China has suspended live poultry trading in the places hit hardest by the H7N9 bird flu, which has infected more than 100 people and killed 20 in the country so far this year.
The total number of confirmed human infections reached 102 in China, including 20 deaths, by Monday, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the cases were reported in Zhejiang Province and Shanghai in east China and Guangdong Province in south China.
All the live poultry markets in downtown Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang Province, have been temporarily shut down since last Friday. Other cities, including Ningbo and Jinhua, have also halted live fowl trading.
Official figures show that by Monday noon, Zhejiang alone had reported 49 cases of human H7N9 infections with 12 ending up dead this year, the highest death toll in a single province in the country. Guangdong and Shanghai have both reported four deaths, respectively.
Ai Yang reports from Beijing where Chinese researchers have announced a new strain of bird flu that is being blamed for the death and an elderly Chinese woman in December.
Human infections of the H7N9 bird flu remains sporadic in China for now, said the Health and Family Planning Commission of Zhejiang Province.
To prevent the bird flu, trading at live poultry markets in Guangdong has also been suspended since Jan 23 for disinfection purpose. Local authorities have said they will close the markets on the 23rd of each month to conduct disinfection.
The prevention and control measures are supported by consumers who said their daily life is unaffected.
“For residents, we don’t mind if we have no chicken to eat for one day,” said a resident.
“We don’t have to always buy chicken as now we have so many other things to choose from. For example, we can buy fish or something else,” said another resident.
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Also in Shanghai where eight human H7N9 infection cases have been reported this year, live poultry trading will be halted from Jan 31 to April 30 this year, and all of the city’s 119 live poultry retail outlets will only sell frozen products during that period.
Meanwhile, a food safety traceability system for frozen poultry products will be established in the first half of this year in Shanghai, according to local authorities.
The Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce said the city will phase out live poultry trading and supply the market with frozen products only as experts say exposure to infected live poultry is the major contribution to human infections of the flu.
“The problem of free range in poultry keeping in China cannot be solved overnight. However, mass slaughter and frozen products can help reduce human H7N9 infection cases, especially in big cities where public health incidents are easy to break out due to traffic congestion. It would be bad if that happens. Therefore, we should prepare for a rainy day instead of waiting and doing nothing until an outbreak of the bird flu occurs. It would be too late to do anything at that time,” said Zhong Nanshan, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.