A temporary site may be opened within four months to separate local poultry from mainland birds while health authorities scout around for a place that can be used in conjunction with the Cheung Sha Wan market in the long run.
The measure would allow the city to lift its blanket ban on all mainland live poultry, the health minister said.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man floated the scenario in which mainland poultry would be allowed back into the Cheung Sha Wan Temporary Wholesale Poultry Market. Daily virus tests would be run on batches of birds from across the border. Local poultry would remain on the farms and taken to the Cheung Sha Wan market only if the mainland birds got the all-clear.
The local birds would be kept at the temporary site if the imports tested positive for bird flu.
"While mainland live poultry awaits test results at Cheung Sha Wan, we would try our best not to let local live chickens leave their farms," Ko said yesterday after meeting importers. He said if mainland live chickens were found to be carrying bird flu viruses and chickens had to be culled, at least it would spare local chickens.
Ko earlier set a target of preparing a site within four months to house imported poultry while they were tested. If the birds had gotten the all-clear, they would have been taken to Cheung Sha Wan to be collected by traders. But yesterday he said it would take more than a year to set up a facility that met requirements.
Poultry Wholesalers Association chairman Tsui Ming-tuen, who has been urging the government to resume live poultry imports as soon as possible, said there was not much choice.
Local chicken breeder and trader Cheng Chin-keung said while the contingency measure would probably not affect his business, it was not right to allow mainland poultry into the city ahead of test results.
Ko said the government had not given up on the initial plan, but would work on the contingency measure first.
He said he was assessing a site in Ta Kwu Ling and another one proposed by traders.
Last month, the government culled 22,000 birds after the H7N9 strain of bird flu was found in a sample drawn from mainland poultry.
Sales of local live poultry resumed last week but the ban on mainland imports remains as the government looks for a way to separate the two.