Shenzhen this week made a halting start to its trial ban on the sale of live poultry in Futian, the densely populated district directly across from Hong Kong, in a bid to reduce the incidence of bird flu.
The ban was originally slated for July 1, but it was delayed several days until this Thursday. Many live chickens continued to be traded in the district's wet markets. Traders complained they had been given little - if any - notice of the ban or how it was to be implemented.
Shenzhen is the second Pearl River Delta city to ban live sales after Guangzhou, which began a six-month trial on May 5. The Shenzhen Economy, Trade and Information Commission said vendors in Futian could only sell chilled fresh poultry from approved slaughterhouses. The ban will also cover the Luohu, Yantian and Nanshan districts but no dates have been set for this.
According to the provincial health department, there have been 109 cases of H7N9 bird flu in the six months to June 17, 37 of them fatal.
The ban applies to farm produce markets, supermarkets and restaurants. Officials will tighten licensing procedures for refrigerated delivery services. The districts will supervise the slaughter and delivery of poultry.
The issue rose to prominence after Zhong Nanshan, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a leading figure during the Sars epidemic in 2003, said the key to containing H7N9 was controlling live poultry markets. As a result, the government acted quickly - too quickly, in the opinion of some.
The city's live poultry vendors, for example, seemed surprised by the decision, saying the government's policy was issued recklessly and lacked detailed measures on implementation.
"I heard no official notice of the ban," said Luo Xiang, a chicken vendor at the Huanggang wet market.
"There were no details or guidance, for example on what type of subsidies they would offer live poultry vendors to buy refrigerators. And who are the approved slaughterhouses?"
Guangzhou's Yangcheng Evening News reported that many chicken vendors in the provincial capital changed slaughter and packing dates illegally because few of them could sell all their chilled chicken in time.
Illegal hawkers now sell live poultry outside the wet markets. "I prefer to buy live chickens from hawkers on the street if this trial ban becomes permanent," one Shenzhen resident said. "Slaughtering poultry straight after sale is the only way to prove the animal is fresh and healthy."
To appease residents and vendors, Futian officials changed their tone early this week and said the ban would be fully implemented after Thursday to give people time to prepare.
Hong Kong cut the number of live chicken stalls to 400 in 2006. Only about 20,000 live chickens are sold each day, for about HK$300 each. Many Hongkongers used to go to Shenzhen at the weekend and buy a freshly killed chicken to take home.
"I usually paid 100 yuan [HK$126] for a live chicken at the wet markets near the Luohu checkpoint and another 10 yuan to boil it," said Hong Kong resident Fung Chan-kin. "I'd rather catch the subway to outer suburbs like Longgang to shop for live chickens if the ban comes to Luohu and Futian. Nothing can stop we Cantonese from buying live chickens."