Hong Kong bars poultry imports from S.China province

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HONG KONG, Sep 17 (Reuters) Hong Kong suspended chilled and frozen duck and geese imports from China's southern Guangdong province today after a suspected outbreak of H5N1 bird flu virus among ducks there.

''All chilled and frozen duck and geese from Guangdong will be suspended for one week ... and the government will scrap an arrangement to increase imports of live chickens for the mid-autumn festival (next week),'' Health Secretary York Chow told reporters.

China announced on Saturday a suspected outbreak of H5N1 among ducks in Panyu district of Guangdong. By last Thursday, 9,830 ducks had died of the outbreak and Chinese workers have since culled over 33,000 ducks in the area in a bid to contain the outbreak.

Initial tests by provincial officials showed that the birds died of the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus, which can be transmitted to humans, the Chinese government said.

Chow said while the outbreak appears to be an isolated one, Hong Kong would suspend all imports of live chickens, eggs and chilled and frozen poultry meat from farms within a 24 km (15 mile) radius of the infected farm.

Hong Kong imports most of its poultry supplies from mainland China.

With the world's biggest poultry population and millions of backyard birds roaming free, China is at the centre of the fight against bird flu.

Scientists fear the bird flu virus could mutate into a form that could pass easily from person to person, sparking a global pandemic.

There have been 25 human cases, including 16 deaths, from the virus in China and dozens of outbreaks in birds that have led to the culling of millions of fowl.

REUTERS SKB AS1815

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