Sun, Feb 01, 2004 - Page 1 News List

WHO appeals for action by China against avian flu

TIMING CRUCIAL The world health body urged the Chinese government to step up measures to contain the disease and test for human infections

By Cody Yiu  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AGENCIES

The World Health Organization appealed yesterday for more urgent action by China against bird flu, warning that its "window of opportunity" to contain the disease might be slipping away as the government expanded its ban on poultry exports to three new areas with suspect cases.

The government tried to reassure foreign customers of its huge poultry industry, announcing tighter health controls on chickens, ducks and other birds from areas still allowed to export.

The WHO called on the communist government to share more information about the disease, step up monitoring for possible human cases and to take precautions so that workers engaged in the mass slaughter of birds aren't accidentally infected.

The appeal came after China on Friday announced confirmed cases in its central provinces of Hunan and Hubei and suspected cases in the financial capital of Shanghai and the provinces of Anhui in the east and Guangdong in the south. The country's first confirmed case was found Tuesday in a duck in the southern region of Guangxi.

"We have repeatedly said there is a brief window of opportunity to act within China," Dr. Julie Hall, a WHO official in Beijing, said in a statement issued by the agency. "This latest news strongly suggests that the window is getting smaller with each passing day."

China has reported no human cases of the disease that has been found in 10 Asian countries. Eight people have died in Vietnam and two in Thailand.

China on Friday banned poultry exports from Shanghai, Anhui and Guangdong, adding to a prohibition already in place on Hunan, Hubei and Guangxi, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong, is where the earliest cases of what would become SARS were reported in November, 2002.

In the eastern province of Shandong, a major poultry exporter with no reported cases, producers were told to restrict access to farms and undergo hygiene inspections, Xinhua said. It said Shandong exports up to 350,000 tonnes of poultry products every year.

State newspapers tried to reassure China's public that the virus was under control, showing government workers in masks, gloves and head-to-toe protective suits spraying disinfectant on poultry farms.

As a result of the outbreak in China of the fatal form of bird flu, the Council of Agriculture had started slaughtering chickens in southern Taiwan that contain the H5N2 virus, while several government administrations are monitoring illegal chicken imports from China.

Taiwan situation

"Chickens on three farms in Chiayi County and Tainan County have tested positive for the H5N2 virus. So far, two poultry farms in Chiayi County have already completed the mass slaughter of chickens and the process is still ongoing at the farm in Tainan County," said Yeh Ying (葉瑩), deputy director-general of the Council of Agriculture (COA).

The chickens were drugged before being killed and cremated at a local incinerator. The farms were disinfected chemically after the mass slaughter.

According to a Chinese-language media report, about 18,000 chickens at two farms in Chiayi County were killed, while 16,000 chickens in Tainan County are to be slaughtered today. In order to fight the spread of avian flu, a joint mechanism was set up on Friday among several government ministries to ensure stricter inspection of chickens in the next 6 months.

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