Apparently pork is banned from today in Dubai probably in relation to the near pandemic of Swine Flu. Stock up now if you need to.

UPDATE: Here’s an article in today’s The National –

The Government has banned all imports of pork meat and derivatives, with immediate effect, as a precautionary measure against swine flu.

The ban, announced yesterday in a circular released by the General Secretariat of Municipalities, was imposed despite assurances from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that it is not possible to contract the flu virus from pork meat.

Doctors are concerned that the current outbreak of swine flu, a respiratory virus traced to pigs, may develop into a pandemic affecting millions worldwide. More than 150 people are suspected to have died from the virus so far in Mexico, and a 23-month-old Mexican toddler died yesterday while in the United States.

There are no confirmed cases in the Emirates, according to Dr Ali al Marzouqi, director of public health affairs at the Dubai Health Authority. One person with symptoms had contacted the authorities, but swab tests were negative.

Israel is so far the only country in the Middle East to be affected by the outbreak, with two people falling ill.

Several countries in Europe have confirmed cases.

Dr al Marzouqi, who is also on the committee to create a uniform action plan for the UAE, said airport staff were on alert for any passengers showing flu-like symptoms.

“We have not really had any alarms,” he said. “The airports have a protocol in case there are any suspected cases. But there is no formal screening procedure in place.”

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Etihad Airways said it had asked its 3,000 cabin crew to be vigilant, and would follow any instructions from the WHO regarding travel restrictions.

Dr Abdulla Abu Rwaidah, health and environmental consultant for the General Secretariat of Municipalities, said the ban on pork imports would be temporary and was meant to protect consumers, both Muslims and non-Muslims.

“We know that there is nothing, no problems in the UAE,” he said, but added that protection was better than “having to spend thousands of dirhams to heal a sick person”.

The WHO has advised people to regularly wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water and to seek medical attention if they suffer flu-like symptoms. It has repeatedly said there is no risk of swine flu from properly cooked pork meat. Still, Dr Rwaidah said countries needed to look out for themselves.

“Any recommendation from this organisation can be considered,” he said, “but at the moment we have to take our own measures to control this issue and not to have any gaps in this. Then later on, things can be discussed.”

Other Middle Eastern countries have taken strong measures. Egypt’s health ministry has ordered the cull of between 250,000 and 300,000 pigs. The health ministry in Saudi Arabia announced it would install thermal imaging machines similar to those in Asia to try to track the virus at its airports.

According to Leo Seaton, the media relations officer at Etihad Airways, the airline has asked its staff to take “necessary precautions and be vigilant of any passengers exhibiting any signs of flu/fever”.

Staff at all US airports were said to be monitoring passengers for signs of illness at check-in.

The executive committee set up in the UAE will meet other GCC health authorities in Doha next week and also attend another emergency meeting in Riyadh.

The Minister of Health, Humaid Mohammed Obaid al Qattami, tried to prevent any panic on Tuesday by declaring the UAE free of the virus.

* Additional reporting by Praveen Menon and Daniel Bardsley