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Sale of live chickens in Hong Kong to resume tomorrow

     The Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, announced today (January 11) that wholesale and retail of live poultry in Hong Kong will resume tomorrow (January 12). Imports of live poultry including day-old chicks from the Mainland can also resume on January 12, except for live poultry from a designated import control zone in Shenzhen.

     After the detection of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza (AI) virus in a chicken carcass sample taken from the Cheung Sha Wan Temporary Wholesale Poultry Market (Wholesale Poultry Market) during regular surveillance by the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD) on December 20 last year, the Government declared the Wholesale Poultry Market an infected place and suspended the dispatch of live chickens from local farms to the market as well as import of live poultry for 21 days.

     Dr Chow convened the third meeting of the Steering Committee on AI this morning to sum up the follow-up actions on AI over the past three weeks. Participants at the meeting included AFCD, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health.

     "Since the detection of AI in the Wholesale Poultry Market, 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. No abnormality was found with the chickens. AFCD has also tested about 4,500 samples collected from local farms and all were found negative for H5 AI virus," Dr Chow said.

     Regarding chilled chickens, about 300 samples involving some 1,800 chickens tested for AI virus by the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) in the past three weeks are all satisfactory.

     In view of a human case of infection by highly pathogenic AI in Shenzhen last month which resulted in the death of a person, the Government has 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 on January 1 this year.  CFS has been maintaining close contact with the relevant Mainland authorities and keeping a close eye on the Mainland's 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.

     At the same time, AFCD has been monitoring the overall AI situation in Hong Kong and the neighbouring region with vigilance. 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 the World Organisation for Animal Health. There is, up to this moment, no sign of an abnormal outbreak of AI, nor mutation of AI viruses that would pose a significantly greater threat to humans.

     CHP has completed medical surveillance of 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 more or less stabilised, and the supply of live poultry can resume as scheduled.

     "Experts generally agree that the response level for AI can  revert to Alert Response Level from tomorrow. That said, all relevant units will remain highly alert, and I urge citizens to stay vigilant."

     On arrangements for resuming the operation of the live poultry supply chain, Dr Chow said that AFCD had thoroughly cleaned and disinfected the Wholesale Poultry Market, which will be re-opened to the trade at 00.00 hours on January 12.

     "AFCD will assist local farmers to arrange for dispatch of chickens to the Wholesale Poultry Market in an orderly manner.  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 co-ordinate 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," he said.

     AFCD will continue to send staff to local farms to monitor bio-security measures and, for ongoing surveillance of local chickens' health condition, take samples from the local farms and the Wholesale Poultry Market for H5 AI virus tests. Furthermore, AFCD has discussed with the wholesalers implementing 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 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.

     At the retail level, FEHD will inspect all live poultry retail outlets to ensure good environmental hygiene on business resumption. As in the past, FEHD will also monitor the retail outlets closely to make sure that retailers comply with the prohibition on overnight stocking of live poultry.

     Dr Chow reiterated: "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 urge all of us to remain on guard to minimise any chance of AI occurrence."

Ends/Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Issued at HKT 18:26


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