More cities announced plans to shut down live poultry markets in the face of rising numbers of people infected with the H7N9 strain of bird flu and fears that the Chinese New Year - a peak time for poultry consumption - may worsen the national health threat.
At least 20 people died from the virus - all in coastal areas of Zhejiang province, Guangdong province and Shanghai - in less than four weeks from Jan 1 to 26, according to Xinhua News Agency.
Nationwide, 110 people were infected by Tuesday, according to the China Central Television. Provinces such as Jiangsu, Fujian and Hunan also reported H7N9 cases.
On Tuesday, Zhejiang, which already logged 12 deaths and 49 infections from the virus by Monday, reported four new cases.
The province ordered a permanent stop to live poultry trading starting July 1 in its big cities' main districts, according to a statement from the provincial authority. It also ordered a three-month suspension of live poultry trading in cities with H7N9 infection before Feb 15.
In Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang, live poultry sales have been suspended since Friday. The suspension will last for three months.
"Spring Festival is the hottest season for selling chickens. We sell an average of 5,000 kilograms of chickens every day," said Dai Chunjiao, who has been selling live chickens in Hangzhou Huadong Poultry Market, one of the largest poultry trade centers in the city, for more than 10 years.
"Now, since the market is closed, there is no business. What is more, we still have to feed the chickens, which is a big expense," she said, adding that this year will be her most difficult Spring Festival yet.
The suspension order affects not only those who sell live poultry but consumers, too.
Zhang Chunyun, a 68-year-old native of Hangzhou, said she could not bear a Spring Festival without dishes made from live chickens on the table.
"It is our tradition to sacrifice to the ancestors on New Year's Eve with a number of dishes. Steamed chicken is one of the most important. Frozen ones are not fresh enough to make steamed chicken," she said.
Zhang said she asked her son to purchase live chickens from rural areas of the province, where the live poultry trade has not been suspended.
Shanghai, where four people died of H7N9, including one doctor, announced that it will close local live poultry markets from Jan 31 to April 30. Local residents were encouraged to report violators during the ban.
Since last week, the city has carried out a 40-day campaign to clean up live poultry trading at local markets and communities. Local authorities also increased daily enforcement patrols to prevent peddlers from selling live birds illegally.
In a high-tech response to bird flu fears in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province in Southwest China, nearly 90 percent of live fowl had a bracelet with a two-dimensional code, an official from the agriculture department of the province said. Customers can use smartphones to scan the code and get sellers' names, quarantine test results and other information regarding product safety, he said.
"If any products went wrong, this is the way for us to trace its source," said Yan Yi, director of animal health supervision institute of Xiuwen county in Guiyang.
The H7N9 virus passes between birds, but there is no evidence of human-to-human infection, according to both the National Health and Family Planning Commission and the World Health Organization.
Despite preventive measures, sporadic H7N9 cases are likely to continue in some cities, said the National Health and Family Planning Commission.