Dates sales take a big hit over MERS rumors

Updated 13 July 2013
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Dates sales take a big hit over MERS rumors

Rumors about Saudi dates having been infected with the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has led to a slump in sales of the commodity in some areas.
Many expatriates and Saudis are no longer eating the fruit because they fear contracting the disease. Many news reports have been published on the Internet to warn people they should only eat dates if they wash them well. The virus has killed a number of people in the Kingdom.
The rumors started circulating recently because of an incorrect understanding of a study published recently by a team of researchers that found the virus in bats in "Europe and beyond." Without reading the study carefully, people in the Middle East thought bats living in palm trees in this region were infecting dates.
An author of the study, Dr. Christian Drosten, a coronavirus expert and director of the Institute of Virology at the University of Bonn Medical Centre in Germany, said that while bats with the virus are likely found in many parts of the world, it was not certain that bats in the Middle East spread the virus.
He said bats in the Middle East have to be tested first to determine if they have the virus. The study, published by the International Society for Infectious Diseases, makes no mention of dates being infected.
The study also has no answer to why the virus has been found largely in Saudi Arabia.
People are concerned because Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), that killed many people in the past, and is a relative of MERS, was spread through bat urine and feces to other animals and then humans.
There has been no confirmation yet from any official body in the Kingdom or elsewhere that bats are responsible for the spread of MERS in Saudi Arabia.
Date traders here say sales are down.
Abu Ali, who sells dates at a vegetable souk, said: "We've noticed that demand for dates is lower this year. For example, we only receive customers who are elderly and almost only Saudis," he said.
He said that he usually buys 40 kg of dates from Al-Ahsa, but this year he bought only 20 kg. "Even the 20 kg was too much. I failed to sell half of them," he said.
Mohammed Ali, a Yemeni salesman at a big market, said he also failed to sell his dates. He said he does not know what was published about coronavirus and bought dates as usual, even though prices had jumped 15 percent.
"After I got the dates, I failed to sell most of it. I tried to sell the dates among relatives and uneducated people because they don’t know about the coronavirus," he said.
Many people in Jordan and Egypt have received SMSs warning them about eating Saudi dates.
Rama Abu Hassan, a Jordanian who performs Umrah every five years, said she decided not to buy Saudi dates after receiving an SMS on her mobile.
"Buying dates is one of the main things that we usually do when we visit the Kingdom, but this year I was worried and decided not to buy dates. Even my neighbors and relatives in Jordan bought Jordanian dates and avoided Saudi dates," she said.


Citizen rewarded after new car turned out to be used

Updated 15 min 22 sec ago
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Citizen rewarded after new car turned out to be used

RIYADH: A citizen from Buraidah has been rewarded by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment (MCI) for complaining about a commercial fraud. He exposed an auto agency who sold him a “new car” which turned out to be second-hand with a chequered history.
The MCI granted a reward of SR25,000 to Hamad Faleh Al-Qahtani, who reported the fraud.
He bought a new car from the auto agency and made the full payment, but soon realized he had been given a second-hand car.
Not only was it used but it had also been in a crash and been repaired and repainted, which was contrary to what had been agreed upon and in violation of the Anti-Commercial Fraud Law. The ministry followed up the matter with investigations to find the truth and take legal action.
The matter was referred to the public prosecution and then to the Administrative Court in Buraidah, which issued the final verdict that the agency was guilty of violating the Anti-Commercial Fraud Law.
The agency was fined SR100,000 ($26,687). Article 11 of the Anti-Commercial Fraud Law states that anyone reporting a case of commercial fraud which is found to be true upon investigation shall be granted 25 percent of the value of the fine.
The MCI honors 100 informers by granting them financial rewards and gifts on World Consumer Rights Day, which is observed on March 15 every year to foster global awareness about consumer rights and needs. The day was inspired by US president John F. Kennedy, the first world leader to formally address the issue of consumer rights.
The consumer movement first marked that date in 1983 and uses it every year to mobilize action on important issues.
The MCI has urged consumers to report commercial frauds through the Consumer Call Center (1900), through the application of a commercial violation report and through the ministry’s website.