Mai Po wants review of bird-flu shutdowns

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2008, 12:00am
 

WWF seeks HK$1m for closure of reserve

WWF Hong Kong will seek a review of the guidelines on bird-flu closures and HK$1 million in compensation for the shutdown of the Mai Po Nature Reserve.

The group, whose birdwatching reserve reopens today, ending its fourth temporary closure, accuses the government of inconsistency when dealing with H5N1- infected dead wild birds found around Mai Po and in urban areas.

The reserve was closed for 21 days from February 6 after a great egret infected with H5N1 was found within a 3km radius of the reserve.

Mai Po reserve manager Lew Young yesterday said a meeting would be held early next month with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and the Food and Health Bureau to discuss the closure guidelines and compensation for losses.

Dr Young also said financial losses caused by the four closures imposed on Mai Po over four years came to nearly HK$1 million.

'The government closed the reserve for school and public visits and we received no compensation for the losses amounting to over HK$200,000 in each period. Whenever we asked the government for compensation, it just told us that it didn't have the money,' he said.

About 40 school tours with up to 40 students in each group were cancelled during the latest closure.

The reserve was also closed for 21 days last year, 71 days in 2006 and 48 days in 2004.

The group called on the government to review the guidelines on closing the reserve.

'The government applies very different and contradictory standards towards infection cases outside the reserve and those in the city areas,' Dr Young said. 'For any case of bird flu discovered near the reserve, we have to close for 21 days, while for cases in urban areas, the government merely carries out disinfection with no quarantine being put in place.'

Under existing guidelines, if H5-infected dead wild birds are found within 3km of Mai Po, the reserve must close for 21 days.

'Such a policy discrepancy has created an unfair public misconception that the nature reserve is the place of regular infections, although most of the H5N1 cases in Hong Kong involving dead birds are found in the city districts,' he said.

Of the 43 infected dead birds found since 2006, 21 were found in Kowloon, according to data collected by the group.

'The government should investigate why there is such a concentration of cases in these districts instead of just closing Mai Po,' Dr Young said. He also noted that more than 24,000 samples from wild birds in the reserve had been tested by the University of Hong Kong since 2003, but none had been positive for H5N1.

'Falling public confidence in Mai Po is indeed our biggest loss caused by the closure policy,' he said.

The department said the guideline was designed to help minimise the public health threat.

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