by Muhammad Yamany, Chen Gongzheng
CAIRO, April 29 (Xinhua) -- In an unprecedented move across the world, the Egyptian government decided on Wednesday to slaughter all pigs in the country immediately in an attempt to avert the outbreak of the fatal swine flu that has hit different parts of the world.
"It has been decided to slaughter all pigs in the country immediately," local Nile TV quoted Health Minister Hatem al-Gabalias saying after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday afternoon.
He said Egypt was taking the threat of swine flu "very seriously," and would take further measures, such as increasing production of protective masks and the antiviral drug Tamiflu and launching an awareness campaign.
"Slaughtering all the pigs would take three to four weeks," al-Gabali told the state television, adding that this measure is not enough and people had to be cautious and report in case of feeling the symptoms.
The pigs will be slaughtered after check-up, and the pork can be still sold or exported if it gets the go-ahead from the veterinary authority.
"They said that they are going to slaughter all the pigs in the country. Our pigs are very healthy and this is the only way we know to keep living," Ra'fat Fekry, owner of a pig farm, told Xinhua.
He said, "there is a talk in newspapers and media about compensation, but till now we know nothing."
It is estimated that Egypt, about 90 percent of whose population are Muslim, has some 350,000 pigs, raised by the Christian minority who eat pork in Cairo, Giza, Qalubia and October 6 governorates.
The minister also underscored the importance of cleanliness and taking everyday precautions, such as frequent hand washing and staying away from big crowds.
On Tuesday, al-Gabali said the Health Ministry has dispatched an extra group of 22 doctors to the quarantine department at Cairo airport, adding that up till now there is no travel ban on passengers from disease infected countries.
The Egyptian government has decided to establish an ad hoc committee to follow up the disease. The committee will supervise the production of face masks and carry out training in stock breeding, tourism and transportation sectors to intercept the virus.
Earlier, the government has made a plan to relocate all the pig farms to May 15 City in the southern desert of Cairo, but the plan was criticized by lawmakers in the parliament.
The People's Assembly (lower house) urged the government on Tuesday to immediately start culling pigs and not to relocate pig-breeding farms away from residential areas for fear of the spread of swine flu.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO)'s assistant director general for health, security and the environment Keiji Fukuda said on Wednesday that there was no evidence that pigs were spreading the flu to humans.
"We don't see any evidence that anyone is getting infected from pigs. This appears to be a virus which is moving from person to person," Fukuda said.
Experts say the culling of pigs in Egypt is unlikely to affect the spread of swine flu if it reaches the country.
Meanwhile, the WHO said on Tuesday that Egypt's experience in dealing with the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has prepared it to handle the threat of swine flu.
Egypt is the most affected country by the deadly avian influenza outside Asia and listed number three in the world, after Indonesia and Vietnam, according to WHO.
"As a precaution, slaughtering all pigs is a decisive measure and I think that Egypt has learnt a good lesson from fighting the bird flu," Nahed Ibrahim, a Cairo-based expert in medical and surgical treatment of animals, told Xinhua.
A total of 148 laboratory-confirmed human cases of swine flu A/H1N1 infection have been officially reported to the WHO as of 19:00 GMT Wednesday, the UN agency said.
Those cases were reported from nine countries, including 91 from the United States, with one death, and 26 from Mexico, with seven deaths, the agency said in a latest update.
Israel, the sole Mideast country hit by the virus, has confirmed two cases and is now checking two suspected cases.
Symptoms of swine flu include a fever, coughing, joint aches, severe headache and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.