HONG KONG, June 24 (Xinhua) -- The Hong Kong government came to the "daily cull" decision for the livestock industry on Tuesday to avoid outbreak of H5N1 in the city.
Secretary for Food and Health York Chow announced here Tuesday at a press briefing that unsold live chickens will banned from overnight stays at retail markets when chicken sales resume on July 2.
The government will give more time for retailers, farmers, wholesalers and transport operators to consider a proposed compensation package to buy out their licenses, Chow said.
Chow told the media that the Executive Council's decision has taken into account the trade's views and the risks of avian flu. As the government has been unable to trace the source of bird flu detected earlier in markets, enhanced measures are needed at the retail level when sales of live and chilled chicken resumes.
Samples of live chicken excrement from four wet markets were tested positive towards the deadly H5N1 avian flu virus earlier this month. Health authorities then adopted the measure of slaughtering all live chickens in the retail markets.
Reported cases of H5N1 infections happened in markets at Kowloon, Tuen Mun, Fanling and Ap Lei Chau. The authorities immediately culled about 2,700 live chickens at Po On Road Market in Kowloon, where the very first fatal bird flu case was found.
The government had also suspended the import of live chickens from the mainland in 21 days starting from June 11, which is a decision in line with international guidelines. Supplies of live chickens from local farmers were also suspended.
To avoid further spread of the H5N1 virus, the government earlier came up with suggestions for live poultry industry practitioners -- either performing the "daily cull" practice by slaughtering all unsold live chickens every day or closing down the livestock retail business for good.
The government announced the decision on Tuesday telling the details that Food Business Regulation will be amended to ban live chickens from markets and fresh food shops between 08: p.m. and 05: 00 a.m. local time. All unsold live chickens at stalls will have to be culled before 08:00 p.m. local time each day.
The city's Food and Environmental Hygiene Department officers will conduct daily inspections from July 2 through early August to ensure the live poultry trade abides by the law.
Violators will be liable to a 50,000 HK dollars (about 6,427 U.S. dollars) fine and six months in jail. Their license or tenancy can also be canceled.
On the proposed compensation for voluntarily terminating business, Chow said retailers have an extra month, until July 24, to consider whether to accept. Retailers, farmers, wholesalers and transport operators have three months.
He also noted the package is worth about one billion HK dollars(about 12.8 million U.S. dollars). The Government has also agreed to scrap the shop area cap, to allow larger stalls to get more compensation.
The government will also offer an ex-gratia payment of 30 HK dollars (about 3.8 U.S. dollars) in compensation for each of the 400,000 chickens at local farms affected by the 21-day sale suspension, Chow added.
Hong Kong used to see a major bird flu outbreak as early as 1997, when local authorities culled the entire 1.5 million poultry population in the city. There had been sparks of bird flu cases but no major outbreak since then.