China is trying to contain a new outbreak of bird flu
The death toll from a new strain of bird flu rose to five in China on Thursday as Beijing said it was mobilising resources nationwide to combat the virus, Japan and Hong Kong stepped up vigilance and Vietnam banned imports of Chinese poultry.
The H7N9 bird flu strain does not appear to be transmitted from human to human but authorities in Hong Kong raised a preliminary alert and said they were taking precautions at the airport.
In Japan, airports have put up posters at entry points warning all passengers from China to seek medical attention if they suspect they have bird flu, reports Reuters.
A total of 14 people in China have been confirmed to have contracted H7N9, all in the east of the country. One of the cases was a four-year-old child, who was recovering, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Two people died on Thursday, both in Shanghai, bringing the number of deaths to five, state media said. Four of the five have died in Shanghai, China's booming financial hub.
Authorities in Shanghai also discovered the H7N9 virus in a pigeon sample taken from a traditional wholesale market, Xinhua added, believed to be the first time the virus has been discovered in an animal in China since the outbreak began.
"(China) will strengthen its leadership in combating the virus ... and coordinate and deploy the entire nation's health system to combat the virus," the Health Ministry said in a statement late on Wednesday on its website (www.moh.gov.cn).
In Hong Kong, authorities activated the preliminary "Alert Response Level" under a preparedness plan for an influenza pandemic, which calls for close monitoring of chicken farms, vaccination, culling drills, and a suspension of imports of live birds from the mainland.
All passengers on flights in and out of Hong Kong were being asked to notify flight attendants or airport staff if they were feeling unwell.
Vietnam said it had banned poultry imports from China, citing the risk from H7N9.
In Beijing, the Health Ministry said the government would swiftly communicate details of the new strain to the outside world and its own people, following complaints it had been too slow to report on the outbreak and suspicion of a cover-up.
Chinese internet users and some newspapers have questioned why it took so long for the government to announce the new cases, especially as two of the victims fell ill in February. The government has said it needed time to correctly identify the virus.
In 2003, authorities initially tried to cover up an epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which emerged in China and killed about 10 percent of the 8,000 people it infected worldwide.