Live poultry from the mainland might be kept at a site near the border until they are confirmed to be free of the bird flu virus to avoid cross-infection with local birds, the health minister said.
While all poultry are currently kept at the Cheung Sha Wan wholesale market while they wait for test results, this led to locally bred birds being culled with infected mainland poultry last week, prompting complaints of losses from local breeders and traders.
Two new cases of H7N9 were reported in Guangdong yesterday. One was a 63-year-old man in Shenzhen who died on Saturday; the other, a 37-year-old man in Zhongshan, was in critical condition. More than 270 H7N9 infections have been reported on the mainland since the virus emerged in March last year.
All live poultry trade including imports have been suspended in Hong Kong until February 18 after a poultry sample from Guangdong tested positive for H7N9 last Monday.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said he had been looking at ways to separate mainland and local poultry before tests results were released.
"My preliminary tendency is to look for a place near Man Kam To. Even if a place is found, transportation problems will have to be considered. Facilities such as ventilation will have to be built to reach quarantine standards."
Ko said it would take some time to decide on a suitable location. However, local poultry breeders and traders are expecting the government to give them a definite reply on Wednesday, when they are scheduled to meet. Otherwise they would consider filing for a judicial review on the government's poultry culling.
"We are not satisfied [with what Ko said]. In the past, they have said they were finding a place to separate the chickens and they still haven't yet found one," chicken breeder and trader Regal Cheng Chin-keung said.
He is also pressing the government to let local breeders sell their poultry before the end of the trade suspension. The birds are accumulating on farms in the New Territories and breeders are worried about an increased risk of infection.
Cheng said he had sought advice from lawyers and they were positive on the review case.