Seoul pulls out stops to stop highly pathogenic bird flu strain

The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced Monday a set of countermeasures to stop a highly pathogenic bird flu strain that is spreading toward the capital at an unprecedented pace.

The city's Citizens Health bureau said it has culled eight mandarin ducks at Seoul Grand Park in Gwacheon, just outside Seoul and banned at least 40 zookeepers from leaving the zoo for a week, as part of its preventive measures.

Authorities sent faeces of a total of 1,200 fowl collected inside the zoo to the National Institute of Environmental Research to check for the highly pathogenic H5N6 strain of the flu, officials said.

The park was temporarily closed since Saturday after it found two dead storks on consecutive days.

Seoul City said it has also obtained 2,700 doses of antiviral drugs and 12,000 items of protective clothing in case the outbreak spreads to people. Currently there have been no reports of infections through people or livestock so far.

"We are putting together every effort to secure citizens' health with high-level quarantine measures," said Seoul Mayor Park Won-Soon in a statement.

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"While chicken, duck and eggs that are sold in the market in Seoul are safe to eat, I hope groundless worries about eating poultry do not hurt the poultry farms in the country," Park added.

Authorities said that it will strengthen quarantine measures at some 17 wintering sites for migratory birds located in Seoul, such as the Han River and Jungnang Stream, by sterilizing the area every day.

The city government has already closed down four ecological parks in the capital and halted a migratory bird observation programs after the H5N6 bird flu virus was first reported in southern rural areas on Nov. 16.

Some 55 city officials will be dispatched to monitor households which raise birds as pets.

The current outbreak is already worse than that in 2014, when 13.96 million fowls were put down over six months.

A record number of 10 million chickens, ducks and quails have been culled throughout the nation so far, with an additional 3.78 million on the waiting list.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs expects the financial toll to reach 423.3 billion ($358.7 million) as the outbreak was uncontained in most of the disease-hit areas such as the Chungcheong provinces.

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The infections were found to be the highly pathogenic H5N6 strain of the flu, a new type of the virus first detected in the country.