June 17, 2006

HK fights poultry smuggling to keep out bird flu

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Authorities in Hong Kong stepped up
customs checks at the weekend to stamp out poultry smuggling
after a truck driver was found infected by the H5N1 bird flu
virus across the border in mainland China.

More officers were deployed at Hong Kong's four land border
checkpoints and the territory beefed up examination of
suspicious cargoes and baggage at sea and air boundaries.

"We confiscated three fresh chickens and three fresh ducks
by Saturday night at Lowu," a government spokeswoman said on

"Five people tried to bring them in, four of them were
mainland Chinese and one a Hong Kong resident."

The new effort, codenamed "Operation Parrot," began on

Lowu is one of the heaviest land border crossings in the
world, handling up to 17,000 people an hour during peak

The spokeswoman did not know if the five people had been

It is an offence to bring any meat or poultry into Hong
Kong without an official certificate and offenders face a
maximum penalty of HK$50,000 ($6,400) and six months' jail.

Hong Kong suspended imports of live poultry from mainland
China on Friday after the truck driver was confirmed to be
infected with the H5N1 virus.

The 31-year-old driver lives in Shenzhen, just over the
border from Hong Kong. It is unclear how he came to be infected
although he went shopping at a wet market where live poultry
was sold a few days before he fell ill.

He also ate a chicken which his wife prepared.

China says there has been no outbreak of the disease in
poultry in Shenzhen. Chickens are chiefly responsible for
spreading the virus to people.

The H5N1 virus has killed 129 people in nine countries
since late 2003, most of them in Asia and including 12 in
China, and experts have warned of a pandemic once the virus is
able to spread easily among people.