New laws to combat 'endemic' Hong Kong bird flu

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Saturday, February 4, 2006

Health officials in Hong Kong say that Avian Bird Flu (H5N1) appears to be taking hold in the region - where the deadly virus has surfaced in local poultry. Hong Kong's Health Secretary said in a media conference on Friday that positive tests for H5N1 in a bird brought into Hong Kong from China indicates that the virus is endemic in the region.

Dr York Chow says new laws will be introduced to restrict movement of poultry. "It's not just Hong Kong, he said. "This virus will exist in neighboring areas, southern China as well as Hong Kong," Dr Chow said. "Since different kinds of wild birds and chickens have this virus, we can be quite sure that this virus is endemic in our birds," he said.

Health bureau spokeswoman Sally Kong later clarified Dr Chow's comments, saying the Secretary meant that bird flu was endemic in Asia - but not in Hong Kong specifically. Whilst Bird flu is considered endemic in Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, international standards require that countries be certified as 'endemic' by test results showing a cycle of disease recurrence in an area. Mrs Kong said Hong Kong does not meet such standards.

York Chow said the government intends to ban individual households from raising chickens, ducks, geese, pigeons, turkeys and quails. The legislation to ban private ownership could be in place next week. Current Hong Kong legislation allows private poultry ownership of up to 20 birds. Under the law change, the current exemption will be removed. The unauthorised keeping of poultry will be an offence warranting fines of up to $100,000, however, those keeping commercial racing pigeons in new towns and villages may be exempt.

Dr Chow encouraged the surrender of backyard poultry to the Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department. Those who want to keep birds before the new legislation comes into effect must have them vaccinated against avian flu. The Government may set a date for the central slaughtering, Dr Chow said.

Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare & Food, Carrie Yau, stated that the risk of a bird flu outbreak still exists even if chickens are vaccinated - as the virus may mutate. She asked private poultry give their birds to the Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department.

She stressed there will not be any compensation.

The department visited 35 villages and 1,500 households in Sha Tau Kok and the North District in the past two days, with 113 chickens collected and another 112 vaccinated. The department's Acting Assistant Director Thomas Sit said most backyard poultry owners do not implement biosecurity measures. He called on owners to surrender their poultry.

The Customs & Excise Department has stepped up patrols to prevent the inflow of smuggled chickens.