December 18, 2008

Taiwan denies covering up bird flu outbreak

Taiwan on Wednesday (December 17) denied newspaper allegations that it had covered up a bird flu outbreak ahead of the start of direct daily flights and shipping links with China.

A local newspaper claimed Wednesday more than 10,000 chickens were slaughtered last month after the less virulent H5N2 strain was discovered on a chicken farm in southern Tainan county and said another poultry farm was shut down.

It alleged the outbreak wasn't made public as the timing was sensitive ahead of the start of direct transport links with China.

"There is not a bird flu outbreak in Tainan county...the report is not correct," Hu Hsing-hua, vice chairman of the Council of Agriculture, told reporters.

Hu, however, admitted quarantine experts had been monitoring a suspected H5N2 outbreak on a chicken farm in Kaohsiung county, 60 kilometres south of Tainan.

"The examination process has yet completed...this has nothing to do with the three direct links with the mainland," Hu said, referring to the direct commerce, transport and postal services with China that were cut off since 1949 at the end of a civil war.

Both sides hailed the start of direct services Monday (December 15), cementing a new era in warm ties between the longtime rivals.

Taiwan hasn't had any recorded cases of the deadly H5N1 strain, although in 2005 authorities said eight pet birds smuggled into the country from China had tested positive for the strain and been slaughtered.

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