Guangdong will not close a wet market near where a three-year-old boy is confirmed this week to have contracted the H7N9 strain of bird flu, because authorities have to meet "the public's need to eat fresh chicken", a provincial health official says.
The provincial line contrasted sharply with action taken by Shanghai and other regions further north, which closed wet markets after H7N9 was found. The measure is believed to be the most effective in curbing the spread of the deadly virus.
Yesterday, Dr Zhang Yonghui, visiting director general of the Guangdong centre for disease and prevention, said: "We cannot close down the market as a consensus cannot be reached.
"The situation in Guangdong is different as there have been only sporadic cases so far. There is a traditional culture of eating fresh chicken in southern China, so we have to strike a balance."
The boy, who lived in Dongguan , was confirmed on Tuesday to be infected with H7N9. He had visited a wet market with poultry stalls, but did not come into contact with any birds.
The mainland has confirmed 138 human cases of H7N9 bird flu to date, 45 of them fatal.
Zhang said all seven samples collected from the Dongguan market had tested negative and suggested the child might have been infected elsewhere.
Hong Kong's controller of the Centre for Health Protection, Dr Leung Ting-hung, said the centre was talking to mainland officials about whether to halt live poultry imports. Leung agreed the southern Chinese had a culture of consuming fresh chicken as opposed to frozen fowl.
On Thursday, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man raised the idea of suspending supplies from Dongguan. Health experts were looking into whether human infections reported in the region warranted such a measure, Ko said. Guidelines on suspending imports apply only to infections detected in poultry, but not in humans.
Zhang said Guangdong would tighten prevention measures such as early detection.
Lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan called for a halt to live poultry imports from farms within 13 kilometres of the boy's home.
Additional reporting by Lo Wei