Highly contagious avian influenza has not surfaced so far in China, but that gives no reason for the country to relax, Vice Premier Hui Liangyu warned on Friday.
Instead, all localities should strengthen their prevention efforts and improve their contingency plans to stop deadly bird flu from appearing in China or entering the country from neighbors, Hui told a national tele-conference in Beijing.
The meeting coincided with the first anniversary of China's outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu, which was detected on January 27, 2004 at a duck farm in the Dingdang Township, South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
The country is facing a stern situation and an uphill task in bird flu epidemic prevention, as there exist "weak links" in some local regions' animal epidemic control work, Hui said.
As a further complication, severe outbreaks of bird flu have been reported in some of China's neighbors, he said.
For example, bird flu has affected 27 cities and provinces in Viet Nam, killing and leading to the forced culling of more than 812,000 fowls, according to agency reports.
Viet Nam also has registered 16 human infections, the reports said.
Therefore, Hui urged local government officials never to underestimate the situation, nor to miscalculate the prevention difficulties, or to misjudge the perils incurred from a possible outbreak.
Jia Youling, director of the Veterinary Bureau under the Ministry of Agriculture, earlier cautioned the January-March period could be a peak season for the contraction of bird flu.
This is partly because migratory birds, which concentrate in water areas in southern areas, are likely to spread the virus to domestic poultry, Jia said.
Hui said epidemic surveillance should be stepped up on the network of rivers in southern China, with quarantine and inspection strengthened in poultry and their products in urban areas.
To root out any "hidden perils," Vice Premier Hui asked regions at high risk to improve their vaccination of water fowls and at poultry farms.
Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin had stressed no fowl should be left unvaccinated in those regions.
In particular, the localities should improve their capacity in dealing with emergencies, Hui said.
For that purpose, they should further improve their contingency plans and have in place material reserves, he said.
He also said Law on Animal Epidemic Prevention and other related statutes should be enforced to the letter, to ensure the country's epidemic control work proceed in an orderly and scientific way.
To stop the deadly virus from spreading into China, Hui said prevention efforts should be redoubled on the border, including border trade.
In Yunnan Province in southwest China, which shares a long border with Viet Nam, a series of emergency measures have been put into place to prevent bird flu from spreading into China, according to a Xinhua News Agency report.
Stations have been set up along a 30-kilometre-wide "immune protection zone" on the border to inspect and disinfect all vehicles and people that pass through the area, the report said.
On March 16 last year, China announced its initial success in stamping out the virus after ending isolation in the last of 49 hotbeds.
But in July, the disease was found at a chicken farm in Juchao District, Chaohu City in East China's Anhui Province, where experts suspected migratory birds were the cause.
It was soon brought under control.
China has not reported any human cases of avian influenza.
(China Daily January 29, 2005)