From The Straits Times Archives

Hong Kong slaughters more than a million chickens

This story was first published on Dec 30, 1997. 

MORE than one million chickens and other poultry were killed in Hongkong yesterday as a slaughter of all chickens started in an attempt to rid the territory of the "bird flu" virus that has killed four people, and infected at least 12 others.

The massive operation came in the wake of infections discovered in a chicken farm in the New Territories as well as in part of a wholesale chicken market in Cheung Sha Wan.

The H5N1 virus, thought previously to affect only poultry, has killed four people in Hongkong to date, with another 13 still hospitalised. Seven others are also suspected to have been infected with the virus.

All 1.2 million chickens from 160 chicken farms and 39 mixed poultry farms, and those in nearly 1,000 market stalls and shops, as well as poultry kept close to the chickens, will be exterminated in the 24-hour exercise that started at about 1 pm yesterday.

The chickens were collected by about 2,000 government employees and gassed in sealed containers with carbon dioxide. They were then buried, in containers and plastic bags, in landfills in the territory.

Farms and stalls were disinfected and cleaned after the chickens were removed.

The entire operation is expected to cost between HK$30 million (S$6.6 million) and HK$40 million, as the government would compensate farmers and retailers up to HK$30 per bird, if the provisional legislature approves a finance package after the New Year.

A count was taken of all birds and poultry killed in the exercise for compensation purposes. Not only were chickens raised commercially destroyed, those raised domestically were also killed.

In market stalls and provision shops, ducks, geese, pigeons and quail kept close to chickens were also targeted.It is not known when the supply of chickens will be resumed in the territory.

The latest move came after other operations, such as the shutdown and sterilisation of a wholesale chicken market in Cheung Sha Wan failed to eradicate the virus.

On Sunday, the government announced, in an unprecedented move, the closure of a chicken farm in the New Territories as well as part of the wholesale chicken market in Cheung Sha Wan.

The two outlets were closed under the Public Health (Animals and Birds) Regulations, after incidents of avian flu were discovered there.

The "bird flu" outbreaks come at a time when the Hongkong economy is already suffering from a downturn, with the tourism sector hit particularly hard.

Emotions ran high on Sunday morning when government officers moved to shut part of the Cheung Sha Wan market down, with two photographers being attacked by stallkeepers.

The move to destroy all chickens in the territory was as much an attempt to eradicate the virus as to restore confidence both within and outside the territory.

Scientists studying the virus, including those from the World Health Organisation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of Atlanta said that initial studies suggested that the main mode of H5N1 transmission was bird-to-human.

But they left open the possibility of human-to-human transmission, though they added that even if such infections were occurring, they were "relatively inefficient".

More test results are expected to be released in the new year as the race continues to uncover the cause of the infections as well as a vaccine.