As the acting Chief Secretary for Administration, Michael Suen Ming-yeung, noted yesterday, the key to fighting bird flu is not so different to that needed to combat any other disease. All viruses thrive in dirty conditions. Eliminate these and the risk of the disease spreading is greatly reduced. Anyone who has seen flies buzzing round uncovered meat and vegetables in food markets will know just how much scope there is for improvement in local hygiene standards. Given that many of the H5N1 cases involved a family whose grandmother scoured rubbish bins for discarded fruit and poultry, better sanitation is clearly essential to avoid a new outbreak when chicken imports resume. In the long run, plans to require the central slaughtering of all poultry will make a major contribution towards ensuring better standards. But this will take several years to implement. It is not enough for the Secretary for Health and Welfare, Katherine Fok Lo Shiu-ching, to insist that existing food hygiene regulations are adequate and that the only need is for better management and greater public education. Some useful measures have been announced, including more thorough cleaning of Hong Kong's notoriously filthy food markets and moves to replace wooden chicken coops with plastic or metal ones. But it is hardly realistic to expect any resulting improvements in sanitation to last for long unless they are backed up by the threat of fines. The Government has not hesitated in following this track to enforce its new system for ensuring all imported chickens are virus free. A $25,000 fine is to be levied against anyone who fails to comply with the requirement for a health certificate. Unless there are similar sanctions for those who fail to maintain adequate hygiene standards, there remains a risk that poor sanitation might cause a fresh outbreak. Killing 1.5 million chickens was always going to be the easier part of the battle. The more difficult task is to stop H5N1 occurring again. While the Government made some progress in this direction, it still has not done enough to inspire confidence in its ability to meet this challenge. Tougher hygiene regulations, stringently enforced, are one essential step towards achieving that and making Hong Kong a healthier place in which to live.