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China Says More Wild Birds Dead of Flu; Denies Cover-Up of Foot and Mouth Disease

The director of the Chinese Agriculture Ministry's veterinary bureau, Jia Youling, told reporters in Beijing Friday, the number of wild birds found dead of avian influenza in the western province of Qinghai is much higher than the more than 150 reported a few days ago.

"Qinghai province … is already putting in place emergency measures, a tight blockade on the epidemic area, and (carrying out) disinfections to prevent domestic poultry, people and wild birds from exposure," said Mr. Jia.

The government has also sent three million bird flu vaccines, to prevent a spread of the H5N1 virus. The strain is the same one that killed at least 54 people in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia in the past two years.

The detection of bird flu in China comes as the government deals with questions of whether it has been open in its handling of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease among cattle in several regions.

For the first time ever, officials earlier this month announced small outbreaks of the disease in the eastern provinces of Shandong and Jiangsu, and on Friday said the situation is fully under control.

Chinese look at birds at a local bird and animal market in Beijing
Mr. Jia did not confirm the presence of the disease in other regions, as reported by foreign media that quote farmers as saying foot and mouth has been detected on cattle farms 80 kilometers from the capital. His reply suggested the government is concerned that publicity about the reports might hurt the country's meat exports.

"The Chinese government has no intention to hide the problem of the epidemic," said Mr. Jia. "Although the food-and-mouth disease cannot infect humans, it is a kind of 'international trade' disease. That is to say, it influences international trade."

Outside governments suspected the presence of foot-and-mouth disease in China long before the government quietly confirmed the outbreaks earlier this month.

Russia banned Chinese beef imports in September, after Beijing refused to launch an investigation of reported outbreaks. There have also been concerns in Hong Kong, where officials found the disease in beef brought in from mainland China.

Officials on Friday repeated their denial of a possible outbreak among pigs, following foreign news reports quoting Chinese pork industry officials as saying the disease has been present in central China since February.