Opening remarks by SFH on avian flu (with photo)

     Following is the translation of the opening remarks by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, at a media stand-up session after attending the meeting of the Steering Committee on Avian Influenza today (December 23):

     I have just convened the second meeting of the Steering Committee on Avian Influenza (AI) to take stock of follow-up actions arising from the findings of a chicken carcass sample from the Cheung Sha Wan Temporary Wholesale Poultry Market (the Wholesale Poultry Market), which was tested positive for H5N1 AI virus on December 20.  The meeting was attended by representatives from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), the Centre for Health Protection (CHP), the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED), and the Hospital Authority.

     The Food and Health Bureau (FHB) and relevant departments have been actively pursuing measures to prevent and control AI over the past few days.  I would like to highlight some major developments:

     First, AFCD successfully completed a culling operation at the Wholesale Poultry Market on December 21.  A total of 19 451 poultry was destroyed.  All 180 samples of live poultry taken by AFCD before the culling were all tested negative for H5 AI virus.

     Second, AFCD completed inspections on all 30 chicken farms in Hong Kong yesterday to ensure farmers have strictly complied with bio-security and environmental hygiene requirements.  No abnormality with regard to the chickens has been detected.  AFCD has also tested about 900 samples collected from local farms and all were found negative for H5 AI virus, indicating normal health conditions of local chickens.

     Import and local supply of live poultry are suspended for 21 days due to this incident.  AFCD will carry out two more rounds of inspections on all local farms before January 12, 2012 and collect samples for AI tests.  It has requested all farms to notify the department immediately of any case of sick or dead poultry.  In the past few days, with the Mainland authorities' co-operation, we have stepped up inspection on chilled chickens.  All 150 samples tested by the Centre for Food Safety so far are satisfactory.

     Third, AFCD has thoroughly cleansed and disinfected the Wholesale Poultry Market.  At the same time, FEHD has inspected all 132 live poultry retail outlets in Hong Kong to make sure that thorough cleansing and disinfection is conducted.  FEHD has taken 3 479 environmental samples from live poultry retail outlets since January this year.  No AI virus has been found on these samples.

     Fourth, CHP of the Department of Health has contacted more than 200 poultry wholesalers and workers in the Wholesale Poultry Market as well as local chicken farmers for medical surveillance.  There is so far no sign of abnormality with their health conditions, nor any symptoms of human infection with AI.  CHP is working with public and private hospitals to enhance monitoring of any suspected human H5N1 case, and will continue to maintain close liaison with the World Health Organisation and other relevant health agencies.

     Fifth, in relation to some recent media reports that suggest possible smuggling activities, C&ED has stepped up efforts at all boundary control points to crack down on illegal import of poultry and birds.  C&ED, the Police, FEHD and AFCD have enhanced exchange of intelligence to curb smuggling of poultry and birds.

     Sixth, we will enhance the procedures for tracing the source of dead chickens.  AFCD initially proposes to establish a system for collecting information on the source of dead chickens at the Wholesale Poultry Market.  The proposal is to require wholesalers to notify AFCD staff, who are on duty round the clock, every time a dead chicken is found.  AFCD staff will record the source and other relevant information, and label the dead chicken before placing the carcass in the collection box.  We believe this measure can improve the carcass collection procedure and facilitate tracing in the short term.  Over the long term, we will continue to explore with the trade the feasibility of other measures such as tagging leg bands for chickens.

     Since we implemented a series of decisive measures on December 20, there has been no new case of AI in the past few days.  The risk of AI, especially to humans, has been stabilised to a certain extent.  I must however point out that the risk remains higher than before this incident happened.  We will maintain the "Serious Response Level" in our emergency response framework.

     At this stage, temporary closure of the Wholesale Poultry Market and suspension of live poultry supply will continue.  We will closely monitor the situation in the coming fortnight.

     I take this opportunity to thank the relevant Mainland authorities for promptly responding to our request for temporary suspension of live poultry supply to Hong Kong, as well as assuring the safety and supply of chilled chickens and other food items, so that there remains an adequate choice of foodstuff for the community during the festive season.  I would also like to thank my colleagues in the Government, especially those from AFCD, FEHD, CHP and FHB, for their hard work in the past few days, which has enabled a swift response to the situation.

     Lastly, I urge all citizens to remain vigilant and strictly observe personal and environmental hygiene to guard against AI.

Ends/Friday, December 23, 2011
Issued at HKT 19:49