Too little too late? Pakistan issues new COVID-19 guidelines for food industry amidst rampant rumours and speculation
The new guidelines were announced by PFA Director General Irfan Memon, emphasising the need for both PFA and the local food industry to adhere to practices that have been advised by global healthcare experts worldwide.
Apart from the common instructions to avoid handshakes, touching one’s eyes, mouth and nose with unwashed hands, constantly cleaning hands with sanitiser, respiratory etiquette and using a mask when ill, Memon also directed all companies within the food industry (both manufacturing and foodservice) to display posters or charts describing precautionary measures ‘at prominent places’.
“Prevention is the best weapon to prevent coronavirus,” said Memon.
“[All PFA officials must take action] to ensure the implementation of these precautionary measures.”
PFA made the announcement on March 14, the same day the number of COVID-19 cases in the country rose to 33 - but this may have been too little too late, as over the next three days infected cases rose sharply to hit 184 by March 17.
This increase was attributed to the release of many suspected cases from a quarantine centre in the town of Taaftaan, where hundreds of returnees from COVID-19-stricken Iran were quarantined for 14 days, raising fears that Pakistan’s quarantine had been ‘ineffective’, according to Al Jazeera.
In addition to a rising number of cases, the PFA was also forced to confront speculations spreading all over the province that it had released a statement saying that the consumption of mutton would lead to the spread of COVID-19.
Although the original source of this rumour has yet to be identified, the PFA released various statements saying that several fake Facebook pages had been set up in the agency’s name to spread this rumour and urged the public not to believe in these.
“[The] Punjab Food Authority [has] clarified that [we] did not share any news concerning the use of mutton [possibly] leading to coronavirus among people. Kindly do not believe [this] fake news,” said the PFA via multiple comments on its Facebook page.
Memon also made a public video address to emphasise this point, likely due to alleviate any economical impacts that could result from these speculations as mutton is one of the most popular meat sectors in the country.
Adulteration still rampant as well
Apart from fighting an increasingly difficult battle against COVID-19, the PFA has also had to combat incessant food adulteration in Punjab, the numbers of which appear to not have declined by much despite continuous raids and penalties being dealt out.
Even more worrying has been the fact that all violations that have been caught so far have always been in large quantities. These would more often than not have to be disposed, meaning that large amounts of food would go to waste, an especially concerning issue given that COVID-19 has been interrupting food supply chains worldwide.
Examples in March 2020 alone have included tens of thousands of litres of adulterated milk, vegetables from over 14,000 square metres of land that were irrigated with untreated wastewater, almost 300kg of ‘unhygienic’ chicken, and thousands of kilogrammes of expired cooking oils.