Nipah virus scare: Fruit and vegetables from Kerala banned in Gulf
Posted: Jun 04, 2018
Last week, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain had ordered complete import restriction on fruit and vegetables from Kerala. Over this weekend, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait also announced officially that import in both categories would stop till further notice.
Since most countries in the region have similar and closely knit Customs rules, media reports from Oman suggest it might also follow.
The brain-damaging Nipah virus appeared in Kerala early last month. It is contagious and there is no vaccine for it. The natural host of the virus is a fruit bat of the Pteropodidae family, according to the World Health Organization. As a result, major importing nations are now wary of produce grown in Kerala and have also issued severe travel advisories against visiting the state. The timing is expected to hit the southern state hard, as fruit export generally swells in the hot month of Ramzan, currently on.
"Right now, it is difficult for Customs inspections at ports to find out whether any consignment is infected, since the foods do not show any physical signs. Other Indian states might come under the restriction if the virus spreads," said Ali Shaaban Balah, acting chief of the plant protection & quarantine section at the ministry of works, municipalities and urban planning in the government of Bahrain.
The Gulf region is India’s largest market for fruit and vegetables, with the UAE being the single biggest importing nation on both counts. Export to the nations in the Gulf cumulatively make about 35 per cent of all fruit shipment and nearly a quarter of all vegetable ones from India, according to data from the commerce ministry.
"There have been complaints from the industry whereby consignments have now started being turned away from Kuwait, Qatar and other nations but we are yet to receive formal communication from some of these countries," said a senior official here from the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority.
A prominent member of the bat species, the Greater Indian Fruit Bat inhabits large patches of the South Asian subcontinent. It is considered likely to transfer the disease to humans when they consume fruit on trees. Unfortunately for exporters, the bats are ‘generalist’ feeders, eating any fruit they can potentially find, according to a paper from the Research Centre for Biological Sciences in Madurai.
The mammals have a serious taste for all types of fruit — bananas to mangoes, dates, avocados, wild dates and any type of pulpy ones.
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