The bird flu scare has done nothing to dampen Hong Kong's appetite for chicken, the vital ingredient for the traditional Lunar New Year meal.
Tsui Ming-tuen, chairman of the Hong Kong Live Poultry Wholesale Association, was quoted by Saturday's South China Morning Post as saying that 2.03 million live chickens had been sold in the 10 days leading up to the holiday, a rise of 23 percent over the same period last year.
"The increased monitoring by the government of chicken imports has given the public more confidence about eating chicken in Hong Kong, despite the bird flu in other Asian countries," Tsui said.
He also attributed the increase to the economic recovery, which meant the public and restaurants had switched from the cheaper, frozen chickens to fresh ones.
In Wan Chai's Bowrington Road Market, 60-year-old Yau Bo-ching, a poultry vendor for 20 years, said, "Everyone buys chicken in the New Year."
"Even the poor have to buy one to celebrate. Bird flu does not affect our sales," he said.
The high demand had driven the price of fresh chicken on Yau's stall up from 20 Hong Kong dollars to about 28 Hong Kong dollars a catty (500 grams).
Lee Kan-rung, 31, whose Lee Fung Restaurant near the market sells frozen chicken, said he had sold 100 frozen chickens on Friday morning. On a typical day he would sell 20.
"The young may try to avoid chickens," he said, "but the old still stick to it because it's tradition."
Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has stepped up monitoring of bio-security measures at chicken farms and surveillance of wild birds at recreation parks after a dead peregrine falcon tested positive for H5N1 bird flu on Wednesday.
(Xinhua News Agency January 25, 2004)