Premier Li Keqiang urged health officials yesterday to reduce the fatality rate of the H7N9 bird flu and release information to the public in a timely manner as the deadly strain spreads in southern China.
His comments came as a city in Guangdong culled poultry en masse yesterday.
"It's a new bird flu virus, and we are still far from getting all of the information about it … meanwhile, we should try our best to reduce fatalities and release true data and information to the public," Li was quoted by China National Radio as saying at the Beijing headquarters of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
He said that only through the timely and accurate release of information would the public be kept calm and at ease.
The first two deaths officially caused by the H7N9 bird flu strain occurred in February but were not reported by authorities until late March. Officials said the delayed disclosure was due to the time needed to determine the cause of the illnesses.
H7N9 cases were reported in the southern provinces of Fujian , Jiangxi and Hunan in the past week, sparking fears it might soon emerge in Guangdong and Hong Kong.
Health authorities in Jiangxi yesterday confirmed two more human cases of the virus, according to Xinhua. The number of infected people reached 124, including 23 deaths.
The new cases were an 80-year-old farmer and a 31-year-old female vegetable vendor, both in Nanchang . Authorities said they had both come into contact with poultry, but none of 19 people with whom the pair had contact showed signs of infection.
Authorities in Dongguan , Guangdong, resorted to the mass slaughter of poultry after an H7 strain of bird flu was detected on Saturday in a chicken sample at the city's major wholesale poultry market, according to Luo Qifang , deputy director of the city's Bureau of Agriculture.
"We ordered the closure and sterilisation of local poultry markets on Friday after cases were reported in Hunan and Jiangxi," Luo said. "One of the 130 samples randomly collected from the market tested positive for an H7 strain. But it was not H7N9."
Dongguan had informed Hong Kong about the positive H7 test, said Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man. Ko said no farms within 13 kilometres of the affected market supplied live poultry to Hong Kong. But he said local authorities would monitor the situation closely.
View H7N9 map  in a larger map
Click on each balloon for more information on individual patients infected: blue, patients infected with the H7N9 virus under treatment; red, those infected with H7N9 who have died; yellow, those who have fully recovered; and pink, those infected other types of the Influenza A virus, including H1N1.