When Nipah attacks chicken, fruits

“At first, they said the Nipah virus spreads through fruit-eating bats; and the prices of all fruits crashed. Then they said it spreads through chicken; now, the prices of chicken too have crashed. Now I wish they will say the virus spreads through petrol!”

(A meme that spreads through Whatsapp groups in Kerala).

For fruit vendors, chicken farmers, and vegetable traders in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts, where the Nipah virus has taken the lives of 14 people, the above meme is no joke — their businesses have been Nipah-hit.

For all practical purposes, the virus outbreak has now been contained, but the hit taken by the fruit and chicken trades could last long. Because of the scaremongering, hundreds of chicken shops and fruit vendors in the two districts downed their shutters, in the first few days. The shops are back now, but the sales are down.

Since the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have imposed restrictions on fruits and vegetable from Kerala, export of vegetables through the three international airports in Kerala have fallen drastically. A huge chunk of the fruit-and-vegetable exports to the Gulf countries is the banana.

Take a stroll in the streets and bylanes of the villages and small towns in the region, and you can see fallen mangoes strewn around. In this peak mango season, no one wants to pick up the ripe ones fallen from the branches hanging over the streets — for fear of the virus. For children, the bat-chewed mangoes used to have a special appeal: they are believed to be ripe and sweeter.

Fake messages on the social media have taken a toll on chicken sales. One fake WhatsApp message that used the official letterhead, office seal and seal of the district medical officer of Kozhikode, has this: “Lab tests have proven that the Nipah virus spreads through chicken. The Health Department has found that 60% of chicken coming from Tamil Nadu carries the virus. The department has asked not to eat chicken for the time being.” The police have now launched a probe.

“I don't know why, but the chicken farmers and traders take the first hit whenever there is an outbreak of an infection,” P.K. Kunjumon, president of the All-Kerala Chicken Merchants and Commission Agents Association, told The Hindu. “Be it chikungunya, dengue, bird flu or swine flu.” Mr. Kunjumon suspects that some “lobby” is working against the chicken trade. A large part of the chicken and eggs the Keralites eat every day comes from the Namakkal, Palladam and Erode regions of Tamil Nadu.

Though the virus outbreak has confined itself to the two northern districts, it has taken an economic toll all over the State. Particularly from chicken and fruits.

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Printable version | Oct 14, 2021 9:25:06 PM |

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