SEOUL • South Korea has ordered its biggest cull of poultry to fight a bird flu outbreak that is spreading at an unprecedented rate, the Agriculture Ministry said yesterday.
The ministry ordered the cull of 4 million more birds, bringing the total number killed since mid-November to 16 million, almost one-fifth of its poultry population.
South Korea raised its bird flu alert status to the highest level for the first time on Thursday. The government said it has found 54 cases of the virus in poultry since the first outbreak was confirmed on Nov 18.
Local media said response to the outbreak was delayed because officials were distracted by the scandal that saw President Park Geun Hye impeached last week.
South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo reported that the first major government meeting on the outbreak was held only one month after the virus was first discovered on Oct 28. By then, it had reached nearby farms.
"Things can really get worse unless the central government closely collaborates with regional governments and farms," said Professor Seo Sang Heui, a veterinary medicine professor at Chungnam National University.
The last time South Korean farmers were hit with bird flu in 2014, poultry demand tumbled as more than 19 million birds were culled.
"We have appointed a central emergency measures headquarters to oversee the situation and reinforce our pan-governmental response measures," Agriculture Minister Kim Jae Soo said.
Although cases of human infections from the H5N6 virus have been reported elsewhere previously, no cases have been detected in South Korea. Outbreaks of avian influenza were reported recently in Japan and several European nations, including France, which widened "high risk" restrictions to the entire country last week.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE