Fears of bird flu have deterred live-chicken traders at wet markets from ordering extra birds for today's Ching Ming festival, even though they are traditional offerings for ancestors during the festival.
"I didn't get more supplies because of H7N9 as I fear customers may not buy live chickens," said Ling Tse, who runs a chicken stall in Kowloon City market.
She said the price of a live chicken at HK$45 a catty (604 grams) was more or less the same as on ordinary days.
Poultry Dealers and Workers Association member Ma Ping-loon said business was down about 30 per cent from last year's festival. "Even though it's Ching Ming, I dare not raise the price."
Ma said the public should have confidence in buying live chickens as the poultry imported to Hong Kong were from farms in southern China, not the east where the confirmed cases of bird flu were found.
The first case of bird flu was reported in Jiangsu where a chef fell ill on March 7 and died in hopsital on March 27.
Yesterday, a 67-year-old Hangzhou man was tested positive for the H7N9 virus, taking the number of cases to nine, including three deaths.
The six patients - four in Jiangsu, one in Anhui and one in Zhejiang - are in critical condition.
Despite the reassurance from local poultry dealers, some buyers are still worried. "I'll take extra precautions, perhaps wearing a mask, when I come next time to buy live chickens," said Lorena, a Filipino maid.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man assured the public that the live chickens imported from the mainland were safe. "We have a registration system for all farms on the mainland which supply live chickens to Hong Kong," he said.
"If there's any bird flu outbreak at the farm or at any place within 13 kilometres of the farm, we'll stop imports from that particular chicken farm."
The minister said only 7,000 live chickens a day were imported from the mainland.
He did not rule out the possibility that the government might limit the supply if the bird flu outbreak worsened.
The Education Bureau has reminded schools to stay vigilant and put in place preventive and control measures against communicable diseases.