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LCQ19: Precautions against avian influenza
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    Following is a question by the Hon Frederick Fung Kin-kee and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (February 27):

Question:

    Regarding cases of avian influenza infections, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  of the information about the cases of birds and human beings being infected with avian influenza viruses on the Mainland and in Hong Kong in the past six months tabulated in Annex I.

(b)  given that avian influenza virus was found in a bird carcass recently collected at the Cheung Sha Wan Wholesale Food Market, and that area is infested with house crows all along, apart from the existing measures (including cleaning markets and alerting poultry farmers and poultry farm workers), how the authorities will further prevent infected birds from coming into contact with poultry and house crows, whether they will consider raising the level of the contingency measures, and what measures the authorities have in place to especially assist the residents of the affected areas; and

(c)  given that it has been reported that due to the surge in local prices of products, some members of the public will cross the boundary to buy poultry meats not thoroughly cooked on the Mainland and bring them back to Hong Kong, what follow-up measures the authorities have in place, and whether they will consider educating the public to make them aware that they may bring avian influenza virus to Hong Kong through those meats?

Reply:

Madam President,

(a)  Information about the cases of birds and human beings being infected with avian influenza viruses in the Mainland and in Hong Kong in the past six months is tabulated in Annex II.

(b)  Regarding the incident in which the carcass of an Oriental Magpie Robin carrying avian influenza virus was collected in the vicinity of the Cheung Sha Wan Wholesale Food Market, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) immediately took away the carcass the day it was found and submitted it for testing, so as to minimise the risk of other birds or members of the public coming into contact with the carcass. In light of the incident, the AFCD conducted a thorough cleansing cum disinfection operation in both the Wholesale Food Market and the Temporary Wholesale Poultry Market in Cheung Sha Wan. The AFCD also reminded poultry farmers, pet bird shop owners, licence holders of pet poultry and racing pigeons to take proper precautions. In addition, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) has stepped up its street cleansing operations in the Cheung Sha Wan area in order to maintain good environmental hygiene.

    As the poultry for sale in Cheung Sha Wan Temporary Wholesale Poultry Market are all kept in poultry cages, the risk of direct contact between these poultry and outside birds is minimal. Moreover, since all the chickens in the market have been vaccinated against avian influenza, their risk of being infected with avian influenza virus through contact with infected birds is low. Nevertheless, the AFCD will remain highly vigilant. It will step up inspections and surveillance of the wholesale poultry market and remind wholesalers to maintain good hygiene and take proper precautions against avian influenza.

    We are aware of the concern of the residents in Sham Shui Po over the roosting of house crows in the district. The AFCD has already held several discussions with the Sham Shui Po District Council on the issue and implemented measures to reduce the number of house crows. These measures include the removal of eggs and chicks during the breeding seasons and baiting. Since 2004, a total of 552 house crow eggs/chicks have been removed from the Kowloon City and Sham Shui Po Districts. As at the end of 2007, a total of 281 house crows have been caught by the AFCD. The AFCD will maintain regular contact with the Sham Shui Po District Council and assess the effectiveness of these measures and ways to enhance it.

    For contingency measures, the Government issued in early 2005 a plan entitled "Emergency Preparedness Plan for Influenza Pandemic in Hong Kong" to enhance Government and community preparedness to cope with avian/pandemic influenza emergencies. The plan includes a three-level response system, i.e. Alert Response Level, Serious Response Level and Emergency Response Level. The Alert Response Level applies when there is confirmation of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks in poultry populations outside Hong Kong, or when there is confirmation of HPAI in imported birds in quarantine, in wild birds, in recreational parks, in pet bird shops or in the natural environment in Hong Kong. In view of the recent confirmed cases of wild birds infected with avian influenza virus, the Government has activated the Alert Response Level according to the contingency plan.

(c)  According to the World Health Organisation, all the available evidence suggests that the vast majority of H5N1 human cases were caused by infection through direct contact with infected live or dead poultry. At present, there is no evidence indicating that properly cooked poultry or eggs can be a source of infection. However, as the poultry or eggs may have been contaminated by bacteria or viruses, they may pose a certain degree of food safety risk when not properly cooked.

    The import of frozen/chilled poultry meat is subject to control under the Imported Game, Meat and Poultry Regulation (Cap 132AK). Import of all frozen/chilled poultry meat must be accompanied with an import permission and import licence as well as an official health certificate. This control measure is also applicable to undercooked poultry meat. Therefore, anyone who imports undercooked poultry meat, whether for his/her own consumption or sale, without an official health certificate or import licence commits an offence. The Government has put up posters and large warning notices at all major land boundary control points, seaports and the Hong Kong International Airport to remind the public not to import meat and poultry illegally.

    Apart from carrying out inspection duties at boundary control points, the Centre for Food Safety also conducts joint operations with the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) to crack down on illegal import of poultry. In 2007, a total of 76 visitors entering Hong Kong through land boundary control points or the Hong Kong International Airport were prosecuted for bringing in fresh/chilled poultry without an official health certificate.

    Moreover, under the Quarantine Detector Dog Programme jointly introduced by the AFCD and the Centre for Food Safety, detector dogs have been deployed to various boundary control points since Chinese New Year to help detect the illegal import of animal and meat products into Hong Kong. The Centre for Food Safety will continue to monitor the situation and take appropriate enforcement actions when necessary.

    In addition to the enforcement actions mentioned above, the Government has from time to time been educating the public on safety in food consumption and on the need to cook poultry meat thoroughly before consumption through food safety talks, leaflets, mobile broadcasts, websites and television announcements of public interest etc. The public are also advised to note that when cooking, the centre of poultry meat should be heated up to above 70óJ and be cooked continuously for at least two minutes at that temperature level. If there are pinkish juices running from the cooked poultry or the middle parts of the bones are still red in colour, they should cook the poultry again until fully done. As a precautionary measure against avian influenza infection, the public are also advised to observe good personal, food and environmental hygiene at all times to avoid cross-contamination.

Ends/Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Issued at HKT 14:22

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