Chicken supplier's products banned
Lo Wei and Adrian Wan
Imports of frozen chickens and all other poultry products from a Shenzhen supplier will be banned in Hong Kong for 21 days from yesterday, after the bird flu death of a man in Shenzhen.
The embargoed factory is near the home of a Shenzhen bus driver who died of avian flu, sparking fears of a H5N1 outbreak in both Shenzhen and Hong Kong. It is public health policy to declare an 'import control zone' inside a 13-kilometre radius of a patient's home.
'While adopting the zonal approach policy as a guideline in handling each individual case of outbreak, we would at the same time take into account all factors concerned - including, for example, the severity of the spread of the virus - when determining the suspension measure,' a spokesman said.
'We will continue to closely monitor the latest situation about the avian flu case and take appropriate follow-up action,' he said.
According to the Centre for Food Safety, the factory supplies about 5,000 frozen chickens and 2,000 geese and ducks to Hong Kong every day. The total daily supply from the mainland is around 7,000 live chickens and 100,000 frozen birds.
Kwok Shi-hing, chairman of the Hong Kong Chilled Meat and Poultry Association, said the suspension of the factory's imports would have very little impact on Hong Kong because of the small numbers involved.
Poultry prices will probably not rise in Hong Kong as a result, and people's appetite for fowl is unlikely to suffer, he said.
'The Chinese New Year is coming up soon, and it is a peak demand period for chicken. The Chinese custom and tradition of serving chicken for the festival will not change despite the bird flu scare,' Kwok said.
Dr Lo Wing-lok, an infectiousdiseases specialist, said that while the 13-kilometre radius import control zone was large, it may not be large enough if more infections occur in the area. It is safe for the public to continue eating chicken bought live or frozen, but it can be risky to handle chickens, live or frozen, he said.
'The virus can survive even in a frozen environment. Those who touch it could be infected,' he said.
People who handle chickens should always wash their hands afterwards, he said: 'Soap or detergent should be good enough to wash off the virus.' When handling chickens, people should not touch their nostrils, eyes or mouth, Lo warned.
Frozen chicken should be properly defrosted before cooking, to ensure the heat penetrates the meat. Heating chicken up to 70 degrees Celsius for three minutes is enough to kill the virus, he said. Handling live chickens is riskier, since all their body parts carry the virus.
The government announced on December 20 that Hong Kong would have no live-chicken supplies for 21 days, after a chicken found dead at the Cheung Sha Wan poultry market was confirmed to have the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain.
The government culled 19,451 birds at the market, including 15,569 chickens.