644,000 birds culled as flu spreads to Gyeonggi

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644,000 birds culled as flu spreads to Gyeonggi

With avian influenza spreading beyond North Jeolla, the government yesterday imposed a 12-hour ban on the movement of poultry farmers and their vehicles, prohibiting them from leaving their farms in the Chungcheong regions and Gyeonggi.

The measure, which was effective from 6 a.m. through 6 p.m. yesterday, came amid growing fears over the spread of the deadly animal virus, which now has hit South Chungcheong, North and South Jeolla and Gyeonggi.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed yesterday that ducks at a poultry farm in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, were infected with the AI virus. Cheonan is only about 92 kilometers (57 miles) from Seoul.

The authorities are now verifying the strain of virus in the ducks in Cheonan. They assume it is H5N8, the strain that has swept the southern parts of the country since Jan. 16.

The H5N8 strain has no history of infecting humans, according to the government.

With the confirmation of the AI outbreak in Cheonan, quarantine authorities are going to cull 9,500 ducks and chickens from the infected farm and 51,700 birds at farms in a 3-kilometer radius as a preventive measure.

The confirmation of the AI infection in Cheonan came a day after chickens at a poultry farm in Buyeo County, South Chungcheong, were confirmed to have been infected, heightening government worries that the disease has spread to chickens.

The authorities yesterday dispatched military servicemen and public servants to Buyeo to conduct quarantine and sterilization efforts, culling 118,000 chickens at two farms located within a 3-kilometer radius of the infected farm.

The news of the chickens’ infection in South Chungcheong put chicken farmers in adjacent southern province of Gyeonggi on high alert. Over 15 million chickens are raised at 422 farms in Pyeongtaek, Anseong and Hwaseong in southern Gyeonggi.

Choi Kil-young, 64, who farms 80,000 chickens in Hwaseong, said he is not letting anyone enter his farm.

“If my farm gets infected, it’s not only me who will bear the brunt of it,” he said. “It could also devastate other farms in nearby areas.”

Under the government directive on disease control, a poultry farm is subject to culling if it is located within a 3-kilometer radius of an infected farm.

“We compensate 100 percent of the market price for slaughtered animals if it is verified they have not contracted bird flu,” said an official at the disease control center. Compensation is 80 percent for infected birds.

As of yesterday, the Rural Affairs Ministry said 644,000 chickens and ducks were slaughtered from 43 farms in the current AI outbreak. In addition, about 813,000 animals from 27 farms are expected to be culled in the coming days.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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