Contain the epidemic

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Contain the epidemic

Over 24 million chickens have been culled and put to death due to the outbreak of avian flu as of last week. The worst-ever epidemic of the highly pathogenic avian influenza has wiped out 39 percent of poultry in Korea and 23 percent of laying hens.

If the spread is not contained, the infectious disease could destroy 50 million out of the nation’s 165 million farm chicken flock. Worse, the H5N1 virus could become a regular winter visitor in South Korea as it has become in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Korea’s poultry industry would lose competitiveness if the infection is caused by farmed birds. The public sector must do all it can to combat the epizootic.

The endeavors so far had been disappointing. Oh Se-eul, head of the Korea Poultry Association, complained that the government is stumbling because it does not know how to handle the situation.

The virus spread fast since it first touched down on Oct. 28 because of slow action early on. The culling was slow and clumsy because the work was left in the hands of private agencies due to a shortage of government workers.

This could in fact become another source of the spread because of the poor handling of protective equipment.

The government must mobilize all its forces in order to defend unaffected regions. Affected areas should be thoroughly quarantined and farmers and workers exposed to the slaughtering should be carefully checked to stamp out the risk of passing the virus to other areas.

The government should also map out longer-term measures on bird flu, which first appeared in 2004. Public workers must be given authority to work with commitment.

There must not be any laxity and loopholes in public safety because state leadership is in limbo. If the government and public sector lose vigilance, the country could face a much bigger crisis.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 24, Page 30.

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