Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Public fears in Indonesia about an outbreak of bird flu that has killed four people in the capital after two children suspected of having the disease died and 11 other people were hospitalised with flu-like symptoms.
The government, accused of responding too slowly to the bird flu virus when it first started sweeping through chicken farms across the sprawling archipelago two years ago, scrambled to ward off an epidemic.
It has fired the country's chief of animal health control for allegedly failing to check the spread of the disease that has since jumped to humans and announced plans on Wednesday for mass slaughters of poultry in infected areas.
Forty-four hospitals have been prepared to accept bird flu patients and the government said it could forcibly admit anyone with symptoms of the disease.
"If things worsen it could become an epidemic," said Health Minister Siti Fadila Supari, who was planning to hold a press conference later Thursday.
The government is awaiting test results on the two and five-year-old girls who died Wednesday, as well as for the 11 patients hospitalised in Jakarta two after visiting a popular zoo that was closed earlier this week after eagles, peacocks and other birds were found to have the virus.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has swept through poultry populations in large swaths of Asia since 2003, killing at least 63 people and resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of birds.