01/04/2006, 00.00
CHINA - HONG KONG

Bird flu: Hong Kong stops poultry imports from Sichuan

There has been a new outbreak of the epidemic in Sichuan on 22 December, made public only yesterday. The Hong Kong government reacted immediately despite official assurances that the situation was "under control". FAO fears "more numerous epidemic outbreaks" in China.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – New outbreaks of infection occurred in the southwest province of Sichuan on 22 December but they were reported by the Chinese authorities only yesterday. Hong Kong has suspended poultry imports from the area while FAO has warned of the risk of more infections.

Testing confirmed the infectious outbreak in Sichuan yesterday. On 22 December, more than 1,800 birds were found dead in Dazhu county. To control the infection, more than 12,900 birds were culled in Liu Jian village, Yang Jia city. There have been 26 epidemic outbreaks since 19 October.

The Agriculture Minister yesterday described the situation as "under control". But the Hong Kong government, informed about the outbreak only last night after the official results of testing were out, today suspended poultry imports from Sichuan.

There is fear of further outbreaks of infection, especially in small domestic breeding grounds which are difficult to monitor.

Noureddin Mona, China representative for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, said: "In China, the problem is that 50-60 percent of the poultry is operated on small-scale farms in the backyard, which provides the ideal life for the virus to jump between different species of poultry. In wintertime, we really are concerned because the risk is higher. The more the environment is ideal for the virus the more outbreaks we are expecting."

Concern is on the rise about the Chinese Lunar New Year at the end of January, when consumption of poultry meat and transport of live birds increases in the festive season.

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