Containing bird flu

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Containing bird flu

The unwelcome winter visitor of avian influenza is once again rocking the nation. Bird flu, which disappeared in April, has reappeared in Seosan, South Chungcheong, and is quickly spreading along the west coast, reaching Gyeonggi and Gangwon.

It is the first time the H5N6 strain has been identified on Korean soil, and it has so far proven fast and deadly. Over a million ducks and chickens have been killed in the past month. The virus raises concern because it has caused 10 human deaths in China since 2014.

Yet our quarantine authorities’ response to the dangerous diffusion has been disappointedly unreliable. The early-stage response is essential for reining in the spread, but authorities raised alarms and ordered a standstill to 8,900 farms only after the infection spread across the country.

Health authorities should have kept up vigilance and restricted movement to stop the spread. The same strain has been discovered in an owl in Wonju, Gangwon. We fear the spread of an infectious disease due to a dysfunctional administration, with state leadership in limbo over an impeachment crisis.

Quarantine authorities must shape up and do whatever they can to fight the disease. Migratory ducks are expected to arrive at the Youngam River in South Jeolla, a site vulnerable to bird influenza. Pre-emptive action must be taken to minimize further damage. Central and local governments must work together closely and rural communities must cooperate to contain further spread of avian influenza.

The government should also consider using the annual budget of 300 billion won ($260 million) laid out to compensate farms stamping out disease-hit livestock to instead subsidize farms suspending business during the flu-prone winter season.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 28, Page 30

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