Wet markets welcomed queues of housewives and maids yesterday as trade in local live chickens resumed after a three-week ban imposed as a bird-flu prevention measure.
Stall owners brought in extra stock from overcrowded local farms and were rewarded with brisk business. Many sold out, despite a slight increase in prices due to a continuing ban on live poultry from the mainland.
"Business is much better today, because it has been too long that people haven't eaten fresh chicken," said Chan Sau-kuen, a Kowloon City market stallholder who had brought in 300 chickens, three times her usual stock. She sold most at HK$50 per catty (600 grams), HK$2 more than usual. The price of each chicken ranged from HK$100 to HK$200.
Within two hours she had sold out of her local breed Kamei chickens, at HK$60 per catty with a buy-one-get-one-free offer. But despite the brisk trade, the sales were not enough to cover her Lunar New Year losses.
The trade ban was imposed three weeks ago after a sample from a Guangdong supplier tested positive for the deadly H7N9 strain of the virus.
While trade in local poultry resumed yesterday, the government on Tuesday announced the ban on imports of live chickens from the mainland would be extended another four months.
Lawmakers feared this would cause heavy losses for local traders who dealt in mainland birds.
The government proposes paying more than HK$10 million to compensate wholesalers over the local, three-week ban. This would cover HK$30 for each chicken culled, and HK$30 for each one that could not be sold at a prime age. The proposal will be tabled to the Legislative Council Finance Committee tomorrow.
Undersecretary for food and health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee said the bureau would table a separate plan to compensate traders and wholesalers who suffered from the extension to the mainland ban.
Lawmaker for the agriculture and fisheries sector Steven Ho Chun-yin said the proposed compensation was not enough.
Since 1998, when bird flu first prompted a cull, an estimated 259,000 birds have been culled and HK$1.4 billion spent on compensation, according to lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan.
Back at the markets, some customers, such as housewife Audrey Tang, were unfazed by bird-flu fears.
"It's all right as long as I handle and cook them carefully," she said. She bought three chickens for HK$600 - two old ones for soup, and one for steaming. Fresh chickens tasted much better than chilled ones, she said.