CAPE TOWN, Oct. 6 (Xinhua) -- The bird flu crisis continued unabated in South Africa despite intensified efforts to curb the pandemic, authorities said on Friday.
The highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8 virus has been confirmed in five provinces, with Johannesburg in Gauteng Province becoming the latest victim, according to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Across South Africa, about 20 percent of all breeding stock has been lost, raising concern about a possible sharp rise in the prices of eggs and poultry.
The Western Cape Province is the hardest hit with 72 percent of its poultry population affected and about 2 million birds having been culled since August. The provincial government estimated 800 million rand (about 59 million U.S. dollars) in immediate production losses to the industry.
The outbreak was first reported in June on two farms in Mpumlanga Province, triggering nationwide concern. This is the first time that a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu has been detected in poultry in South Africa.
Due to the outbreak, South Africa has banned the sale of live chickens and stopped exports of raw meat, eggs and live birds to some trade partners.
Senzeni Zokwana, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, has come under fire for failing to produce a clear and effective plan to address the bird flu crisis.
"While Minister Zokwana is dragging his feet on a plan to effectively deal with the outbreak, the poultry and ostrich industries are left in the lurch to deal with this crisis that could potentially wipe them out," said Annette Steyn, shadow agricultural minister of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).
The owners of bird farms and businesses have had to cull their birds and shut down due to the government's slow response, Steyn said.
"This is putting the jobs of tens of thousands of workers at risk and poultry businesses could be out of business forever," he warned.
The HPAI is a rapidly spreading viral disease that can infect many types of birds. No effective treatment for the disease has been found.