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HK boosts border checks after bird flu cases (6 February 2006)


HK boosts border checks after bird flu cases (6 February 2006)

Hong Kong has put customs officers on high alert and tightened surveillance to stop people smuggling birds and poultry into the territory after a handful birds have been found with the deadly H5N1 avian influenza.

It has also strengthened communications with mainland China on illegal bird trafficking, and York Chow, health chief of the former British colony, was travelling to the neighbouring city of Shenzhen on Monday to meet border officials.

"Front line customs officers have been put on high alert and examination of suspicious imported cargo and baggage has also been increased," Chow Kwong, assistant commissioner of Hong Kong's boundary and ports authority, said in a statement.

"We urge people not to bring birds or poultry into Hong Kong illegally, or they will face prosecution," Chow said.

Last week, a chicken brought illegally into Hong Kong from China was found to have had the H5N1 bird flu virus, which the World Health Organisation says has infected 161 people and killed 86 of them since 2003.

Experts fear the virus, which mostly affects birds, could mutate to a form that can be easily transmitted between people sparking a pandemic that could kill millions.

The border tightening comes two days after Hong Kong announced that preliminary tests showed a dead magpie was infected with bird flu. It was still not clear if it was H5N1, but if confirmed the magpie would be the fifth bird in a month in Hong Kong with the virus.

It also comes days after government health experts said H5N1 was probably endemic to the region, despite the fact that Guangdong, the huge and prosperous province next to Hong Kong, has not reported any bird flu cases.

In 2005, Hong Kong's border patrol seized some 250,000 kg (550,000 lb) of illicit chicken and poultry meat and 28 illicit live chickens and birds. In January 2006, the customs department seized some 1,500 kg of illegal poultry meat and two live chickens. Reuters

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