Authorities have ordered a three-day suspension of the sale of live poultry in Macau, culling 8,000 chickens and 1,000 pigeons on Thursday night, after an environmental sample taken last Thursday from the Iao Hon market has tested positive from a string of the H7 avian flu virus.
“Following the positive result, the government activated its contingency plan in coordination with the Health Bureau. In order to ensure public health and safety, we will be culling birds and suspending the sale of live poultry,” said José Tavares.
“We will also undertake inspection and disinfection efforts in sales spaces and the slaughter houses. On its part, the Health Bureau will be monitoring the workers of this market,” the president of the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau added.
The sale of live poultry is expected to be halted for three days, with a further extension to 21 days if the authorities fail to track down the supplier of the infected birds.
Wednesday night, the chickens and pigeons were culled, while authorities carried out the habitual disinfection protocol at the Iao Hon market. On Friday, all markets selling live poultry in Macau were subject to similar disinfection procedures.
The three workers and the owner of the stall in which the infected sample was detected have tested negative for the virus and other workers with direct connection to the case have been put into quarantine.
For now the risk of contagion appears to be low, but authorities are not crossing off any possibility.
“The Health Bureau is urging customers who were at the market today (on Thursday) to come forward and call our red line if they have any questions. If they happen to develop cough, fever or sore throat symptoms, the first step is to use a protective mask and not use any public transport. Then, they should call an ambulance,” said Health Bureau director Lei Chin Ion.
A recent survey on replacement of the sale of live poultry for frozen one showed a positive support for a potential policy, but failed to show a comfortable consensus. This latest scare of bird flu could then ignite the debate.
The government says that it will adopt a cautious and gradual approach to a potential transition.
“We have been studying that possibility but right now we are aware that some residents are against frozen poultry. Still, we will try to raise awareness so that everyone knows about the benefits of such conservation method. Only through that, will we be able to address this flu problem. For now we don’t have a definitive timeline,” said José Tavares.
A similar avian flu scare back in February saw the culling of some 15,000 chicken following a positive test for the virus at the Patane market.