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HKSAR Bites the Pullet
Some 160,000 chickens in four Hong Kong farms were gassed to death yesterday to combat the potentially lethal bird flu.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SRA) government hopes this will be the final act of their three-week campaign to eliminate the killer bug.

On Tuesday, the government ordered the killing of 340,000 chickens in eight local farms under quarantine, bringing the total of poultry killed to 860,000 since the latest outbreak of the bird flu virus on February 1.

"We are very confident that by culling the chickens in the Kam Tin quarantine area in the New Territories, we will have eliminated the disease," said Thomas Chan, director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).

According to AFCD information officers, health workers acted swiftly yesterday placing the chickens in bags and injecting carbon dioxide to suffocate them to death.

In fact, the situation was said to have been stabilized in the SAR, as no virus was found in the markets after an additional "cleansing day" on February 8, as venders had killed all their chickens by then and thoroughly disinfected the cages in the stalls.

The biggest cull of the recent outbreak on eight farms close to South China was ordered as a precaution, as the chickens there had not been hit by the bird flu.

The decision was made after consulting an expert group on the control of chicken influenza following the infection of more farms in Kam Tin, according to Chan.

By Monday, AFCD confirmed 15 out of 146 chicken farms - 14 located in Kam Tin - were infected with the H5 virus, which experts believed would not be a threat to human life this time.

"Experts believed there was a possibility that the remaining eight quarantine farms were infected due to their proximity to infected farms," Chan said.

To leave no opportunity for a new outbreak of bird flu in the SAR, the government will revise its poultry licensing regulations, by including the method of inoculating the chicks for avian flu and improving the hygiene of farms.

The government's initiative gained support from trade representatives in a meeting held yesterday.

This is the third outbreak of bird flu in the SAR in four years.

The 1997 outbreak, in which the killer bug claimed six people's lives, prompted the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of birds.

An outbreak in May last year led to the slaughter of 1.2 million birds, but tests revealed the strain was non-fatal to humans.

The recent outbreak is estimated to cost the government more than HK$25 million (US$3.2 million).

(China Daily February 21, 2002)

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