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SFH's opening remarks on resumption of live poultry sale

     Following is the transcript of opening remarks made by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, at a media session at the lobby of West Wing, Central Government Offices, Tamar, today (January 11):

     I, together with the Assistant Director (Inspection and Quarantine) of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, Dr Thomas Sit; the Consultant of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, Community Medicine (Communicable Disease), Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan; and the Controller of the Centre for Food Safety of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, Dr Constance Chan, would like to brief you on the latest risk assessment on Avian Influenza (AI) today.

     I have just convened the third meeting of the Steering Committee on Avian Influenza to sum up the follow-up actions over the past three weeks on AI.  Participants of the meeting included the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the Department of Health. Now I would like to brief you on the latest AI risk assessment and the arrangements for resuming live poultry supply.

     Since the last time I detailed the follow-up actions in respect of AI (that was on December 23, 2011), the relevant departments have completed a number of preventive and control measures as well as investigation and testing. Major points include:

     First, AFCD completed three rounds of inspections on all 30 chicken farms in Hong Kong in the last three weeks.  Local farmers were found to have strictly complied with bio-security and environmental hygiene requirements.  The inspections also found no abnormality with the chickens.  AFCD has tested about 4,500 samples collected from local farms and all were found negative for H5 AI virus, indicating normal health condition of local chickens.  As regards chilled chickens, about 300 samples, involving almost 1,800 chickens tested for AI virus by the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) since December 21 last year, are all satisfactory.

     Second, in view of a human case of infection of highly pathogenic AI in Shenzhen last month which resulted in the death of a person, we have suspended the import of live poultry and poultry products, including chilled and frozen poultry as well as poultry eggs, from a designated import control zone for 21 days starting January 1 this year. In other words, the import of live poultry and poultry products from this zone will only be resumed on January 22. CFS has been maintaining close contact with the relevant Mainland authorities and keeping a close eye on the Mainland situation, especially with regard to registered farms which supply live poultry to Hong Kong.  There is nothing at this stage to suggest any AI outbreak or abnormality in farms on the Mainland.

     Third, AFCD has been monitoring the overall AI situation in Hong Kong and the neighbouring region vigilantly.  Such monitoring includes the number of wild bird carcasses collected in Hong Kong and the relevant genetic analyses of viruses isolated, as well as information on other places published by international bodies, such as the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). There is, up to this moment, neither any sign of anomalous outbreak of AI, nor mutation of AI viruses that would pose significantly greater threat to humans.

     Fourth, CHP has completed medical surveillance on some 500 local chicken farmers, live poultry wholesalers and retailers.  No abnormality was detected nor were symptoms of human AI infection found among them.  No human AI case in Hong Kong has been found under the enhanced surveillance by CHP together with public and private hospitals.

     Taking all observations and analyses together, we believe that the risk of AI in Hong Kong, especially to humans, has been more or less stabilised, and the supply of live poultry can largely resume as scheduled.  Experts generally agree that the response level for AI can be reverted to "Alert Response Level" from tomorrow (January 12).  That said, all relevant units have to remain highly alert, and I urge citizens to stay vigilant.  I will now turn to the arrangements for resuming the operation of the live poultry supply chain.

     AFCD has thoroughly cleansed and disinfected Cheung Sha Wan Temporary Wholesale Poultry Market (the Wholesale Poultry Market), which will be re-opened to the trade at 00.00 hours, i.e the start of day, on January 12.  AFCD will assist local farmers to arrange for dispatch of chickens to the Wholesale Poultry Market in an orderly manner.  At the same time, AFCD will send staff to the farms to monitor bio-security measures.  We expect that a larger number of local chickens will be dispatched to the Wholesale Poultry Market on the first one or two days of business resumption.  AFCD will coordinate with local poultry farmers and closely monitor the situation, in order to avoid overnight stocking of too many chickens in the Wholesale Poultry Market, which will increase AI risk.

     For ongoing surveillance of local chickens' health condition, the Government will continue to take samples from local farms and the Wholesale Poultry Market for H5 AI virus tests.  Furthermore, AFCD has discussed with all the wholesalers to implement a system for collecting information on the source of dead chickens upon the Wholesale Poultry Market's re-opening.  Wholesalers will be required to notify the AFCD staff on duty every time a dead chicken is found.  AFCD staff will record the source and other relevant information, and label the dead chicken before sending it for testing.

     Imports of live poultry including day-old chicks can also resume at 00.00 hours on January 12, except for live poultry from the designated import control zone in Shenzhen that I mentioned earlier.  Since all birds arriving Hong Kong by land have to be inspected at the Man Kam To Animal Inspection Station, which opens at 7am, live chickens from the Mainland will reach Hong Kong after 7am tomorrow.

     At the retail level, FEHD will inspect all live poultry retail outlets to ensure good environmental hygiene on business resumption.  FEHD will also monitor the retail outlets closely to make sure that retailers comply with the prohibition of no overnight stocking of live poultry.

     To conclude, resuming live poultry supply does not in the slightest way mean that we can be lax about AI prevention.  The Government will continue to strictly implement AI preventive and control measures at the farm, wholesale, retail and import levels.  I take this opportunity to thank the trade and the Hong Kong citizens in particular for their patience and cooperation during the suspension period; and I urge all of us to remain on guard to minimise any chance of AI occurrence, with the hope that the community can enjoy live chickens for the Lunar New Year.

Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Issued at HKT 16:55


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