Are Coronavirus / COVID-19 samples classified as Category A or Category B Biological Substances?

It may be surprising to some but COVID-19 (The Novel Coronavirus) should be shipped as Biological Substance Category B.  Part of the rationale (in our opinion – but we’re not the regulators) include the following:

  1. The virus while highly contagious is not as deadly as most that are assigned Category A.  SARS  and Swine Flu were both assigned to UN3373 Biological Substance, Category B, in the past.
  2. Category B makes it easier to ship logistically.  It can be carried on both passenger and cargo aircraft and in the United States enjoys broad exceptions for ground shipping by medical courier.
  3. Category B packaging still consists of a triple-pack packaging system capable of withstanding the pressure and temperature differentials found in air transportation.
  4. Category B enjoys fewer handling and training restrictions/burdens than does Category A.

COVID-19 training only requires Category B training… you can, of course take Cat A and B but you don’t have to.

COVID-19 may be quite contagious and dangerous to many but it’s not on the same level as Cat A pathogens, in general.  Shippers DO have to watch out for airline variations regarding Cat B shipments.  Some airlines have imposed extra requirements calling for Cat A type packaging even for Cat B.

Having the Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) designated as Category B Biological Substances reduces packaging costs and the regulatory burden overall. However some airline operators have decided that they want the more stringent packing requirements for Category A substances to apply to UN3373 biological substances even though that’s not a requirement of the regulations.

Examples of some carriers who do this are Deutsche Lufthansa (LH), Austrian Airways (OS) and Brussels Airlines (SN).

You can see a full listing of all of our Biological/Infectious training programs.

Register online for our IATA Biological Substances | Cat. B Shipping Certification. Below is a screen shot of the training program.