Poultry traders split over ban on Shenzhen farms after H7N9 case

Some argue that halting poultry imports from 3 mainland suppliers is unnecessary as clean-up begins at estate where sick H7N9 patient lives

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 4:29am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 2:05pm

Hong Kong poultry traders are split over the need to suspend live chicken imports from Shenzhen after authorities confirmed the first local case of the deadly H7N9 virus in a human.

The city on Monday night announced a ban on supplies from three Shenzhen farms. The Indonesian domestic helper who has caught the virus last month visited Shenzhen, where she is believed to have slaughtered and cooked a live chicken.

Yesterday, the Tuen Mun estate where she lives underwent an extensive clean-up.

Tsui Ming-tuen, chairman of the Poultry Wholesalers Association, said people in the industry were shocked by the "unnecessary" ban. "There has been just one case, a domestic helper who was likely to have been infected at a wet market, not at a chicken farm," Tsui said.

Shenzhen farms that supply live poultry to Hong Kong did not sell to Shenzhen markets, he said.

Poultry Wholesalers and Retailers Association president Steven Wong Wai-chuen supported the suspension.

Wong said hundreds of mainland farms "queued up" each day to supply the city in rotation, so the ban simply meant the three farms would be skipped.

University of Hong Kong virology professor Malik Peiris agreed that the suspension was a reasonable precaution to take, given public concern.

Peiris repeated his call for mainland wet markets to follow Hong Kong's lead in ensuring no live poultry was kept overnight. "The risk of human infection could be dramatically reduced," he said.

Meanwhile, at the 856-flat Palatial Coast estate, a cleaning crew in biohazard suits scrubbed down all 10 residential blocks.

The Kai Shing company which manages the estate said public areas there would be cleaned three times a day, while the estate shuttle bus would be disinfected after every trip.

Masks would also be provided in lobbies, while the block where the patient has been working as a live-in helper would undergo intense cleaning, the firm said.

Residents did not seem overly alarmed. One of them, Kristian Helmfild, said it was too early to worry. "Management does a good job in keeping the place clean," he said. "The most important thing is for residents to practise good personal hygiene."

An ambulance crew in protective suits arrived at the estate to pick up a woman, 33, who had reportedly been in close contact with the patient.

In Shenzhen, it was business as usual at the largest poultry wholesale market in Nanshan district yesterday morning, with no heightened precautions. Most passers-by said they had heard little about the outbreak.

"Wet markets and wholesale live poultry markets in Shenzhen are not affected and are open today," Ma Hanwu, deputy director of the Shenzhen Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said.

Additional reporting by Emily Tsang and He Huifeng