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Gambia: Looking a gift horse in the mouth?

Beijing’s decision to ship 5000 metric tons of rice as relief aid to The Gambia may be inspired by the best of intentions to help tackle food insecurity, but the coronavirus outbreak has left many people wary of the unintended consequences of taking chances with consumables from China.Explaining the rationale behind the aid, China’s main man in Banjul, Ma Jianchun said, the gesture is a response to the consequences of last year’s erratic rains which threatened crop failure and food insecurity in the country. 

The rice from China is the latest in a series of assistance from Beijing to The Gambia since the countries restored diplomatic relations in 2016 after a 22-year breakup.

The Chinese diplomat hailed what he called the fine diplomatic ties between Banjul and Beijing,  which have been strengthened under the new government led by President Adama Barrow. 

However, the timing of the donated rice has left many Gambians wary and literally looking the proverbial gift horse in the mouth thanks to lingering fears over the marauding coronavirus which began in China’s Wuhan and spread to other parts of the world in the last two months. 

“This is not the best time to receive food aid or anything from China” said Mohammed Batchilly while listening to news on the radio about the donation which will be shipped to The Gambia shortly.

“It is far from safe….and we should not take chances with a disease that can cause our people harm” Batchilly warned adding as an afterthought that Gambians do not expect China to send contaminated rice to their country.

“I don’t think is safe to  accept rice from China at this moment, who knows it could be entangled  with the virus,” a concern Gambian who preferred to remain anonymous told the African Press Agency, shaking his head ruefully.

For Maimuna Beyai, the government should have investigated how the consignment of rice was kept in China before it was cleared for shipment and eventual consumption in The Gambia where food safety standards still leave a lot to be desired.

Animals like rats are possible carriers of the coronavirus, she said and they may come into contact with food stocks, a reason why Gambians should be wary especially the country’s food safety and quality authority. 

 Another anonymous Gambian warned that these are unusual times for the world which requires safety precautions in a country like The Gambia which is synonymous with weak health systems across the continent.

Although there has been no known case of the virus in The Gambia despite a scare, Gambians are desperate for news about their compatriots holed up in China where they have been staying as students.

Gambia’s Health ministry announced several safety measures including proper screening of arrivals at the country’s only airport.

President Adama Barrow recently expressed solidarity with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping as the world’s second biggest economy scrambles to tackle the deadly respiratory disease which has killed at least 1, 370 people so far. 

The disease is a group of viruses in mammals and birds which can  cause respiratory infections in the form of common cold, flu and  pneumonia in humans. 

Other variations are the more serious SARS, and MERS which can lead to death in humans.

There have been 60, 409 confirmed cases since December 1st last year.

The Chinese government said it was intensifying effort to tackle the health crisis and claimed it is gradually containing the spread of the virus despite a new spike in coronavirus cases on February 12 and 13.

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