16 fall ill from bird flu in China
SHANGHAI - Chinese officials have found traces of the new bird flu virus in more areas in Shanghai and in the nearby city of Hangzhou, news reports said on Saturday, as authorities slaughtered birds to stop the spread of the virus that has killed six people.
State-run Xinhua news agency said authorities planned to cull birds at the two live poultry markets in Shanghai and another in Hangzhou after samples of the H7N9 virus were detected in birds at all three sites.
Over 20,000 birds have been culled in the Huhuai market, where traces of the virus were found earlier this week.
Officials in Shanghai, China's financial hub, ordered all live poultry markets in the city closed on Saturday, leaving the food stalls empty and signs reading "The market is closed until further notice".
The new strain of bird flu has infected 16 people in China, all in the east of the country. Six people have died, and the outbreak has spread concern overseas and sparked a sell-off in airline shares in Europe and Hong Kong.
There were no signs of panic in Shanghai, where four of the six deaths have taken place, and people said they were not yet worried. But the culling, which has been widely publicised, did underline for some how close to home the issue had become.
"Now it's just downstairs," said Liu Leting, a user of Weibo, China's version of Twitter which has over 500 million users.
"Suddenly I discover that I'm living in an epidemic zone!"
In one middle price-range restaurant in a the city, a waitress said that the restaurant planned to stop serving chicken dishes because of the outbreak.
"After we sell out the chicken in stock, we will not buy new chicken and will stop serving chicken dishes for the time being," said the waitress, who declined to be named.
While the strain does not appear to be transmitted from human to human, authorities in mainland China and Hong Kong said they were taking extra precautions.
"I support shutting down poultry markets. If the poultry markets stayed open, the virus would continue to spread," Shanghai resident Zhao Juying told Reuters.
Hong Kong's government said it is intensifying surveillance of travelers and poultry coming into the city.
China and Hong Kong were badly hit by the 2002-2003 epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that started in China and killed about one-tenth of the 8,000 it infected worldwide.