It's the first time since 2011 that Hong Kong has imposed an import ban on live chickens and carried out a cull. After detecting a chicken infected with the H7N9 strain of avian influenza at the Cheung Sha Wan wholesale market, government authorities closed the market, banned the sale of live chickens, and began the cull of 20,000 birds.
"This has been our control strategy for the last 16 years," says Dr. Kelvin To at the University of Hong Kong's Department of Microbiology. "It's a necessary measure to stop the spread of this virus."
But this is the Lunar New Year festive season - a time when it's traditional to buy live chickens for consumption - and wholesalers fear they will lose millions in local revenue.
They say the authorities should have stopped the infected chickens at the border with mainland China. The infected samples were detected in a batch of chickens from Guangdong Province - the same area, incidentally, where SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) was first discovered.
"For every batch, we screen a proportion of the chickens and test them for H7N9, and if one tests positive, just as in this case, then the government takes action. We also screen chickens in Hong Kong because we have chicken farms here too," says Dr. To.
The chicken that was just detected with the virus, however, was in a batch that came from China, the doctor added. "So we think there's a definite risk in the chickens coming from China."
More cases than last year
Figures published by Hong Kong's Department of Health on Tuesday (28.01.2014) show "a total of 246 human cases of avian influenza A(H7N9) confirmed in the Mainland."
Six new cases were reported on Monday, including one death in Guangdong. Others were hospitalized in Jiangsu, Hunan and Fujian.
The health department says control measures are in place, such as thermal imaging systems for checking the body temperatures of inbound travelers.
"The situation now is much worse than last year, because in the first outbreak there were about 130 cases, but just in the past month there have already been another hundred cases," Dr.To said.