Thai plans fall apart as virus reappears

BANGKOK: Thailand's hopes of following Japan in declaring a swift end to its huge bird flu crisis were dashed yesterday as the virus which has killed 20 Asians reappeared in eight areas where it had been thought vanquished. 

Japan planned to declare an end to its sole outbreak this week if no new cases were reported, officials said, and Thailand had hoped to follow suit by the end of this month despite warnings from UN health experts that it was being premature. 

But Deputy Agriculture Minister Newin Chidchop told reporters the H5N1 virus had been found in fighting cocks in areas of eight provinces where mass slaughters were carried out and in ducks in one not struck by the first wave of infections. 

“We have found 14 spots in nine provinces,” he said. 

The infected fighting cocks – valuable birds some owners were accused of hiding – were found in former “red zones” where the government had ordered the slaughter of poultry within a 5km radius of an outbreak, he said. 

IT’S SAFE: Public relations manager of Vietnam's Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry,Cong Tu, displaying cooked chicken to promote safety in eating chicken in Hanoi recently. —Reuterspic

Thailand, where six people have died after catching the highly infectious virus from sick poultry, had been warned by the World Health Organisation that it was in too much of a rush to declare the crisis ended. 

It said some countries appeared to be putting business ahead of human health, a charge Thailand said could not be levelled at it despite having the world's fourth largest chicken export industry which earns over US$1bil (RM3.8bil) a year. 

Thailand had promised to be meticulous in ensuring the eradication of the virus and it was a second set of tests in former “red zones” which discovered the bug was still present. 

It has slaughtered 30 million birds, about the same number as Vietnam, where at least 14 people have died of bird flu and which reported two more cases of the disease. 

A 15-year-old boy tested positive for the disease and was being treated at a hospital in the northern province of Thanh Hoa while a 22-year-old man was confirmed as having the disease and was in hospital in Ho Chi Minh City in the south. 

The virus, which has struck in eight Asian nations, is still spreading. Even Tibet's towering mountains and thin air haven't kept it out. 

China's Agriculture Ministry said the H5N1 avian flu virus had been found in Lhasa, the Himalayan region's capital.  

That would add to the sense of urgency at an emergency meeting of senior health and agricultural officials, including UN experts from here, and from seven South Asian nations yesterday to discuss joint efforts in tackling the epidemic. 

The meeting in New Delhi on the other side of the Himalayas, which are crossed by migrating birds, “will deliberate on possible co-operation for tackling the problem of avian influenza,” the Indian government said in a statement. 

India has no reported cases of bird flu so far, but neighbouring Pakistan, like Taiwan and three states in the United States, has been struck by a milder strain of avian flu that cannot cross the species barrier into humans. – Reuters

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