11/02/2005, 00.00
ASIA

In China newspapers can report on the bird flu only if authorised

The new directive is issued at a time when Beijing claims it is not hiding anything. Asia-Pacific countries seek a common strategy to deal with the problem.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China's press needs an authorisation before it can print any news about the avian flu, whilst Asia-Pacific countries announce they must adopt a common strategy to deal with the bird flu problem.

In China the Publicity Department ordered newspapers to seek approval from the authorities before publishing any reports on new outbreaks of bird flu and on any animal or human deaths which might result.

The move came in the wake of remarks by Qi Xiaoqiu, director of China's Department of Disease Control, that Beijing had learned the lessons of the SARS outbreak, when it was heavily criticised for initially covering up the illness.

"From SARS, we can see that no . . . information can be hidden," Mr Qi said on Monday whilst visiting the United States. "We have policies to encourage farmers to report possible outbreaks," including financial aid to farmers who quickly reported sick birds to the authorities.

China's domestic poultry population is more than 14 billion, Mr Qi said—50 per cent of Asia's total—and more than half the birds are raised in small, scattered, often rural farms, making detection and treatment a challenge.

Controversy still surrounds the dealth of 12-year-old He Yin in Wantang (Hunan) on October 16. Despite claims by Chinese authorities she died of pneumonia, World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesperson in Beijing, Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, still insists on the need to have more information to confirm or refute any link with the avian flu.

The information provided by the Chinese authorities does not explain what tests were conducted, and where. For the WHO it is necessary to determine whether the girl came into contact with poultry; it also wants tests done on the dead chickens. But to do so, it needs an authorisation from Chinese authorities to visit the area. "We offered our assistance," Ms Aphaluck said, "but it is up to the government to let us go there or not."

In the meantime, Asian governments have stressed the need for a common strategy against the virus.

"This is no longer a country problem—it is a global community problem. It is not respectful of any boundaries . . . In dealing with this threat, we have to work together," said Ong Keng Yong, Secretary-General of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), in Hong Kong.

Fighting the spread of bird flu in impoverished South-East Asian nations will cost US$ 102 million in the next two-to-three years, said Subhash Morvaria, a senior United Nations official who was speaking on Tuesday at a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group in Brisbane, Australia.

"As long as the disease remains in the domestic poultry sector, there is going to be a threat to humans. So the focus has to be in the animals," he said.

Representatives from Vietnam and Cambodia, both hit with human bird flu deaths, appealed at the same meeting for financial and technical help from their neighbours, saying they simply don't have the resources to fight the disease alone.

The issue will be further tackled at another APEC meeting scheduled to take place in mid-November in South Korea.

China. Chinese drug maker Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group has asked Roche for the right to manufacture antiviral drug Tamiflu.

Vietnam. In Dong Hoi (Quang Binh province), Vietnam-Cuba Hospital director Nguyen Ngoc Tai said that it has not been possible to determine the cause of death of two local residents because they have already been buried. The two lived respectively in Bo Trach and Quang Trach districts where the authorities said the "situation was very worrying" because people are not taking any precaution. Local poultry has not been vaccinated for lack of vaccine.

Thailand. A new outbreak has been reported among chickens and pigeons in Ang Thong province, in the central part of the country. The virus has affected so far 7 of the country's 76 provinces but in another 39 there have large losses of birds. Tests results on possible causes are still being conducted.

Malaysia. There are concerns over illegal imports of domestic birds and fighting cocks from Indonesia. Imports are banned and can be punished with up to two years of jail time. (PB) 

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