Nipah outbreak: UAE bans fresh fruits, vegetables from Kerala
Dubai - As many as 14 people have died in Kerala after the outbreak of Nipah virus in the state early last week.
All fruits and vegetables imported from the state of Kerala, India, has been banned in the UAE by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MoCCAE), following the lethal Nipah virus outbreak.
More than 14 people in Kerala have died since the outbreak of the virus, which is caused by fruit bats. The virus is transmitted through secretions from the bat to the fruit it feeds on or touches, according to the ministry.
UAE issues Nipah high alert to airports, hospitals
The UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention had also issued a travel warning to Kerala this week and asked residents to avoid unnecessary travels to the state.
MoCCAE issued a statement to Khaleej Times on the ban, highlighting that two decisions on the banning of the imports of vegetable, fruit and animal products have been made. One is in the wake of Nipah Virus outbreak in Kerala while the other is based on a notification from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) of the outbreak of Rift Valley Fever disease in South Africa.
Nipah scare pushes several states to issue alerts
"These measures reiterate the ministry's keenness in achieving its strategic objectives to ensure healthy and safe food for consumers and enhance biosecurity levels and eliminating pathogens before they enter the country.
"The first decision came based on the information received and published on the World Health Organisation (WHO) website on the Nipah virus (NiV) outbreak in Kerala, India. Preliminary information indicates that the main host of the disease is the fruit bat, where the virus is transmitted through secretions from the bat to the fruit that it feeds on or touches. Mangoes, dates and bananas are bats' most preferred fruits. There have been cases of transmission of the disease among humans and between humans and animals as well.
"Based on Federal Law No. 10 of 2015 on food safety and in order to take the necessary precautionary measures, the ministry banned the imports of fresh vegetables and fruits from the state of Kerala in the Republic of India and issued a circular to the concerned local authorities including the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority and the municipalities of Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah to prevent the entry of all kinds of fresh vegetables and fruits from Kerala," the statement said.
The Dubai Municipality clarified that there will be no market recall on fruits and vegetables that have already been imported from Kerala. However, the rest of the items coming after the Nipah virus outbreak "will banned from coming in through the port".
Indian residents, especially Keralites, in the UAE are upset that they will not be having native fruits or vegetables. However, they are relieved that they will be protected against the virus.
Indian expat Loraine D'Souza said she will miss the fruits from Kerala, though, she feels "it is better to be safe than sorry".
"It (the ban) will definitely affect the Kerala community as they truly feel at home with all the imports of fruits and vegetables from Kerala. I will especially miss the Kerala bananas. But it is better to be safe than to catch a virus," she said.
A Keralite teen in the UAE, Praful Shivprasad, said he was due to visit Kerala this year, however, will no longer be going. "The food here comes from all over the world. If they issue a travel ban to Kerala, that will largely affect the community," he said. Praveen Kottavathil, founder of the community-run Naturebeatz, said he has had to temporarily stop all activities since the ban was imposed. Naturebeatz imports fresh organic fruits and vegetables from Kerala for direct distribution to households in the UAE.
"The spread of Nipah virus has a very negative effect on farmers in Kerala. Especially, over the last few years, vegetable farming in Kerala was seeing a boom. Farmers were exporting tonnes of fruits and vegetables internationally and local consumption was high as well. Since the outbreak, people are not even eating fruits grown in the backyard of their homes."
Ban on South African animal products
The second ban decision by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MoCCAE) was based on a notification from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) of the outbreak of Rift Valley Fever disease in South Africa. MoCCAE announced it has taken these precautionary measures:
1. Banned the import of all kinds of live animals (sheep, goats, cattle, buffaloes, camels, gazelles) and their non-heat-treated by-products from South Africa.
2. Banned the import of live animals (sheep, goats, cattle, buffalos, camels, gazelles) and their non-heat-treated by-products from the infected Letsemeng province.
3. However, thermally treated products from all parts of South Africa have been cleared for import. "MoCCAE spares no effort to provide healthy and safe food to consumers in accordance with best international practices in order to enhance consumer confidence in the safety of food traded in the country. The ministry works relentlessly to achieve its strategic objectives in promoting food safety and sustainability of local production in line with the UAE Vision 2021. The UAE places the highest priority on food safety and relies on stringent control systems with regard to imported food in order to protect consumer health," the ministry said in a statement.
Popular fruits from Kerala that UAE people will miss
> Seethaappazham (custard apple)
> Omaikka (Papaya)
> Palayankodan, sahasrapadali, ayiram poovan, poovan, nenthran, kumpillakannan (varieties of bananas)
> Muttan varikka or then varikka (jackfruit/honey-jack)
The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment calls upon the public to take the following precautionary measures when they purchase and eat fresh fruits:
1. Make sure that the fruits are ripe, fresh and non-withered and not wet, colour-changed or overripe.
2. Before eating fruit, make sure that there are no visible defects on them, such as pest infections, cuts, marks, dirt or deformities.
3. Make sure that the fruits are free from any strange smell or taste.
4. The package should not contain any damaged fruit.
5. Wash fresh vegetables and fruits well before eating them.
6. Do not consume juices unless you confirm its source.
Safety tips when travelling to Kerala
According to the World Health Organisation, these measures should be taken to reduce the risk of infection in people while in Kerala.
In the absence of a licensed vaccine, the only way to reduce infection in people is by raising awareness of the risk factors and educating people about the measures they can take to reduce exposure to and decrease infection from NiV.
Public health educational messages should focus on the following:
> Reducing the risk of bat-to-human transmission: Efforts to prevent transmission should first focus on decreasing bat access to date palm sap and to other fresh food products. Keeping bats away from sap collection sites with protective coverings (e.g. bamboo sap skirts) may be helpful. ?Freshly collected date palm juice should be boiled and fruits should be thoroughly washed and peeled before consumption.
> Reducing the risk of animal-to-human transmission: Gloves and other protective clothing should be worn while handling sick animals or their tissues, and during slaughtering and culling procedures.
> Reducing the risk of human-to-human transmission: Close unprotected physical contact with Nipah virus-infected people should be avoided. Regular hand washing should be carried out after caring for or visiting sick people.