Hyderabad: The nationwide lockdown has entered its fourth phase and despite measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, India continues to report new positive cases every day. The total number of cases has already crossed 90,000 in the country.
Amidst this, there are reports of an unidentified virus that is attacking tomatoes in Maharashtra. The virus, named Tiranga virus, has destroyed about 5,000 acres of the crop. On 13 May, TV9 Bharatvarsh, a Hindi news channel, reported that this virus is more fatal than COVID-19 and will spread to humans if the tainted crops are consumed. The broadcast video has gone viral on various social media platforms with people claiming that the virus found is tomato is more dangerous than the Corona virus and urging others to "stay away from tomato".
The TV9 Bharatvarsh report also claimed that the virus changes the shape and colour of tomatoes and they develop pits and turn black from the inside.
This claim is false.
On 12 May, several mainstream media outlets reported that an unidentified virus was attacking tomato crops in Ahmed Nagar in Maharashtra. According to a report published in Zeenews India, the farmers reported that the leaves of the tomato plants were drying fast and the tomatoes were developing irregular shapes and colour and were ripening early.
According to theHinduBusineesLine.com, the destructive wave seemed to be similar in its intensity to the 2017 pink bollworm attack on cotton.
This disease has caused great distress among farmers as their crops have not responded to any known treatment. The lockdown has also affected the movement of farmers and scientists from various agricultural universities to identify the cause of the plant disease, the Indian Express reported.
According to Siasat, social media and local TV channels were creating fear among people by calling the virus Tiranga or Red virus and claiming that it was more dangerous than Corona virus. The fact is, the tomato virus and its effects on human health are not known yet.
All of the above reports explained that the samples of the infected crop were sent for testing and the results are awaited. No report claimed that this virus is more dangerous than the Corona virus and can spread to humans if the tomatoes are consumed.
According to Agri News Network, India, the horticulture commissioner of the department of agriculture cooperation and farmers welfare, Dr BNS Murthy, has taken strict note of the false news report aired by TV9 claiming that eating tomatoes afflicted by the Tiranga virus "would cause much more complications than that of Corona virus".
In a letter written to the channel, Dr Murthy said he came across a news report aired by the channel on 'New Tiranga virus on tomato'. In his letter, Dr Murthy said: "Though the fact is partially correct that the farmers are suffering due to a still-unidentified cause (efforts are on in fast-track mode by national research institutions), the second part of the story that eating such fruits would cause much more complications than that of Corona virus is absurd. As of date, no plant virus affecting plants has affected human beings as they lack the receptors for such an infection."
We also found another video by TV9 Bharatvarsh which rubbished the claims that it had aired such a report and instead blamed social media for spreading such rumours.
Therefore, the claim that an unidentified virus attacking tomatoes is more fatal than Corona virus is false.