Imtiyaz Ahmed Sheikh and Shafiya Khan
Srinagar: Even as Kashmir, like rest of the world, is struggling to contain Covid-19 transmission risks, anotheŕ worry has just popped up in the valley: high-density apple plants imported from Italy and other countries.
Government’s Horticulture Department says that this year it is yet to receive HD apple plants from Italy but it admits that several private companies are receiving the plants from Italy and other European countries.
Although plant pathology and micro-biology experts Ziraat Times reached to are unclear about the specific incubation and transmission risks of Covid-19 virus from humans to plants and, again, to humans, they are not ruling out the risk of transmission.
Pertinetly, Kashmir imports lakhs of high density apple plants every year from Italy and other European countries, which, in the current circumstances, are feared to pose potential transmission risks in Kashmir.
Ajaz Ahmed Bhat, Director Horticulture Department, Kashmir, told Ziraat Times that they haven’t got any consignment [of HD apple plants] from Italy yet, but from Netherlands.
“However, whatever we received from Netherlands we have taken up their quarantine issues with SKUAST-K for guidance. We are taking all measures required”, he added.
The Department, however, admits that there are several private companies that have ordered plants from Italy.
“One private importer is importing the apple plants from Italy. We are in touch with him. Consignment has been despatched earlier by ship. We are taking all precautions”, Mr Ajaz further said.
Meanwhile, experts at Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST-K) insist that “utmost precautions need to taken under the present circumstances.”
Prof Farooq Ahmed Zaki, former Dean Horticulture, SKUAST-K, while insisting that “the imported material certainly need to be sanitized and fumigated by the appropriate set of recommended chemicals”, he also recommends “utmost careful handling during transportation and planting in the field if there is a compulsion to carry out these planting.”
“I vehemently and strongly suggest to have opinion of a medical expert who is well versant with survival and longevity of the virus outside the human body under the temperature regimes and conditions under which the plant material had been stored, handled and transported in foreign countries. Hope our economic activity does not become a cause of concern for human life and welfare”, Prof Zaki further said.
Director Extension, SKAUST-K, Mushtaq Ahmed, did not respond to Ziraat Times’ queries on the matter.
How widespread is the concern:
On Saturday, several pathology experts in Kashmir raised fears that without proper quarantine, which is usually the case, the imported HD apple plants from Italy could carry the Covid-19 virus to Kashmir.
“It is very much possible that the Italy HD plants have been handed by hands during storage, transportation and handling that had Covid-19. Since the trees are usually moist, the virus can survive for days together in the plant”, a pathology expert at a quarantine facility in South Kashmir said.
Former senior official and a horticulture expert, Sarwar Naqash agrees, “Quarantineless, yes [there is A possibility]. We should stop if we are really importing from Italy and such other countries”, Mr Naqash said, in response to a query.
So far not much is known of Covid 19 transmission through plant materials. An article published on Feb. 6 in The Journal of Hospital Infection, which looked at a host of previous studies (22 in total) found coronaviruses may persist on surfaces for up to nine days. However, its incubation and survival chances on moist, plant materials, host to many other pathogens, can be much higher, experts believe.
“Though not much is known about this virus so far but the fact is that the plants imported from abroad needs to be kept in quarintine facilities before actual plantation in fields”, says Javed Ahmed, District Horticulture Officer, Srinagar.
“However, the imports which are being made this year and the imports on way to valley, especially during present scenario, needs to be dealt with utmost care”, Mr Javed insists.
A leading private importer of HD plants from Italy told Ziraat Times that he “has not heard of the virus spreading through planting material. All planting material is approved by designated quarantine authority of the country before it is shipped”.
“Furthermore, the plant quarantine department of India also checks the shipment before they release it at the port, I dont think there is anything to worry”, he said.
However, there are many others who believe no chances can be taken.
“As per reports, corona virus may be present on many objects other than human. There may be more chances of its presence in planting materials that has been imported from Italy. If a single virion particle may be present in planting material it may have got contact with the first person who touched it. This person could become the source of infection spread. There is a way to get rid of from this virus by giving hot air treatment to planting material and spray of chemicals as per guidelines given by the GOI”, says Altaf Ahmed Wani, a plant pathologist from Sirhama, Anantnag (Islamabad).