Chinese authorities barred access yesterday to villages outside Beijing where they reportedly have slaughtered thousands of cows to stop an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
Police at roadblocks stopped outsiders from entering the villages northwest of the Chinese capital and the roads were wet with what appeared to be disinfectant. Foreign reporters who tried to visit the area were temporarily detained.
Health and agriculture officials have refused to confirm a report by Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper that cows have been slaughtered in an attempt to stop an outbreak of foot-and-mouth.
Residents of the area, contacted by phone, confirmed that thousands of animals had been destroyed but said they didn't know why. The residents wouldn't give their names.
This month, China reported outbreaks of foot-and-mouth in the eastern cities of Taian and Wuxi but none near Beijing in the country's north.
The disease affects cows, sheep, goats and other cloven-footed animals, causing blisters on the mouth and feet. It isn't usually fatal, but authorities slaughter animals to stop its spread.
Reports of possible outbreaks are sensitive because they often prompt governments to ban meat imports from the affected country.
China slaughtered a total of 223 cows after the outbreaks in Taian and Wuxi, according to information provided to the World Organization for Animal Health.
The Post said 16 Chinese cattle imported to Hong Kong in March were found to have Asia 1 type foot-and-mouth disease -- the first time that type of the disease was found in Hong Kong.