China's agriculture minister is warning of a possible massive bird flu outbreak as the country announced two new human cases of the deadly H5N1 flu strain.

China's state-owned media report Agriculture Minister Du Qinglin said authorities must be on "high alert" and step up efforts to control the disease. He says China culled 22.5 million birds last year to stem the spread of the virus.

Citing a Health Ministry statement, the Xinhua news agency said Saturday a nine-year-old girl from Zhejiang province and a 26-year-old woman from Anhui province tested positive for the H5N1 virus, and are in critical condition.

In France, President Jacques Chirac is urging people not to panic after confirmation of the deadly strain of bird flu at a turkey farm near Lyon.

An official of the country's agricultural union, Christine Lambert, expressed concern the development will hurt French exports.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.