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China mobilises military to fight bird flu

AFP | November 7 2005

China has mobilised its armed forces and allocated emergency funds and vaccines to fight bird flu as a mass cull of poultry and birds continued following a new outbreak in the country's northeast.

The cull was being carried out in Heishan county of Liaoning province, where the outbreak, confirmed on Thursday as the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, has killed nearly 9,000 chickens in six villages.

Other cities and provinces were meanwhile stepping up precautions. The central province of Hunan was banning the mixed raising of animals. Beijing was ordering all animals, including pets, to be vaccinated.

The outbreak in Liaoning is China's fourth in just over two weeks, with migratory birds the most likely culprits, the agriculture ministry said.

"All the poultry in the region must be slaughtered by zero hour (midnight) on Sunday," Xinhua news agency said, quoting local officials.

The People's Armed Police, a unit of China's People's Liberation Army, has been dispatched to Heishan county to help experts carry out the slaughter.

Covered head to toe in hooded army outfits and latex gloves, the soldiers were shown in newspapers grabbing chickens by the neck one at a time from rows of cages in the farms and stuffing them into bags.

As of Sunday morning more than one million poultry have been slaughtered, the China News Service quoted officials as saying.

"More than 3,000 people are carrying out the cull," a local official told AFP. "The next step is to bury the slaughtered poultry."

As with standard practice, the cull targeted all birds within a radius of three kilometers (two miles) of the farms where the outbreak occurred.

Soldiers also sealed off the affected areas while disinfecting pedestrians and vehicles leaving the premises.

More than 30 roadside checkpoints have been set up and some 50 tons of disinfectants were used, the Liaoning Daily said Sunday.

The Ministry of Agriculture has sent an emergency batch of 60 million vaccines to treat healthy poultry near the affected area to ensure the industry will not be destroyed, the China News Service said.

The ministry said Friday 13.9 million birds in the affected region had been vaccinated.

The Liaoning provincial government has meanwhile allocated 85 million yuan (10.5 million dollars) to compensate farmers and to prevent and control the disease, the China News Service reported.

"Leaders in the province have vowed to firmly stamp out the epidemic, prevent it from spreading, prevent human infections...," it quoted Zhou Liyuan, the official at the provincial bird flu headquarters, as saying.

Officials will also "launch a province-wide surveillance, not missing one village, one family or one poultry, and vaccinating 100 percent of the poultry, not counting on sheer luck, not leaving any shortcomings and not leaving any hidden dangers," Zhou said.

The local government has also sent 100 medical workers to the villages to offer free medical checks and vaccinations for farmers.

In Heilongjiang province near Liaoning officials ordered all outbreaks to be reported within two hours. In Jilin province, which borders Liaoning, checkpoints were set up on freeways connecting it with Liaoning.

Hunan province was meanwhile banning farmers from mixing animals in farms or herding animals in the wilderness.

Authorities in Beijing threatened to fine or jail anyone who refuses to comply with vaccination orders for pets and other animals.

China has reported three other outbreaks of bird flu since October 19 -- the first in the Inner Mongolia region in the north of the country, and the other two in Anhui and Hunan in the centre.

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