H7N9 virus

Sales of live chickens drop in Hong Kong as demand for masks goes up

Poultry sellers lament their loss in earnings, but the pharmacy owners aren't complaining

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 8:02am

Hongkongers are dropping live chickens from their shopping lists amid concern over the bird flu cases on the mainland, with poultry markets here seeing their sales halved despite a price cut.

Face masks and hand sanitisers, on the other hand, are flying off shelves as the city braces itself for an outbreak of the H7N9 virus.

"There has been panic," said Tsui Ming-tuen, chairman of the Poultry Wholesalers Association. "The sale [of live chickens] has been greatly affected. We're losing a lot of money."

Sales of the birds - those locally bred as well as imported from the mainland - dropped by about 50 per cent this week, after the deadly virus killed several infected people on the mainland.

The poultry market was now selling the birds for as low as HK$14 per kg - almost a third less than the HK$20 per kg it cost just last month, Tsui said.

"The cost for us to buy the chickens is around HK$18 to $19 per kg, so you can tell how much money we are losing," he said.

Tsui said the government should step up health measures and inspections of live poultry to guarantee the safety of the birds in order to put consumers' minds at ease.

Meanwhile, the General Chamber of Pharmacy said retailers saw a marked increase in their sales of protective gear, such as face masks and hand sanitisers, over the past week.

But there has not been a shortage of products so far, said chamber chairman Lau Oi-kwok.

On Monday, health minister Dr Ko Wing-man said Hong Kong was ready to cull poultry once a chicken was found to be infected with the H7N9 virus.

Tomorrow, a quick test would be introduced on all live chickens imported into the city from the mainland via the Man Kam To Control Point.

An average of 30 samples would be taken from every 1,000 birds, and results would be out in four hours.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will visit Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung today to supervise the hospital's response system in the case of an outbreak.

Returning from a visit to Guangzhou's health authority, Anthony Wu Ting-yuk, chairman of the Hospital Authority, said Hong Kong had activated a system which would allow experts in both cities to interact.

He said the city's public hospitals had an established system to respond quickly in the event of an outbreak, and that they would remain vigilant during this time.