By Mayank Bhardwaj
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A false rumour that the coronavirus can be spread by chickens has slashed Indian poultry sales by almost 50%, top supplier Godrej Agrovet Ltd said on Thursday.
"A lot of misleading posts on social media, especially on WhatsApp, have created a false impression that humans can contract the coronavirus through chickens," Managing Director B.S. Yadav told reporters.
Sales have fallen to around 40 million birds a week from 75 million about four weeks ago, he said.
Other Indian poultry firms including Venky's have also cited rumours spread by social media for a fall in poultry-related sales.
A knock-on fall in prices has hurt farmers as well, Yadav said, noting farmers are now getting just 30-35 rupees ($0.42-$0.49) per bird, down from 80-85 rupees.
Some farmers have already started to cut production, as they can't afford animal feed and other costs of keeping a large inventory of birds, Yadav said.
For the first time, the number of reported new infections around the world in the past 24 hours surpassed those in mainland China, where the flu-like disease emerged two months ago.
Scientists say the new coronavirus originated in bats and then passed to humans, possibly via an intermediary animal species.
Like other coronaviruses, the new virus - which causes a disease called COVID-19 - is transmitted from person to person via droplets when an infected person breathes out, coughs or sneezes. It can also spread via contaminated surfaces such as door handles or railings.
"Even if people gradually realise that chicken consumption has nothing to do with the coronavirus, sales will take a bit of time to pick up as one can't raise chicken production overnight," Yadav said.
($1 = 71.8700 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; editing by Jason Neely)