UAE tightens scrutiny of camel shipments from GCC
Live animals to be kept in quarantine for 24-28 hours till laboratory tests are done
KT File Photo
The UAE has tightened the scrutiny of camel shipments from GCC countries in view of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers), the Ministry of Environment and Water has confirmed.
Shipments from GCC countries will undergo stringent screening for Mers coronavirus (Mers-CoV), the state news agency Wam reported, clarifying the ministry’s stand three days after it refused to confirm reports of a temporary ban on the import of live camels.
The shipments will be quarantined for 24 to 28 hours until laboratory tests are conducted.
Earlier this week, the ministry had said stringent measures were already in place to monitor the import of camels. The standard monitoring procedure includes testing camels for the epidemic and veterinary quarantine at all UAE ports. The ministry said it will not allow any livestock shipment which does not meet import requirements.
In its latest statement, the ministry has said that it is implementing strict veterinary and biosecurity protocols as well as preventive measures against animal infections and epidemic diseases at border checkpoints to ensure the camels imported from the GCC are free from diseases, including brucellosis and Mers.
It said these measures are part of its policy to protect public health and keep local animal wealth safe from imported epidemic and communicable diseases.
Prof Ulli Wernery, the UAE’s top veterinary expert on Mers, welcomed the move.
“I am very happy to hear this,” Prof Wernery said. “This is exactly the right step.
“This is particularly important because in GCC countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman they have isolated the CoV strain that infects human beings from camels.
“The same strain was found in camels in Egypt, as well. But I don’t think there is any camel import here from Egypt.” Prof Wernery, the scientific director of the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL) in Dubai, had attended a top meeting on Mers in Saudi Arabia recently.
The expert, who has called for testing camels used for fun rides by tourists, said samples tested in the UAE camels have remained negative so far: “But we have tested only about 50 so far at the CVRL. We need to test more, especially the ones used by tour operators. It’s not an expensive test. It costs about Dh150 to Dh200 per camel.”
The ministry is yet to issue any instruction on this.
Some newspapers and websites in the UAE on Sunday reported that the ministry had announced a temporary ban on the import of live camels, quoting tweets from the ministry’s official twitter handle @MoEWUAE.
However, officials did not confirm this and no related tweets were found on the ministry’s Twitter page.
Instead, the ministry issued a statement clarifying that in collaboration with its strategic partners it is monitoring the epidemic situation of all animal diseases, including the latest developments related to the deadly Mers-CoV.
The partners include international agencies such as the OIE-World Organisation for Animal Health, and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The ministry added that in cooperation with local animal health authorities, it was implementing strict precautionary measures in farms and other livestock possessions. The measures include testing animals and restricting their movement in case they have any infection.
As part of the control measures, disinfection and sterilisation will also be conducted while all livestock in neighbouring farms are being tested.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed
A Health Authority-Abu Dhabi, Ministry of Health and Dubai Health Authority guide to Mers-CoV
What is Mers?
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is a respiratory illness caused by a virus called the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (Mers-CoV).
Is the Mers-CoV the same as the Sars virus?
It is not the same virus that caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) epidemic in 2003. However, like the Sars virus, Mers-CoV is most similar to the coronaviruses found in bats. Scientists are still learning about Mers.
What are the symptoms of Mers?
Most people who got infected developed severe acute respiratory illness with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About half of them died. Some people were reported as having a mild respiratory illness.
Does it spread from person to person?
The method of transmission is not known. The virus has been shown to spread between people in close contact. Transmission from infected patients to healthcare personnel has also been observed. Clusters of cases in several countries are being investigated.
What is the source of the virus?
We don’t know for certain where the virus came from. It probably came from an animal source. In addition to humans, Mers-CoV has been found in camels in Qatar and a bat in Saudi Arabia. Camels in a few other countries have also tested positive for antibodies to Mers-CoV, indicating they were previously infected with Mers-CoV or a closely related virus. However, we don’t know whether camels are the source of the virus. More information is needed to identify the possible role that camels, bats, and other animals may play in the transmission of the virus.
What are the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (Haad) and UAE Ministry of Health (MoH) doing about Mers?
Haad is monitoring the situation very closely in collaboration with MoH and they wish to reassure the public that the current situation is not a public health concern.
Can I still travel to countries in the Arabian peninsula or neighbouring countries where Mers cases have occurred?
Yes. It is not recommended that anyone change their travel plans because of Mers. Travellers to countries in or near the Arabian peninsula are however advised to follow standard precautions, such as hand washing and avoiding contact with people who are ill.
What if I recently travelled to countries in the Arabian peninsula or neighbouring countries and got sick?
If you develop a fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as a cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days of travelling from countries in the Arabian peninsula or neighbouring countries, you should see your healthcare provider and mention your recent travel.
How can I protect myself?
People are advised to follow these tips:
> Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
> Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.
> Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
> Avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils, with sick people.
> Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.
Is there a vaccine?
No, but virologists are discussing the possibility of developing one.
What are the treatments?
There are no specific recommended treatments. Medical care is supportive and to help relieve symptoms.
Is there a lab test?
Tests (the polymerase chain reaction) are available in some accredited labs.
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