January 14, 2004



Hong Kong Wary Against Bird Flu


Hong Kong has instituted precautionary measures against the spread of bird flu in the territory. 


The Hong Kong government has slapped a temporary ban on chicken imports from Japan and South Korea and ordered the vaccination of all chickens in the city's farms and markets by tomorrow. It has also asked the mainland to immunise its chickens before they are exported to Hong Kong.


"Hong Kong has a very intensive surveillance system and no unusual infectious flu has been isolated," a spokesman said. The H5N1 virus was last isolated in Hong Kong in November, but it was found in only one dead chicken at the Cheung Sha Wan wholesale market.


Shigeru Omi, the WHO's regional director for Western Pacific, warned of a "serious situation" should human-to-human transmission of the bird flu occur.


"We are worried about the possibility that the avian virus could acquire full capability to transmit from one person to another. The ensuing virus would then be highly pathogenic and transmissible." University of Hong Kong microbiologist Guan Yi said the H5N1 virus was more virulent than Sars and had the potential to kill millions of people if it was not controlled.


Dr Guan described the battle as "around the clock" because the virus was constantly mutating.


He said the situation now was more critical than when the last global flu pandemic hit in 1968.

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