and a puncture test using a heavy steel rod with a pointed tip dropped on the conditioned package.
  • Handling procedures.  There are not a lot of handling limitations but some of the most important include prohibition of larger quantities of certain pathogens on passenger aircraft.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is currently Category B, and should be shipped as UN3373 Biological Substance Category B.

This might seem surprising to some but at the moment that’s the way the CDC and others have it classified.

What training is needed to ship the Corona Virus and other pathogens?

Our company, Transportation Development Group LLC has a variety of courses available to clients.  These employer certification programs can be found online or we can deliver this training in person.  These courses include:

Both courses include training on the shipping of dry ice, reagents or fixatives with these specimens.

Over the last 30 years our company has trained over 10,000 people in infectious substance shipping (over 60,000 overall). Just this past year TDG LLC travelled to East Africa to conduct training for medical workers in the field who needed to ship Ebola virus samples as well as other materials (lithium batteries, generators, cleaner/disinfectants) used in the fight against Ebola in Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan. See the full article.

In addition to the in-person training TDG LLC is training hundreds of field workers in Africa through our online training. 

Give us a call with any questions on shipping infectious substances or any Dangerous Good.