March 25, 2004



Hong Kong To Lift China Live Poultry Ban In May

Hong Kong may lift its ban on Chinese live chickens -imposed as a precaution against bird flu - in mid-May, the territory's health secretary said Wednesday.
Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong said the target date of May 12 was set in line with proposed World Health Organization guidelines which define a country as bird flu-free if it has gone three months without any new outbreaks.
China hasn't reported any new bird flu cases in over a month.
But Yeoh said Hong Kong would only lift its ban if China agrees to tougher surveillance measures.
Yeoh added live birds may be let in before May 12 on a pilot basis if "conditions are good." He didn't elaborate.
Hong Kong's chicken industry has decried the ban on live chickens from neighboring China - the territory's exclusive source - saying it has cost the sector millions.
Many locals prefer the freshness of chicken killed on the spot over the frozen variety.
Hong Kong has avoided the current Asian bird flu outbreak, which has killed 24 people in Vietnam and Thailand. But the disease has surfaced here repeatedly in the past. In 1997, it claimed six lives.
The territory resumed imports of Chinese frozen poultry Monday.