Virus spread prompts mass slaughter

by Niki Law and Reuters

A total of 1.2 million poultry will be slaughtered to prevent the further spread of the H5N1 bird flu virus, the Government announced on Friday.

Secretary for the Environment and Food, Lily Yam Kwan Pui-ying said the decision for drastic action, to be completed by Monday, was due to the rapid spread of the virus.

"The fact that infected poultry were found in the New Territories, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island signifies a rapid spread of the virus," Mrs Yam said.

By the end of Friday night all the poultry of ten infected food markets will be destroyed.

The slaughter of every single chicken, goose, duck and quail in the SAR, likely to be mature enough to be sold within the next few weeks, will then take place on Saturday.

Mrs Yam also banned all poultry exports from the mainland. "This does not mean the virus comes from mainland [chicken], because it can be transmitted by air." However, no infected chicken had been found on any farm in the SAR, she said.

Hong Kong consumes around 100,000 fresh chickens a day and imports around 70 per cent of its poultry from the mainland. Poultry on SAR farms would be dealt with last - on Monday.

Mrs Yam stressed the virus would not affect humans, and was different from a deadly strain of H5N1 that killed six people in Hong Kong in late 1997 and early 1998, and led to the culling of all 1.4 million of the territory's poultry, but she said public confidence was a major reason for taking the decision, which will cost the Government $80 million in compensation paid to vendors.

"Although the Government and medical experts have been reassuring the public that the strain of H5N1 poses no health risk, public confidence is badly shaken as shown by the dwindling poultry sales," she said.

The markets closed down on Friday include a Tai Shing Street market in Wong Tai Sin, two markets in Tuen Mun, two in Shamshuipo, one in Kwun Tong, and one in Wan Chai.

The decision to close the seven markets on Friday was made after lab reports came back on 70 chickens which died yesterday in Wong Tai Sin. One hundred more died there today.

Three markets were shut down and more than 6,000 chickens slaughtered on Wednesday after 797 birds died from the virus the previous day. (South China Morning Post, May 18, 2001)

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