10/21/2005, 00.00
CHINA

Beijing acknowledges bird flu situation is grave

Tighter controls are imposed after a new outbreak in Outer Mongolia. The World Health Organisation calls for full cooperation.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China's first reported outbreak of bird flu since August has killed 2,600 birds in Outer Mongolia and is raising alarm bells in Beijing and in capitals around the world.

Chinese authorities have said that the "situation is very grave" and taken drastic measures: quarantine within a 3-kilometre radius of the affected farm, 91,000 culled and more than 166,000 vaccinated.

Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu said that President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have ordered stepped-up vigilance against the spread of bird flu because, among other things, "autumn and winter are the peak seasons for bird flu in China." Mr Hui added that "the situation is grim and our task is heavy."

In Shanghai, authorities began checking the temperatures and sterilising the footwear of travellers arriving by land, sea and air.

The seriousness of the measures taken has led many observers to ask whether the Chinese government has reported all suspect cases.

Alphaluck Bhatiasevi, the spokeswoman for the World Health Organisation in Beijing, called on China's Ministry of Health to confirm the latest outbreak and asked if any human infections had been reported.

Hong Kong authorities said they were closely monitoring the situation in mainland China. "If it is proven to be a human-to-human transmission, then we will have to be very careful and close the border," Hong Kong's Secretary for Health, Welfare and York Chow Yat-ngok said.

Throughout Asia, the authorities are on maximum alert, especially for migratory birds.

Taiwan. Controls have been stepped up after smugglers tried to illegally import about a thousand birds, some infected. The population has been warned against smuggling poultry and wild birds into the country.

Vietnam. Ly Ngoc Kinh, an official with the Health Ministry, said today that the government will pay for the health care expenses of anyone who might be infected.

Thailand. The seven-year-old son of a man who died of the bird flu a few days ago is now under observation. It is thought that he might have helped his father in slaughtering the birds that were eventually eaten.

Indonesia. An official Health Ministry source said today that tests for the H5N1 virus on two people, a father and his son who were recently hospitalised, came up negative. Results from other tests sent to labs in Hong Kong for analysis have not yet been released. (PB)

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