Authorities in Hong Kong, battling the
worst outbreak of avian flu in five years, have ordered the slaughter of all
live birds in the city's markets and banned the sale of live poultry. In 1997,
the city was the first place to report human cases of bird flu. Although the current outbreak is only in
fowl, some critics say the government has acted too slowly. Others say the sale
ban is hurting business. VOA's Kate Pound Dawson has this report, prepared by
producer Pros Laput in Hong Kong.
Within days after the deadly H5N1 strain was
discovered, all live chickens in Hong Kong markets had been killed and imports
of live poultry from mainland China were suspended.
"In our surveillance we were able to detect H5N1
in our environment,” said York Chow, Hong Kong's Food and Health Secretary. “We are able to …very quickly show that in four
of the markets, that they have very similar virus. And that's the reason why we
took very timely action to cull all the chicken and make sure the public is
China is the main source of Honk Kong's poultry. The government's order did not apply to
sales of pre-slaughtered and packaged poultry.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Lo Wing-lok says the
government did not move fast enough.
"In the past, should there be human cases of
H5N1 in Guangdong, all poultry importation from Guangdong will be stopped. But
now this no longer stands,” Lo added.
Lo says the government had too much confidence in its
system of certifying poultry farms in mainland China. A farm there can send
poultry to Hong Kong unless the bird flu virus is found on the farm.
"This is a big mistake because ... there could
be a mixture of poultry from authorized farm and poultry from unauthorized farm
all in the name of the authorized farm," Lo explains.
One man's family has sold chickens here for more
than 30 years. He says illegal chickens
are being brought into the city to meet the demand for fresh poultry.
A live chicken retailer said, "And with the
demand-supply theory, since the price keeps going up, there will be smuggling
Outside the Legislative Council building, he and
other chicken sellers call on the government to produce a policy on imports
that will save their businesses. The
government has promised to compensate shop owners whose chickens were confiscated
The government says regulations on poultry imports
will have to balance health safety with food needs. The ban on live poultry
from mainland China is to last for 21 days.
But Lo is worried.
"I'm worried about the complacency of the government.
If the government is complacent on H5N1, the government can be complacent in
other infectious diseases .... All these can have a major impact in the
community," he said.
The H5N1 virus has killed more than 240 people
worldwide, since 2003. Most caught the
disease from sick birds. But experts fear the virus will mutate into a form
that is easily passed to humans. In
crowded Hong Kong, that would be a disaster.