Follow Up

Published: Saturday 30 June 2001

Officials in Hong Kong have completed their slaughtering operation to contain the spread to a flu caused by the H5N1 strain of avian influenza virus. At least 1.4 million birds were slaughtered during the operation (see 'Chicken out', Down To Earth , Vol 10, No 2, June 15, 2001). The birds were killed to ensure that the virus does not mutate and affect human beings. In 1997, the virus had killed six people. The cost of the slaughtering operation is yet to be calculated. Markets, which were closed following the outbreak, are being disinfected and are likely to reopen by the middle of June 2001.

The large-scale spread of the virus has been attributed to the poor state of hygiene in the markets. As a precaution against the re-emergence of the virus, officials have suggested that the markets should remain closed for at least one day each month so that they can be disinfected. "This will break the cycle of infection," says Lily Yam, secretary for the environment and food bureau. A civil servant may also be stationed as a 'hygiene manager' in the markets to ensure cleanliness. "The government is also planning to stop issuing licenses to new shops," said Rita Lau, director of the country's food and environment hygiene department.

Since the authorities suspect that the virus might have come from China, imports of poultry from the country have been stopped and better ways for surveillance and cleanliness are being considered to avoid similar outbreaks in the future.

The government is paying a compensation of US $250 million to the poultry owners. Additionally, they will get financial benefits such as loans at low interest rates. According to the Poultry Workers' Association, the compensation is impractical as it does not set aside an amount for the workers, thereby, not protecting them from the whims of the employers.

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