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SFH on avian influenza

     Following is the transcript of remarks (English portion) made by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, at a media session after the third meeting of the Steering Committee on Avian Influenza this afternoon (January 11):

Reporter: (On whether the Government is rushing to lift the live poultry sale ban because of the Chinese New Year.)

Secretary for Food and Health: No. Our scientific evidence shows that we need to have a period of sanitation to make sure that everything in Hong Kong is cleaned up and investigations are being done. The 21-day rule has been applied for over the years. Even in the previous years when we had outbreaks of avian influenza in Hong Kong, even bigger outbreaks, we were also keeping the 21-day ban. This is in accordance with the guideline we have and some international arrangements.

Reporter: (On whether the virus of avian flu detected this time is similar to the ones discovered in previous years.)

Secretary for Food and Health: According to the scientists, the strain of virus that we have in the last two years is This applies to the dead birds that we have tested as well as the dead chicken we found this time. It is also similar to the genetic make-up of the virus discovered in the patient in Shenzhen by the Mainland authorities. In all aspects, I think this is the more prevalent virus at the moment for avian flu. There is no significant change in terms of genetic shifting of this virus.  
Reporter: (On monitoring of chicken farms and markets.)

Secretary for Food and Health: The surveillance and monitoring of the situation (in chicken farms and markets) is quite routine in Hong Kong. Over the years, we monitor all the dead birds. I think Hong Kong is one of the few places that tests almost all the dead birds. We test over 8 000 dead birds a year. We test all the dead chickens in our wholesale market, poultry swabs and droppings at local farms and retail outlets as well. In all aspects, we are doing routine testing of all these places. So far, this arrangement has been proven to be an important surveillance. One important policy is to ensure that no live chickens are retained in the retail markets overnight. By 8pm everyday, all the retail outlets need to have all the live chickens slaughtered. So there will not be any cross infection overnight among chickens. Regarding the international scene, we all know that Indonesia is one of the countries that has the most number of cases of avian flu. Another country is Eygpt and others include Cambodia as well as Vietnam. Over the years, we notice that those countries that do not have vaccinations for chickens, and those that have a habit or tradition of keeping backyard farming, will have a higher chance of avian flu. We cannot compare ourselves with those countries but on the other hand, we always stay vigilant regarding the international scene. So far, there is no vaccine (for human) being developed for H5N1 and the seasonal flu vaccine cannot provide any protection (against H5N1). The most important preventive measure we have is to ensure that there is segregation of our poultry from the wild birds because they might be carrying the virus. And at the same time, we have the surveillance and the monitoring mechanism in ensuring that the poultry in Hong Kong are healthy.

Reporter: (On increasing the daily quota of live chickens imported from the Mainland.)

Secretary for Food and Health: We have decided not to increase the quota for imported chickens from the Mainland because we keep to 7 000 per day. We do not want to have a drastic increase of accumulation of poultry in our markets because in previous incidents of outbreak, they were usually associated with those seasonal surges. But we expect that the local supply (of live chickens) will increase because the local farms have stocked up in the last 21 days. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department will make every effort to ensure that the supply to market is being controlled according to the consumers' requirement, rather than by the suppliers themselves. We will make sure that there is no accumulation of live chickens overnight at the wholesale market.

Reporter: (On human vaccine against H5N1.)

Secretary for Food and Health: I do not think there is a specific vaccine designed for H5N1 right now. There are experimental ones and I think Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan will be able to supplement with information on the international scene.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Issued at HKT 17:14


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