Vegetables become scarce and costly as transporters stay away due to virus fearsPrices have increased by up to 200 percent, according to the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetables Market Development Board.
Retail prices of vegetables have tripled over a week following a contraction in supply as transporters stay away due to virus fears.
Fresh produce like tomato small and big, potato, cabbage, radish, French bean, sword bean, bitter gourd, pointed gourd, squash, balsam apple, green vegetable, capsicum and coriander green have become dearer by up to 200 percent, according to the retail price index of the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetables Market Development Board.
Binaya Shrestha, deputy director of the board, said that the wholesale price of vegetables had increased slightly as shipments slowed. Prices likely swelled further when the products reached the retail market.
The number of transporters has also declined due to the fear of Covid-19, leading to a drop in supply, he added.
The price of tomato rose sharply to Rs95 per kg on Friday from Rs55 last week. Green vegetables jumped threefold to Rs75 per kg from Rs25 a week ago. The price of cabbage also increased to Rs45 per kg, a jump of 28 percent.
Automobiles have been banned from the roads following the lockdown order, but the government has made an exception for vehicles carrying vegetables.
Agro product traders and even farmers are afraid to come out of their homes as the government has not provided any protective gear for their safety. For this reason, supply has been disrupted, said an official at the board.
Customers have been allowed to visit the vegetable market only from 2 to 7 am for the past three days, according to Shrestha. But it is open to vegetable suppliers all day, he said.
“If we keep the market open all day, it is sure to be crowded with vegetable sellers and buyers. So we close the market at 7 in the morning to comply with the social distancing directive.”
Shrestha added that the market received 603 tonnes of vegetables on Thursday and 280 tonnes till noon on Friday. Shipments amount to 800-850 tonnes daily during normal times. There is no change in vegetable consumption patterns, he said.
Deliveries at Kathmandu's second major produce bazaar, Balkhu Agriculture and Vegetable Market, have dropped by 60 percent, said administrator Resham Tamang.
At the same time, demand has grown with many valley dwellers staying away from meat. This has pushed up prices, said Tamang. Sales at the market averaged 600-650 tonnes daily during ordinary times.
Prem Lal Maharjan, president of the National Consumer Forum, said that this was a difficult time for everyone, and hiking prices of essentials to profit from the situation is the same as committing a crime.
The general people whose life has been made hard by the virus threat are being hit with a double whammy when vegetable prices increase threefold.
As market inspection is not possible at this time, the government should conduct awareness programmes and pressurise traders to comply with the law. “People are being overcharged for green vegetables,” he said.
According to Shrestha, the Kalimati market sources fresh vegetables from neighbouring districts like Kabhre, Makwanpur, Dhading, Chitwan and Sindhupalchok and imports tomato, potato and onion come from India.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of June 2, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 had spread to 213 countries and infected more than 6,321,836 people with 375,657 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 198,140 with 5,608 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 72,460 confirmed cases with 1,543 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 2,099 cases with eight deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.