China sacks officials for ignoring bird flu reports
BEIJING, May 12: A local government in southwestern China has sacked five officials who ignored reports of suspected bird flu outbreaks and then dealt with the crisis incompetently, a state newspaper said today.
The five worked in Sichuan province's Dazhu county, where the central government announced an outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu strain in early January, the official China Daily said.
The province later reported three human bird flu cases, two of whom died. The third, an 8-year-old girl, is recovering.
The sacked officials did not investigate reports of the sudden deaths of almost 2,000 birds at a farm, and did not report the incident to their superiors, the newspaper said.
Once the head of the country's quarantine office heard of the incident, he also did not follow it up, the report added.
Another official fired was the Communist Party chief of the town where the birds died, the paper said.
China, which has reported 12 human deaths from bird flu and almost 40 outbreaks in birds across a dozen provinces over the past year, has vowed to be more open in dealing with the disease.
The government last November unveiled tough rules to combat its spread.
Outbreaks have to be reported to the State Council, or cabinet, within four hours of being discovered by regional governments, and fines of up to 5,000 yuan (625 dollars) can be levied for obstructing prevention work or refusing to comply.
If needed, the police and even the army can be called in to control an outbreak.
China was roundly criticised for underplaying SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which started in southern China then spread to Hong Kong, the rest of Asia and North America, killing hundreds of people in 2003.
The initial cover-up led to the firing of the health minister and Beijing mayor, which was seen by many as a turning point in the country's handling of the crisis.
Experts fear that bird flu could mutate into a form that passes easily among humans, potentially triggering a pandemic in which millions could die.