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Extreme Bird Flu Measures In Asia

Asian countries announced extreme measures Tuesday in their fight against bird flu, with China vowing to vaccinate its entire poultry stock of 14 billion birds and Vietnam launching an unprecedented campaign to purge its two largest cities of poultry to slow the spread of the disease.

"China is in the process of vaccinating all the poultry in the country," said Jia Youling, the Agriculture Ministry's chief veterinary officer.

He said the government will pay all fees involved, but he did not provide additional details during an online question-and-answer session.

China has more than 14 billion farm poultry, accounting for nearly 21 percent of the world's total.

It was unclear if the birds were being vaccinated against the virulent H5N1 strain that has ravaged poultry stocks across Asia and killed at least 64 people since 2003.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has encouraged countries to vaccinate birds while practicing other control methods, such as mass slaughtering and the controlled movement of poultry in and around infected areas. Officials, however, have warned against possible counterfeit vaccines that were found circulating in another part of the country.

In related developments:

  • The virulent H5N1 strain of avian flu detected at a quarantine center in Britain infected only one species of bird imported from Taiwan, the government said Tuesday.
  • The Japanese government will shut down schools, ban large gatherings and declare a state of emergency if the country is hit by a severe flu epidemic, the government said in an action plan announced Monday. Tokyo will also stockpile antiviral drugs and help chicken farmers control bird flu in their flocks, it said.
  • In Thailand, a 1 1/2-year-old boy became the 21st person to catch the H5N1 bird flu virus, but he was recovering in a hospital, a senior health ministry official said. The boy lived in a house in Minburi, where three fighting cocks and a chicken also lived.
  • Kuwait detected two cases of bird flu in birds, a senior official said Thursday. Tests found the birds were infected with the H5 flu strain.The Food and Agriculture Organization said more testing of Kuwait's bird flu cases was needed.
  • The World Health Organization has estimated that developing vaccines and boosting production of antivirals to fight a flu pandemic will cost about $500 million over the next three to four years.
  • The announcement comes as China confirmed two more outbreaks in the past month. Some 6,547 chickens were infected in Urumqi and Zepu counties in Xinjiang region on Nov. 9 and 2,747 of them died, said Roy Wadia, a WHO spokesman in Beijing, citing the Agriculture Ministry.

    "Vaccinations are part of surveillance," said Dr. Noureddin Mona, China's FAO representative. "This will enhance and improve the surveillance system."

    On Tuesday, China said it would ship 45 tons of bird flu vaccine worth $780,000 to Vietnam, the country hardest hit by the disease.

    Government officials in Vietnam's southern Ho Chi Minh City and the capital Hanoi have warned farmers to kill or sell all poultry within certain areas of the cities by Monday. They will be paid $15,000 dong, about half the current market value, if they act now, but any poultry found alive after the deadline will be destroyed with no compensation, officials said.

    "We hope that clearing out live poultry in the city will help minimize the chances of people getting sick from bird flu," said Huynh Hu Loi, director of Ho Chi Minh City's animal health department. "A pandemic can happen anytime. We are doing all we can."

    The campaign is one of the most extreme measures taken in the communist country to try to slow the spread of the H5N1 virus.

    International health experts have warned that the bird flu virus, which is now hard for people to catch, could mutate into a form easily spread among humans. They fear it could ignite a global pandemic that kills millions worldwide. So far, most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds.

    In Indonesia, European Union Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou urged the international community to aid the cash-strapped country to fight the disease.

    The required assistance includes carrying out poultry vaccinations, slaughtering infected birds, and cooperation in research, Kyprianou said, without elaborating.

    A day earlier, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia doesn't have the funds to compensate farmers for destroying their flocks in infected areas, considered the best way to control the disease.

    The country, criticized for moving too slowly when the H5N1 virus first appeared in poultry two years ago, has announced plans in recent days to intensify efforts to contain the disease.

    Thousands of troops were preparing to go house-to-house in search of sick birds, officials said, and a task force will be formed to monitor fresh outbreaks.

    The Philippine government on Tuesday said it is set to receive its first shipment of the antiviral drug Tamiflu next month, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III. The country remains free of bird flu, but he has warned that "it's just a matter of time."

    In Busan, South Korea, bird flu was also high on the agenda at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

    "We appreciate what the governments are doing and we know the leaders will discuss the avian flu," Roberto R. Romulo, a senior adviser to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, told reporters on the sidelines of a Business Advisory Council meeting.

    He added that a series of meetings would be held to "make sure that businesses have contingency plans" to deal with a flu outbreak. "Each business has to do it now," he added.

    APEC's senior officials agreed over the weekend on various steps for fighting bird flu, including cooperating to develop a vaccine and sharing information.

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